The three macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – get a lot of attention. Although micronutrients are needed in much smaller quantity, don’t underestimate these powerful nutrients. If anything, macronutrient metabolism requires micronutrients to be present. In other words, if you are not consuming adequate calories, carbs, protein and fat in the diet, your metabolism can’t function properly. Individuals with insufficient energy intake (such as dieting) or impaired absorption (such as food allergies or damage to the intestines from a gut-related issue) are at greater risk for a micronutrient deficiency. No single food can supply all of the nutrients needed in appropriate amounts, which is why a varied diet (and not a restrictive one) is key to boosting health, changing body composition and maximizing fitness.

Vitamins are organic compounds classified by their solubility; fat soluble and water soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins require fat for absorption and are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. They eliminate slowly from the body and can cause toxicity if consumed in excess. In contrast, water-soluble vitamins dissolve easily in water and aren’t stored in the body. These vitamins are easily broken down and excreted in urine so constant replenishment is needed. Vitamins don’t contain calories so technically they can’t boost energy. But, they do work with the diet to turn food into energy.

Fat soluble vitamins are similar to oil in that they do not dissolve in water. They are most abundant in high-fat foods and are better absorbed into the blood stream when consumed with fat. For example, choose 1 or 2% fat milk instead of skim to better absorb vitamin D. Or, add a little oil to carrots, mushrooms and greens when sautéing.

Minerals are inorganic elements that exist as solids. They’re classified as trace or major. Trace minerals are needed in small amounts, less than 20 milligrams per day. For example, Iron is a trace mineral. It is part of hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells that carry oxygen in the body. It’s needed for energy metabolism. Women need around 18mg of iron per day whereas men need around 8mg a day. Female athletes have higher iron needs to account for the amount of iron lost to menstruation. Iron deficiency anemia is very common among athletes, especially female athletes who are menstruating, overtraining or dieting. Symptoms include weakness, extreme fatigue, brittle nails and dizziness. An effective way to increase iron when a deficiency exists through a blood test is through supplementation. Excessive intake can be toxic so it’s not recommended to supplement with iron if anemia or an iron-deficiency isn’t present.

Two types of iron can be found in nature.

  • Heme iron is found only in meat, poultry, seafood, and fish.
  • Non-heme is found in plant-foods and animal foods.

Heme iron is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron. For example, about 20 to 30 percent of the iron found in beef is absorbed into the blood stream, while just 5 to 12 percent of the iron found in spinach is absorbed. This can cause some athletes to be at risk for iron-deficiency issues depending on protein quality and consumption. Vitamin C foods like citrus fruit, strawberries and dark leafy greens have been shown to enhance iron absorption.

Major minerals are needed in large amounts, more then 100 milligrams per day. The recommended daily intake of the major mineral magnesium is between 310–420 mg for adults depending on age and gender. Magnesium is needed for bone health and muscle contractions. Calcium is a powerful major mineral. Daily recommendations are between 1000-1200mg a day for adults. Calcium stabilizes blood pressure, keeps your teeth and bones strong, promotes blood clotting, maintains brain function, promotes insulin sensitivity, and most importantly to active individuals, it helps your muscles contract. Calcium is so important that if you are not consuming an adequate amount in your diet, your body will pull calcium from bones to make sure everything else functions properly. This can increase the risk for a stress fracture and osteoporosis.

Similar to vitamins, low mineral intakes may result in a deficiency. If you eliminate one or more food groups from the diet, have a poorly planned diet or partake in extreme weight loss practices, you are at great risk for poor micronutrient intakes and consequential health issues may occur.

For the health-conscious individual, nutrient dense fruits and veggies are often consumed in excess and more energy dense foods like fat and carbohydrates (packing more calories per bite) are often neglected. But for others, it can be difficult to consume adequate micronutrients on a daily basis. For those who struggle to eat adequate fruits and veggies, try these tips to maximize your micronutrient intake:

  • Add chopped veggies and leafy greens to scrambled eggs.
  • Add fruit to oatmeal, pancakes, and plain yogurt.
  • Once a day, eat a salad, either with a meal or as your meal.
  • Snack on chopped fruits and veggies.
  • Always keep fresh fruits and veggies available in the fridge.
  • Frozen veggies are very affordable (and nutritious). Choose no sodium/sugar added.
  • If buying canned veggies, give them a rinse under cold water to eliminate excess added sodium.

Source: Trimarni

“Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.”
– Jack Lalanne