Micronutrients are essential nutrients, needed to sustain life but in small quantities and include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Most of us are aware that vitamins and minerals are vital to our health. A balanced healthy diet should give us all of the micronutrients required, so where possible our main source of micronutrients should be natural, whole food, especially fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Micronutrients play an important role in energy production, oxygen transport, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function and protection of the body against oxidative damage, which occurs through exercise. They also assist with tissue growth and repair and recovery from exercise. Exercise stresses many of the metabolic pathways where micronutrients are required.
Throughout this article we will explore the most important Micronutrients when it comes to Sport and Exercise.
Antioxidants play a very important role for your diet, particularly if you exercise frequently. They are vitamins minerals and enzymes, which can be either consumed or naturally produced by the body. The main role of antioxidants is to protect the body’s cells from the effects of free radicals. These are molecules produced as a by-product of energy production. Therefore, the amount of free radicals increases during periods of exercise. Free radicals can lead to oxidative stress, which strains muscle tissues, and can play a role in many diseases, such as cancer and heart-related diseases. By adding an intake of antioxidants to your diet, muscle damage and fatigue can be prevented, and can improve aerobic capacity after intense training sessions.
The best way to ensure you eat enough antioxidants, is to eat a wide variety of foods in a healthy, balanced diet. The best sources of antioxidants are berries, dark coloured vegetables and nuts.
Nitrates are increasingly popular for endurance athletes. These are ions, containing nitrogen and oxygen, which can either be produced in the body or ingested. Their consumption has grown interest in athletes, as studies have reported that they can be used as a potential aid to enhance exercise performance. Even small amounts digested have been shown to increase plasma nitrite/nitrate levels, and reduce the amount of oxygen lost during exercise. It has also been reported that nitrate consumption can aid to treat individuals with high blood pressure and oxidative stress. Vegetables, such as celery, beetroot, spinach and rocket have a large nitrate content of over 2,500mg per kg, which can be added to a wide variety of meals. Our Superfood Falafel Salad is a great source.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Calcium has a wide range of functions in the body such as maintaining healthy bones and teeth, muscle contraction, nervous system function, stabilisation of blood pressure, contribute to normal brain function, blood clotting, secretion of hormones and helps maintain a regular heartbeat.
Calcium is important for athletes in order to achieve and maintain optimum bone density. Athletes particularly should monitor their calcium intake especially if:
Total caloric intake is low from dieting or on controlled calories for weight class and aesthetic sports
Prone to heavy sweating during exercise
If you’re not getting enough calcium-rich foods in your diet
Some vegetarian diets lack calcium-rich foods
Female athletes with any of the above attempting to improve performance (marathon runners, triathletes, cyclists etc.)
Maximise your calcium intake by including calcium containing recovery snacks such as Greek yoghurt and almonds or hard-boiled eggs. Plant sources of calcium include cherries, broccoli and spinach. Try our Greek Yoghurt Oatmeal with grapes, berries, nuts & oats.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in the absorption of calcium, so it is usually added to dairy products to aid absorption. Living in the northerly latitude of Ireland, Vitamin D deficiency is quite common. This important nutrient is actually a hormone and is synthesised by our skin through UV rays. Given that we don’t see the sun that often and when we do, we use sunscreen, it’s easy to see why we can be deficient. Vitamin D is not only beneficial for the absorption of calcium and bone health, more and more research is demonstrating its powerful effect on immunity and preventing illness. Good dietary sources of Vitamin D are eggs, oily fish and fortified dairy foods, and everyone living in Ireland should think about taking a Vitamin D supplement from September-April but adding our Almond Sesame Crusted Salmon would be much tastier!
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Emma is the Director of Nutrition and co-founder of GourmetFuel®. She has developed an entire range of health meals and meal plans to compliment healthy living and fuel performance. Emma Buckley B.Sc RNutr, is a Registered Nutritionist with the UKVRN through the Association for Nutrition, from Dublin, Ireland. A UCD graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry a Graduate Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health and a Higher Diploma in Diet and Nutrition. In almost two decades as a nutritionist she has worked with some of Ireland’s most well known food and health brands. She is an international keynote conference speaker on nutrition and health. She has worked closely with professional and Olympic athletes and coaches covering all track, field and combat sports at the highest levels. Her understanding of how food and the body work together along with a team of gourmet chefs, helps GourmetFuel create a beautiful range of healthy, delicious meals. Emma specialises in weight management, sports nutrition and maternal/postnatal and infant nutrition.
B Vitamins, such as B2 Riboflavin and B12, all play a role in energy metabolism, which is what you need as an endurance runner. These nutrients help the release of energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats, folate plays an important role in cell division and red blood cell production, which is how we transport oxygen, so you see, from an endurance runner perspective, these vitamins are pretty important.
Iron is one of the most important minerals consumed by athletes. Regular intensive workouts can decrease your iron stores in the body, which can result in iron deficiency anaemia, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to transport oxygen. Iron is also lost through sweating and foot strike hemolysis, which is caused by repeated pounding of the feet on hard surfaces, destroying red blood cells, which causes iron losses. Iron is involved in many processes in the body, including the formation of red blood cells; oxygen and carbon dioxide transport and is also involved in energy production. Iron cannot be produced in the body, therefore, it must be supplied by the food we eat. Haem iron, which is easily absorbed, is found in animal sources particularly in lean red meat, such as beef, liver, pork, poultry and seafood. Non-haem iron is found in plant-based sources, such as cereal grains, nuts and certain green vegetables and is not as easily absorbed as haem iron. Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron from plant sources so, if you’re vegetarian, be mindful of the relationship. Top up your iron by tucking into a delicious Beef Barbacoa Burrito Bowl.
Zinc is a trace element found in all tissues and fluids in the body. It is very important in enhancing a person’s immune function, by reducing the risk of the common cold and infectious diseases. It also has roles associated with growth and development, healing wounds and enhancing senses. Foods rich in zinc include beef, lamb, spinach, nuts and mushrooms. Our Orzo Pasta Salad with lamb and Green Beans is just back on the menu.
Magnesium plays a role in muscle and nerve function and the creation of ATP (the energy currency which causes muscles to fire) and is also an electrolyte. Low blood levels of magnesium can result in muscle fatigue. Sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish, but our favourite is Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi.
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