Let’s face it… Not many people spend time thinking about micronutrients, but they may be the reason why you aren’t hitting your fitness goals. When it comes to weight loss or muscle growth, the go-to strategy involves managing “calories in and calories out.” For those more serious, they measure their daily macronutrients – fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. These strategies deliver results fast and are simple to follow, but they leave out the mini nutrients. We call these little guys micronutrients, and they may be the missing link in your health and fitness program.
What are micronutrients?
Simply put, they are vitamins and minerals, and the body requires them to produce hormones and enzymes needed for growth and development. For example, sodium maintains fluid balance in our bodies, iron aids in red blood cell development, and chloride plays a role in maintaining cellular pH levels. When our bodies don’t receive enough micronutrients, we experience symptoms ranging from hair loss and tooth decay to brain fog and muscle weakness. “Take your vitamins” is no longer a quote reserved for doctors – it actually plays a role in delivering the body and performance that you want!
Micronutrients are divided into 3 main categories:
While we only need a small amount, they play major roles in our growth, digestion, energy transfer (hint: calories used), nervous system function, and more. In other words, they’re not used for energy, but they find, break down, and help us use the energy we do have. Vitamins are found in the foods we eat. For example, fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin C, which is important for the immune system and healing wounds. When we don’t consume or absorb enough vitamins, we may have a deficiency with nagging symptoms.
Like vitamins, our bodies do not need large quantities of minerals, but they are crucial for building teeth, bones, other cells, and enzymes. These electrically charged particles attach to water. Electrolytes are an important mineral used for hydration, and they keep fluids balanced in the body. For example, they make sure that water doesn’t become trapped in the tissue or blood but rather balanced between the two compartments.
Less well-known are phytonutrients, which are chemicals found only in plants. Scientists continue to research and discover new phytonutrients all the time. For example, resveratrol is found in grapes. Shout out to all you wine lovers! It acts as an antioxidant, keeping nasty particles from harming our immune system.
How can micronutrients help me with my goals?
Here’s the deal… Regardless of your health or fitness goals, these deficiencies can prevent you from getting the results you want. Let’s take a more detailed look at how micronutrients can help you.
Anyone who needs to go to the gym consistently knows the constant battle between needing to exercise and actually making it happen. We’ve all had that so-called perfect day when there is time to exercise, there is motivation to exercise, but for some reason, there is no energy for exercise! One reason may be a nutrient deficiency. Many people have nutrient deficiencies and don’t even know it. Regardless of your goal, you need micronutrients to provide the pep in your step to get you to the gym and then complete an exercise session.
If you’re concerned with weight loss, know that deficiencies can prevent the energy in your body from being used. This means you may not burn as many calories, even if you’re working hard. After sweating bullets in the gym all month, you may find you’re still not seeing results. All you’re left with is fatigue – not fun! Micronutrients are the backstage hands that support the chemical reactions used to burn calories.
If you want to increase muscle or gain strength, realize that muscles rely on vitamins and minerals to contract to their full potential and to build the muscle cells in size. If they can’t contract fully, you’ll have trouble progressing to heavier weights or more volume in your program. Micronutrients help us feel energized. Without energy, it’s difficult to get pumped before a lifting session, and you may find yourself relying on caffeine or pre-workout supplements to get you moving. Eventually, caffeine supplements won’t give you optimal muscle control, and you may hit a plateau in training or technique.
If you want to stay healthy or manage a pre-existing medical condition, you need micronutrients to keep your body functioning like a well-oiled machine. Some of the signs for deficiencies are even red flags that could help you and your doctor identify a developing disorder early on.
How do I know if I have a micronutrient deficiency?
I’m glad you asked! Check out these common symptoms.
|Memory problems, disorientation, or dementia||Niacin (B3), vitamin B12, or thiamine (B1) deficiency|
|Eyes – puffy, red, or difficult-to-control||Over-hydrated; vitamin A or zinc deficiency|
|Acne||Vitamin C deficiency|
|Tingling feet and/or hands||Pyridoxine (B6) or vitamin B12 deficiency|
|Muscle spasms||Calcium, magnesium, or vitamin D deficiency|
|Brittle, thin nails||Iron deficiency|
|Cracked lips||Riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), or pyridoxine (B6) deficiency|
|Hair loss, night blindness, low immune system, or slow wound healing||Zinc deficiency|
Getting results in health and fitness is already hard enough as it is. Don’t let the lack of micronutrients stand in your way!
As always, talk to your doctor if you think you have a nutrient deficiency. They can provide more information after conducting a blood test or in-person exam.
The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition (pp 171-188)