Nutritional Deficiencies in Athletes
Nutritional Deficiencies in Athletes
The vitamins and minerals athletes need to maintain a healthy diet and improve athletic performance.
As a dedicated athlete or weekend warrior, chances are high you’re doing everything you can to ensure that you get enough calories, proteins, carbohydrates, and dietary fats. One thing you may be overlooking though is you micronutrient consumption, i.e. your daily amount of vitamins and minerals. While all individuals need to cover their nutritional bases, as an athlete there are some micronutrients you need to be particularly conscientious of getting regularly.
Below you’ll find a list of the vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements that, as an athlete, you need in your diet to see optimal athletic performance and sustained health.
The mineral that may have the most direct impact on athletic performance is potassium. A key electrolyte, potassium is vital for athletic performance because it helps to control your heart rate, nervous system, and kidney function.
For instance, those who suffer from a potassium deficiency are much more likely to suffer muscle cramps (something no athlete is fond of). Great sources of potassium include bananas, avocados, dates, fish, beans, and broccoli, so it’s pretty easy to get enough regularly. Athletes should be aiming for at least 3500 mg per day, if not closer to the 4000-5000 mg per day if they’re especially active.
Vitamin C is critical for athletes as it supports a strong immune system, imperative to helping you perform at your best. After a hard training session, your immune system is weakened as the body rapidly tries to recover from the recent damage. While supplements like glutamine and CLA will help, consuming enough vitamin C during the day ensures your immune system is constantly at its strongest.
Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, melons, strawberries, peppers, and spinach, so if you’re training hard make sure these foods regularly find their way into your diet.
To help ensure you meet your body’s requirements, aim for 75 mg total of vitamin C per day, taking this up slightly if you’re hard in training and placing more stress on your immune system.
Strong bones and proper muscle contraction are both vital to an athlete’s success, and that’s where calcium comes into play. Calcium contributes to both efforts, as it increases bone density, and by binding to receptor sites on muscle cells, it ensures proper muscle contraction.
As I’m sure you know, the best sources of calcium include dairy products such as skim milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and whey protein powder, along with other foods such as spinach and almonds. Just be sure to always choose low fat varieties of dairy products to avoid consuming excess saturated fat.
Athletes looking to promote strong bones should be aiming for around 1000 mg of calcium each day, which is easily accomplished with 3-4 servings of high calcium dairy products.
Iron is another must have mineral for athletes. It’s responsible for maintaining red blood cells, which are required to transport oxygen to and from your muscle tissue. If you lack sufficient iron in your system, you fatigue quicker during games and workouts... Yeah, not ideal. Female athletes in particular should pay extra attention to iron supplementation, as they naturally lose iron each month during their menstrual cycles.
The iron intake you should strive for is 8 mg per day for males and 18 mg per day for females. If you’re a vegetarian, you will really want to consider supplementing with iron as most of the natural iron in the foods you eat will be of the non-heme variety, which isn’t absorbed quite as well into the body.
For all of my 5 Hour Energy fans out there, you’ve experienced the effects of B-Vitamins first hand (along with a healthy dose of caffeine). Succinctly put, B-vitamins increase energy levels as they help your body break down carbohydrates more effectively. Those who aren’t consuming enough B-vitamins may find that they have lower energy levels, fatigue easily, have dry skin, or a weakened immune system. If that’s the case, try adding whole grains, potatoes, green vegetables, eggs, and fish to your diet, as all are good sources of B-vitamins.
The recommended intake of the B vitamins varies depending on which B vitamin you’re looking at with the following recommended dosages.
B1 – 1.4 mg/day
B2 – 1.6 mg/day
B3 – 18 mg/day
B5 – 6 mg/day
B6 – 2 mg/day
B12 – 6 mg/day
Now that you know what needs to perform at you best, there are no more excuses. Believe it or not, the micronutrients you don’t consume have as much of an impact as the macronutrients you do (consume), so don’t write the five above off as, “Stuff for Old People.” Additionally, while taking a dietary supplement like a good multi-vitamin is always beneficial, remember that you’re far better off consuming your nutrients through real foods like those mentioned above.ShareThis
About the Author
Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 8 years now. She currently works with a variety of different clients with various goal sets, helping them reach whatever physique goals they have set for themselves. Shannon is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and has also been named ‘Writer Of The Year’ two times running. She has been featured in the Iron Man magazine and has contributed well over 400 articles to a variety of different websites dedicated towards muscle building and athletic performance.For more information on Shannon, please see her website, www.ShannonClarkFitness.com
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