Six Nutrients for Better Recovery and Well-Being
When thinking about making changes to our diets, we often think about eating to gain muscle or to lose fat. However, there are many other reasons to alter our diets that don’t involve a change in weight at all. Current estimates state that about 70% of the standard American diet consists of processed foods (1). While frozen fruits and vegetables are included in this statistic, the majority of those foods are nutrient-poor choices that result in major vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can leave us with muscle cramps, fatigue, difficulty focusing, or many other difficulties.
Ensuring proper nutrient balance is especially important for athletes and avid exercisers, but it is also important for those simply wanting to feel better. In general, lots of emphasis is placed on the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and their role in the diet. However, the role of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are crucial too.
Micronutrients are nutrients that humans only need in small amounts. This category can be further broken down into vitamins and minerals. Most athletes and active individuals emphasize protein, carbohydrates, fluids, and adequate sleep to boost recovery. While these practices are great, athletes can’t overlook the importance of a diet that is balanced in micronutrients. Along with promoting muscle recovery, many of these vitamins and minerals also aid in injury prevention and help boost the immune system! Check out these 6 micronutrients you should be including in your diet to feel better and perform better!
We hear all about Vitamin D, especially in the winter months when we all struggle to get enough sunlight! Our bodies synthesize Vitamin D when exposed to safe levels of sunlight. The CDC recommends spending 5-30 minutes at least twice a week under direct sun exposure, especially of the face, arms, hands and legs. It can also be consumed through our diets, specifically through fatty fish and foods that have been fortified with Vitamin D (6). Vitamin D is important in allowing our bodies to properly absorb calcium, which will be discussed next!
Increase Vitamin D intake by consuming tuna, mackerel, salmon, eggs, yogurt, soy beans, fortified milk, fortified orange juice, and fortified cereal.
Calcium is a mineral that is crucial for bone strength, as well as heart, muscle, and nerve function. Calcium is actually the mineral required for both the contraction of a muscle and the transmission of any sensation through the nervous system. A decreased amount of calcium would result in weaker bones, weaker and uncoordinated muscle contractions, and faulty cell communication. It can be consumed through dairy, green leafy vegetables, and some nuts and seeds (2).
Increase Calcium intake by consuming milk, yogurt, cheese, spinach, kale, almonds, chia seeds and flax seeds.
Iron is a mineral that is responsible for aiding in the transportation of oxygen around the body through the blood and into the tissues. A low level of iron results in less oxygen to the muscles, which can be observed as increased fatigue, weakness, and slower recovery. Foods rich in iron include red meat, legumes, and green leafy vegetables (4).
Increase Iron intake by consuming red meat, tofu, lentils, spinach, and eggs.
Copper is a mineral that is needed in very small quantities, but is used by the cardiovascular, skeletal, and nervous systems. It aids in strengthening the connection of muscle to bone (tendons) and therefore aids in injury prevention. Foods rich in copper include shellfish, organ meats, nuts, seeds, and even dark chocolate (3)!
Increase Copper intake by consuming liver, oysters, nuts, sunflower seeds, and dark chocolate.
Zinc is a mineral that aids in recovery between workouts by helping the body produce proteins to repair the muscles. Additionally, it speeds up wound healing and supports the immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Foods rich in zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, and whole grains (7).
Increase Zinc intake by consuming oysters, red meat, chicken, chickpeas, cashews, and almonds.
Vitamin C is a vitamin with many anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can relieve aches and pains, especially those that you feel after a workout! While helping you feel better, it also helps you recover more quickly. We all know that Vitamin C helps boost the immune system, but it also aids in absorption of iron and helps heal wounds. Fruits and vegetables are very good sources of Vitamin C, but remember, it can’t be stored in your body, so you need to be consistent with your consumption (5)!
Increase Vitamin C intake by consuming papaya, oranges, kiwi fruit, spinach, and kale.
If these suggestions left you feeling overwhelmed, simply try adding leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds to your diet, since these have many vitamins and minerals!
Katie Usher is a new addition to the strength and conditioning team at Olympia Fitness and Performance. She recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island with degrees in Kinesiology and Psychology. While interning at Olympia, she found a love for helping athletes and general fitness clients push themselves to new levels in the gym, on the field, and in life.
- Standard Process. (2020, June 16). 5 Hard-to-Swallow Statistics About the SAD: Standard Process Blog. Standard Process. https://blog.standardprocess.com/5-hard-to-swallow-statistics-about-the-sad-standard-process-blog.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Calcium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Copper. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Copper-Consumer/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Vitamin C. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Vitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, March 22). Zinc. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/.