The World Health Organization identifies micronutrients as those, “needed only in minuscule amounts,” and calls them, “‘magic wands’ that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development.” More specifically, vitamins and minerals have a role in energy metabolism, a hugely important component in the life of an athlete. Although deficiencies of certain micronutrients may have little effect on an inactive individual, low amounts of nutrients can have devastating effects on an athlete. Poor diet, chronic disease, prescription drugs, exposure to toxins and advanced age can all contribute to vitamin and mineral depletion over time.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
In “The Role of Micronutrients in Sport and Physical Activity,” Ron J Maughan identifies the following biological functions of vitamins in exercise:
- A: antioxidant function
- Thiamin (B1): carbohydrate metabolism
- Riboflavin (B2): mitochondrial electron transport
- Niacin (B3): multiple metabolic pathways
- Pyridoxine (B6): amino acid synthesis
- Folate: red blood cell synthesis
- Pantothenic acid: oxidative metabolism
- Biotin: biosynthetic reactions
- Cyanocobalamin (B12): red blood cell synthesis
- Ascorbic acid (C): antioxidant, catecholamine synthesis, tissue repair
- D: calcium homeostasis
- E: antioxidant, prevention of free radical damage
In addition, at least 20 different minerals, in a variety of amounts, are required to sustain function of tissues and cells. Some of the more vital ones are:
- Calcium: ensures growth, maintenance and repair of bone tissue, maintenance of blood calcium levels, regulation of muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and normal blood clotting
- Iron: responsible for the formation of oxygen-carrying proteins, hemoglobin and myoglobin, and involved in energy production
- Zinc: plays a role in growth, building and repair of muscle tissue, energy production, and immune status
- Magnesium: plays a role in cellular metabolism (glycolysis, fat, and protein metabolism) and regulation of membrane stability and has neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune, and hormonal functions
- Sodium, Chloride, and Potassium: are critical electrolytes
The number of functions vitamins and minerals play in the human body is staggering. Maintaining proper levels of each is mandatory for anyone. However, the athlete is even more tasked to conscientiously ensure they are receiving adequate amounts.
RISKS OF DEFICIENCY AMONGST ATHLETES
Athletes involved in specific sports may be more likely to suffer from deficient stores of micronutrients. According to an excerpt fromSport Nutrition: An Introduction to Energy Production and Performance, those athletes who compete in sports events in which a low body weight is essential for success or compete within certain body-weight categories are at greater risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency. Examples include boxers, dancers, gymnasts, wrestlers, and weight lifters. “Participants in such sports often train frequently and intensively but consume low-energy diets or undergo drastic weight-loss regimens to maintain or lose body weight before competition. The low-energy intakes (<8 MJ/day [<1900 kcal/day]) in these situations, combined with a diet low in fresh organic fruit and vegetables are likely to lead to an inadequate intake of essential minerals (and vitamins).” Individuals involved in these sports need to be particularly vigilant about supplementing the micronutrients in their diets.
Micronutrients can always be introduced via diet, but there are instances where athletes benefit from intravenous (IV) administration of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. The IV alternative has rewards lacking in oral supplementation. For example, absorption is 100 percent and serum concentrations can be reached that far exceed what is possible through oral supplementation. In the case of vitamin C, blood levels can go up 6000% using the intravenous route. It is best to ask a professional about the supplementation options available to you.
New laboratory testing now allows for accurate testing of overy 39 minerals and vitamins via one blood test. This test is called a functional intracellular micronutrient test and is available through SpectraCell labs. This technology comes out of 10 years of research at the University of Texas. Targeted supplementation via diet, oral supplements, or intravenously is best guided by advanced testing.