I have been working with membership group this week teaching them about the essential nutrients an endurance athlete needs to stay healthy and avoid injury. We covered carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals and water. One of the questions I got asked was about vitamins and minerals and if there were certain ones which were particularly useful to an endurance athlete. Being active definitely means that you use more of these nutrients up than someone who is sedentary. Vitamins get used up in key metabolic reactions to produce energy and minerals can be lost through sweat.
Let’s take a look at the ones which are needed by endurance athletes and which foods you can eat to make sure you get what you need.
Vitamin B is the energy vitamin! This group includes vitamins B6 and B12, thiamin, riboflavin and folate. The body uses these to convert protein and sugar into energy and to produce red blood cells. Research has shown that low levels of these make high intensity exercise much harder.
Food Sources: Tuna, black beans, lentils, peanuts
Apparently up to half of people who work out in chilly conditions suffer from some degree of exercise-induced asthma. Citrus fruit like oranges and grapefruit, might help. Research has shown that Vitamin C can reduce coughing, wheezing and shortness of breathe during and after exercise. It also significantly decreases the likelihood of active people coming down with a cold
Food Sources: Oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, kale
Getting out in the sun can boost your mood and your power too ! Why? Without enough of this nutrient, the mitochondria, the powerhouses in muscle fibres, can’t adequately regenerate energy after your muscles contract, making you feel tired more quickly.
Food Sources: Milk, salmon, trout, egg yolks
This is an antioxidant and helps keep your immune system strong. Be careful though, too much of this may hinder your ability to adapt to exercise.
Food sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter
Milk is good for an endurance athlete. The calcium in it , along with vitamin D, potassium and protein in the dairy drink increase bone density — a strong skeleton is less likely to suffer from stress fractures.
Food Sources: Milk, yogurt, leafy greens, beans, fortified cereals
Iron helps your muscles work efficiently. It helps red blood cells carry oxygen to muscles. If your iron stores are low your energy levels will be too.
Food Sources: Beef, eggs, spinach, broccoli, fortified cereals
Magnesium is involved in energy metabolism and like Calcium, it plays a role in bone formation and protecting your from stress fractures during high-impact activities. Magnesium is lost when you sweat so make sure you top it up.
Food Sources: Leafy greens, almonds, halibut, quinoa
The endurance athletes friend the banana is rich in potassium which helps with cramp and speeds up recovery. Potassium works with sodium to help your muscles and nerves work properly. It also balances water content throughout the body.
Food Sources : Bananas, Sweet potatoes, avocados, tuna
When you sweat you lose sodium and a low concentration of sodium in the blood can be fatal in extreme cases. Endurance athletes need to pay close attention to their sodium intake and replace it by using electrolyte drinks or salty food.
Food Sources: Anchovies, salted nuts
Low levels of Zinc will lessen your oxygen uptake which will lower your energy and endurance capacity. Spaghetti bolognese the night before an event will help you load up on Zinc.
Food Sources: Red meat, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, quinoa
Having too much in the way of nutrients can be as detrimental as skimping on them. My advice would always be to eat a balanced whole food diet and then you give yourself the best chance of getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to get the best results from your training and racing. If you suffer from ongoing aches and pains, muscle soreness and low energy levels then you may not be getting enough nutrients.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also cautions against the indiscriminate use of supplements and warns of the risk of contamination with banned substances.
Are there any areas where you might be deficient in essential vitamins and minerals & how might they be affecting your training and race day results?
If want more help and support with getting your nutrition sorted for race season come and join my new Facebook Group ‘Eating to Win’