Micronutrients for Performance (Basics)
As always, I am here to remind you this series is for athletes eating for performance goals specifically NOT muscle gain, weight loss, or health – straight up performance and focusing primarily on fitness athletes.
We kick off part 2 with MICRONUTRIENTS for performance.
Macros are all the rage these days and for good reason HOWEVER if you want to perform your best you should focus on maximizing the nutrients within those set macros (micronutrients)! This is a fine detail athletes miss the mark on because it requires education, thought, and intention. You will not perform your best by throwing your hands up and saying…” whatever bro.”
Starting off on macro-based eating you could simplify things by eating similar breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks/shakes. This will allow an athlete to hit numbers consistently without much added stress. (THE BASICS).
I hope that if you are trying to maximize your performance you have mastered the basics and you find it enjoyable (not stressful) to further enhance your performance through nutrition.
The main issue with eating the same foods each day is nutrient assortment/balance. If you are lacking vitamins in your diet and eating the same foods then the probability of a deficiency is increased.
I feel it is important for athletes to realize a few things regarding micronutrients:
1️⃣ There are recommended dietary allowances (RDA) %s that you will find on nutrition labels, food apps, books, and web searches. These #s are established based on average numbers sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all “healthy people” in particular age/gender groups.
2️⃣ The RDA and dietary reference intakes (DRIs) were primarily created to lower the risk of suffering from nutrient-deficiency disease and to lower the risk of developing chronic disease by ensuring a properly balance diet.
3️⃣ They were NOT created to help athletes perform their best at the fitness Olympics (or whatever sport you play).
This common data matters to me for a few different reasons…
1️⃣ A high performing athlete is not an “average healthy person”. There is just about nothing average or ancestrally common with completing a day of running 400-meter intervals, lifting ¼ of a car for 45 reps followed by 200 push-ups, then carrying 100 lbs around in between squat sets at 1.5x your bodyweight, before your pump sesh… 5+ days per week.
2️⃣ The amount of XY&Z nutrients in a food (or on a label) are not 100% accurate. There are too many factors involved to be that precise. The nutrients estimated in each food serving are based on averages as well.
3️⃣ Some micronutrients do not have an RDA! There are so many vitamins and minerals, and our bodies are unique, so some numbers are essentially made up when you look really look at it.
4️⃣ Deficiency is not good, “Healthy range” does not necessarily mean “optimal for performance”… and “over-abundance” above the tolerable upper intake level (UL) can also pose potential risk and create adverse effects – so be careful with supplements.
5️⃣ Athletes are often looked at as the “pinnacle of health.” I would argue most athletes are flirting with sickness just as much as the “average” human and most have strong relationships with deficiencies just as common or even worse than seen in sedentary humans. High performance requires high octane fuel. This creates deficiencies very easily when not monitored carefully.
🚨The important factors of micronutrients opens the door to me recommending what SHOULD be a common practice covered by insurance during a yearly physical exam: a blood panel THAT INCLUDES MICRONUTRIENT TESTING! Not just testing vitamin D status for example…
👨🏼💻I have my theories to why more nutrients are not commonly tested but I will save those for a conversation over some whiskey with friends from now on… I would hate to come across as a conspiracy theorist via social media😊
A micronutrient blood panel opens the door to a whole new world where you can get 3 great data points:
1️⃣ Am I deficient in any nutrients?
2️⃣ Am I getting to much of any certain nutrients?
3️⃣ Am I on par with other elite athlete’s numbers (the common denominator of the elite could help you figure out “optimal” for your sport/size/age)?
Although panels can get very pricey, I believe they are a smart investment for beginners AND elites because a nutrient deficiency can cause havoc in health and performance. Most of the time these imbalances are cheap and simple fixes that will improve the way you feel and perform. It is hard for me to put a price tag on quality of life… if I can spend an extra $$$ amount that I can afford per month on specific foods and supplements to feel better and help prevent disease/medication + boost my performance then… (why the heck not)?
🐒 Basic = get introductory level panel + fix deficiencies through diet and supplements.
