What needs to be in your food and why (PART 2)

This week I want to talk about vitamins and minerals and why they are important for the endurance athlete.
We all know that different foods contain different vitamins and minerals in small amounts but do we really understand their role in the body?
Vitamins do not provide us with any energy but they help release energy from food as they play a role in regulating chemical reactions which release energy. They are critical in helping to build, repair and maintain healthy tissues and cells. Some vitamins also act as antioxidants which means that they help to protect our cells from damage and disease. All of these areas are particularly important to ensure peak performance and recovery from your training and races.
The overall vitamin content of food is affected by heat, light and air exposure. Just about all the vitamins in foods are destroyed by processing and refining and have to be added back in for the food to be of some nutritional value to our bodies but they are never as effective as those found in real foods.
The minerals in our diet are essential for a variety of bodily functions. They are important for building strong bones and teeth, blood, skin, hair, nerve function, muscle and for metabolic processes such as those that turn the food we eat into energy. Endurance athletes need to be aware that sweating leads to loss of minerals and so making sure they are being adequately replenished through food becomes even more important.
Use of nutritional supplements
I often get asked by endurance athletes if they should take a daily vitamin and mineral tablet.
Vitamins and minerals are certainly important for good health and to train and compete successfully. My view is that in most cases, additional nutritional supplements are not needed if you are eating a varied diet with sufficient energy to maintain their body weight. However, it might be important to consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement for individuals who restrict their energy intake or eliminate certain foods or food groups or who are ill or recovering from injury. Single-nutrient supplements may also be needed for a specific medical or nutritional need (e.g. to correct iron deficiency anaemia). Make sure you seek advice from a suitably qualified nutrition professional if you are considering taking nutritional supplements particularly if you take prescribed or over-the-counter medication.
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