Vitamins and minerals, aka micronutrients, do not provide energy, but are key players in energy production and other body functions needed for optimal performance. Thus far, there are no specific intake recommendations for athletes, although athletes at risk for a deficiency may need additional supplementation. While vitamins do not enhance performance, a deficiency can lead to poor performance. Keep in mind, though this is an article about athletes, the functions and Daily Recommended Intakes apply to the general population. You may not need to perform on the court or the field, but rather at your workplace or at home. Here are the top 5 micronutrients, and how they play a role in the body.
The “sun vitamin”, or Vitamin D as we all know, is necessary for:
- calcium metabolism (important for muscle contraction)
- overall bone health.
Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies we see today. A study looking at a Vitamin D levels in 18,883 people showed that almost half of the participants were deficient in Vitamin D. Athletes need to take in an adequate amount of Vitamin D in order to protect themselves from injury and optimize performance. Studies show that 30 min of sun exposure, without a protective barrier (i.e. sunscreen), can promote daily uptake of adequate amounts of vitamin D. Note: Sunscreen must be applied after this allotted time to avoid sunburn. For sports that take place indoors or athletes that train indoors (those in the colder parts of the world) are at higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun exposure.
DRI: 600IU (1-70 years old), 800IU (71 or older)
Foods containing Vitamin D: Fortified milk and cereals, eggs, cod-liver oil, seafood
Not only is vitamin C a key vitamin for optimal athletic performance, it also serves as an antioxidant that helps fight infection and damage to the body’s cells. Vitamin C also has other roles such as helping in the production of collagen (connective tissue that hold bones and muscle together), help with the absorption of other key vitamins/minerals such as folate and iron, as well as helps prevent bruising by strengthening blood vessels.
DRI: 90mg(men), 75mg(women)
Foods containing Vitamin C: Citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, tangerine), strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli
The B vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, B6, B12, niacin and folate. These vitamins are vital for:
- Helps breakdown carbohydrates and proteins for energy
- Supports anaerobic and aerobic performance
- Red blood cell formation (transporting oxygen)
- Production of hemoglobin
- Heart health
Since vitamin B12 comes from animal sources, individuals that eliminate meat and other animal products from their diet are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. It is recommended that these individuals supplement with B12 and B12 fortified foods.
Thiamine: 1.2mg (men), 1.1mg (women)
Riboflavin: 1.3mg (men), 1.1 (women)
B6: 1.3mg (31-50 years old), 1.7mg (men 51 years and over), 1.5mg (women 51 years and over)
Niacin: 16mg (men), 14mg (women)
Foods containing B-vitamins: Almonds, milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, fortified breads and cereals, meat, fish, poultry, seeds, dark leafy vegetables, eggs, peanut butter
Calcium goes hand in hand with vitamin D because vitamin D helps the cells absorb calcium. Proper intake of calcium is needed for the following reasons:
- Support bone growth
- Increase bone mass
- Help in nerve impulses
- Important for muscle contraction
Athletes that have a poor calcium intake have an increased risk for stress fractures and other bone related injuries. This is especially important for the younger athletes since their bones can not handle as much stress as an adult’s mature bone can. For the vegetarian athletes, you can obtain your daily requirement without having to consume milk or milk products. Calcium can be found in an array of vegetables such as leafy green vegetables.
Foods containing Iron: Milk and milk products (yogurt, cheese), green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, bok choy, etc.), sardines, salmon, fortified juices, tofu
Iron deficiency can have a huge impact in athletic performance. First, let us look at what iron does in the body. Iron is important for:
- Transportation of oxygen throughout the body
- A system that helps cells release energy
- Red blood cell production
- Maintaining a healthy immune system
Iron has two forms: one that comes from animal sources (heme iron) and one that comes from plant sources (non-heme iron). Heme iron is absorbed easier than non-heme iron, but when paired together (delicious spinach salad topped with a lean steak) both sources get absorbed better. Another cool trick to increase iron absorption is to pair iron sources with vitamin C sources. Vitamin C helps the body increases the efficiency of iron absorption. Keep in mind, foods containing calcium (i.e. milk and milk products) and caffeine (coffee, tea, etc.) can decrease iron absorption.
DRI: 8mg(men), 18mg(women)
Foods containing Iron: Heme- Lean meat and seafood; Non-heme– Green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and fortified grains