🧑🏼🔬Advanced = get full spectrum panel+ fix deficiencies+ research optimal performance #s and strive for those.
😮 According to According the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):
-9 out of 10 Americans are deficient in potassium
-7 out of 10 are deficient in calcium
-8 out of 10 are deficient in vitamin E
-50 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium
-More 50 percent of the general population is vitamin D deficient, regardless of age
-90 percent of Americans of color are vitamin D deficient
-Approximately 70 percent of elderly Americans are vitamin D deficient
(From what I have gathered) the CDC and USDA are not studying high end performance athletes… so you can gather the average numbers above (plus many more with a simple search) and notice it is probably a good idea to balance out your meals and get on some high-quality vitamins. 🥑🥩🌱💊
The funding for kinetic research and sports nutrition (outside of the CDC and USDA) has increased over the last few decades so I will sprinkle in what common denominators are popping up regarding athletes and nutrition deficiencies in this series. ✅
With the blood panel I discussed before and a coach or proper research on your overall nutrition plan you can narrow down those deficiencies and make substitutions to your diet that will fill in the gaps, or supplement when necessary.
Vitamin deficiencies contributing to chronic disease (which we will dive into further in nutrition for health/longevity) is not often talked about, but I am going to cover vitamins importance for performance and save that discussion for another post.
How do vitamins effect performance? 🤸♀️🏋🏻♀️🥇
1️⃣ Vitamins are substances needed by cells to encourage specific cellular chemical reactions.
2️⃣ Vitamins are involved in energy reactions that enable cells to derive energy from carbs, fats, and proteins (your macros). In other words, if you want to utilize the food you eat properly you need to have proper vitamin balance.
3️⃣ Athletes burn more energy than non-athletes = they typically need more vitamins.
4️⃣ Vitamins work synergistically to enhance other vitamins and nutrients. If one Is off balance, many will also suffer.
5️⃣ B12,b6,& folate specifically help with the formation of red blood cells= essential for oxygen delivery to working muscles.
6️⃣ B2, B6, & niacin -> aerobic metabolism (krebs cycle) = primary means for obtaining energy from fuel.
7️⃣ B1, b6,b12 = neurotransmitters for stimulating and relaxing muscles.
8️⃣ Vit A = healthy surface cells, eye health, immune function, and hormones.
9️⃣ Vit D= absorption of calcium and phosphorus + hormones.
🔟 Vit E = antioxidant protection of cell membranes.
1️⃣1️⃣ Vit K = formation of blood clots + bone strengthening.
Factors that increase the likelihood of nutrient imbalance: ❌❌
1️⃣ High amount of protein coming from protein powder and supplements rather than food. I aim to keep my supplemental protein at 25% of my protein totals (or less). ❌
2️⃣ Diet high in ultra-processed, processed, and pre-cooked (store bought) meals. ❌
3️⃣ Diet high in seed oils and other refined oils/fats. ❌
4️⃣ Same foods day in and day out without variety. ❌
5️⃣ Caloric restricted diets. ❌
6️⃣ Poor gut health/ microbiome diversity. ❌
7️⃣ Medications- including anti-inflammatory drugs often overly consumed by athletes. ❌
8️⃣ Artificial ingredients – sucralose, aspartame, food colorings, and many preservatives. ❌
9️⃣ Over-consumption of specific nutrients (usually from supplementation). ❌
👇👇To maximize vitamin intake from your diet try the following: ✅✅
1️⃣ Consume or supplement organ meats. It is difficult to find more nutrients than that of vital animal organs.
2️⃣ Eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. In season, it can be difficult for athletes to consume enough total macros while consuming a lot of vegetables.
👨🏼💻Although veggies are nutrient dense, they are are filling and make it difficult for athletes to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates which can resuklt in sub optimal energy. ✅
3️⃣ Replace ultra-processed foods with whole foods and home cook your meals when possible.
I hope you leave this with motivation to maximize the nutrient density of your diet through balance and quality food choices. This practice will generally prevent vitamin deficiencies but sometimes they still happen and that is where blood panels + supplements come into play.