When setting yourself up for success, you’ve got all the boxes checked – a perfect nutrition plan and a strong training split. Your macronutrients are precisely calculated and you hit your numbers daily. But over time, you start to feel a little tired, finding that your energy levels aren’t what they used to be; you notice mild muscle cramps and you aren’t feeling as strong as you previously did. What gives?
As a hard trainer, you push your body through intense workout sessions that deplete the body of its nutrients. Fueling up with adequate protein, carbs, and fat are the main focus for many, but overlooking the importance of micronutrients can be detrimental to your progress.
Micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are required in small quantities to maintain good health. Additionally, several have been linked to training performance and progress, but it’s common for athletes to be deficient in them as they’re depleted as you train and sweat. While many are found in food, supplementation is a good idea to ensure you’re maintaining an optimal amount for the demands you place on your body.
Here we dive into the top five nutrients that hard trainers commonly lack.
This mighty mineral is responsible for upwards of 300 processes in the body including protein synthesis, muscle function, energy production, and even plays a role in blood glucose control. Even though it’s required for so many functions, it is estimated that 80% of adults are deficient in magnesium.
Common symptoms of low levels of magnesium include fatigue, loss of strength, and muscle spasms, twitches and even cramping. You’ll lose most of your magnesium through sweat, making athletes highly susceptible to diminished levels.
High levels of magnesium are found in leafy greens, quinoa, cheese, and pumpkin seeds. When supplementing, 3g per pound of body weight is recommended; but if you’re an endurance athlete training in a hot climate, your demands are likely higher. There are numerous types of magnesium supplements available—citrate, oxide, glycinate, and sulfate, to name a few. Citrate is the most common form, making it easy to purchase, and is easily absorbed by the body.
An essential mineral, zinc is naturally found in some food and often added to others. Its main functions include tissue repair, metabolism, and hormone production—all of which are important factors when you have physique goals in mind. Additionally, zinc boosts your immune system to help you fight illness and is a key in maintaining bone density.
If you start experiencing a decrease in appetite, hair loss, mental fatigue, and slower recovery times, you could potentially be low in zinc. It’s important to keep your zinc levels up, as continued depletion could lead to stress fractures or osteoporosis.
Zinc is commonly found in animal products such as proteins and dairy, as well as legumes, oats, mushrooms, cashews, and spinach. Vegetarians, vegans, athletes who follow a restrictive meal plan, or endurance athletes who sweat a lot, may have a difficult time maintaining healthy levels of zinc. Common zinc supplementation ranges from 25 – 45mg. It is advised to take zinc at a different time of day than calcium, magnesium, and iron supplements as absorption can be hindered.
Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D can be derived from UVB rays as well as supplements. This fat-soluble vitamin is important for a handful of health and performance functions such as nerve signaling, muscular strength, and immune function. It is also linked to bone health as it boosts the absorption of calcium. Some studies have even linked it to testosterone levels, where a deficiency was paired with low testosterone levels and supplementation was found to boost the sex hormone.
It’s difficult to know if you are running low on Vitamin D but the long-term effects of a deficiency are serious. Regular bone and joint aches, muscle weakness, recurring illness, and even feeling “blue” can be indicators that you’re lacking Vitamin D. Levels are more likely to drop in the winter months when our general sun exposure decreases.
With the increased knowledge and awareness of the dangers of ultraviolet exposure, it’s best to get your Vitamin D from food sources and supplements. High levels of Vitamin D can be found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna. Dairy products naturally contain small amounts, but some have been fortified with extra Vitamin D. When adding a daily supplement, look for D3, also known as cholecalciferol, as it’s the naturally occurring form. Healthy adults can handle a dietary dose between 1,000 – 4,000 IUs per day from all sources.
Gone are the days of eliminating dietary fat. There are many types of fats, some which are harmful to your health, while others are beneficial. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, have numerous benefits for your health. Lower triglyceride levels, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function have been linked to Omega 3 consumption. Additionally, it has been found to improve protein synthesis, boost immune system function, and assist in weight loss. It’s important to consider the balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6. While Omega 3 helps reduce inflammation, Omega 6 tends to produce inflammation.
Common signs of low Omega 3 fatty acid levels include dry, rough skin, brittle hair or nails, excessive thirst, poor circulation, and difficulties with memory or concentration.
Omega-3 fatty acids fall into the essential category, as your body cannot produce them. The most available source is cold water, oily fish like salmon, herring, and sardines. Other common animal sources are grass fed beef, eggs (those which are Omega 3 enhanced), and some dairy products. Supplementing with Omega 3 is suggested to help maintain the proper balance with Omega 6, which is more readily available through diet. Recommendations for supplements range from 1 – 5g, depending on the quantity obtained through diet.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, which assist your digestive system and positively impacting your immune system. These good bacteria line your digestive tract and help with the absorption of nutrients. If you’re eating perfectly and supplementing with everything you need, but your body isn’t able to process the nutrients, you’re no further ahead. Boosting your gut health can help maximize everything you’re carefully putting into it.
If you struggle with digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and constipation, your system could likely benefit from a rebalancing of your bacteria levels. Additionally, dry, itchy skin or conditions like eczema or rosacea along with fatigue and recurring illness can be signs that a probiotic may be needed. If you’ve been prescribed a dose of antibiotics, using a probiotic is a good idea to help replenish the bacteria that have been wiped out by the medication.
There are some food sources that can assist with digestive health including kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir. Many of these foods are fermented, which can eliminate harmful bacteria. When shopping for a supplement, look at both the variety of cultures as well as the number of live cultures it contains. Anything with at least three different types of cultures at two billion or more per serving is beneficial.
As you go through your nutrition checklist to compliment your training, don’t overlook vitamins and minerals. A well-balanced diet will provide many of these micronutrients, but your intense training can rapidly deplete them. Adding a supplementation regimen can help ensure you keep these nutrients at an optimal level to support your health and your performance.