Micro-nutrition is a buzz word in athletic and healthy eating circles, but while it may sound complex, you probably know more about it than you think. Micro-nutrition just means vitamins and minerals and it is super important to an athlete’s performance and health.
If like me, you are a vegetarian, then your nutrition is probably pretty important to you and if you want to perform at your best it is vital to ensure you’re getting enough of what you need.
Multivitamin tablets can be a helpful insurance policy, but nothing can replace the right fruit and veg, so the best way to get your daily micro-nutrient intake is to eat a balanced diet.
This guide offers a great, in depth overview of a recommended balanced diet for veggie athletes, but we’re going to focus on the micro-nutrition side of things. Here are the essentials that every athlete needs, and why:
Calcium – For Bone Strength
Any athlete who has suffered a bone injury will tell you how important it is for it to heal quickly, and the best way to a strong skeletal system is to get enough calcium. The mineral is also great for your cardiovascular health and muscle contraction.
You can get your intake through milk, yoghurt and cheese, but vegans can also try calcium-fortfied soy milk and orange juice. Check out this guide to a calcium rich vegan diet.
Calcium is particularly important for athletes because high impact exercise actually damages your bones, but if you consume plenty of calcium your body will repair those bones stronger and denser, which is excellent news for your long-term bone health!
Iron – For Oxygenated Blood
Everyone knows that iron is prevalent in red meat, but you can also get lots of the stuff in leafy green vegetables and whole grains. You’ll need iron to keep your blood getting oxygen to the right places. Get your iron levels checked every year if you work out for six hours or more per week.
As an athlete this is super important because without enough iron your body can’t efficiently transport all of that vital oxygen to your muscles, which means that you will tire faster and perform worse.
Vitamin C – To Fight Germs
Vitamin C does at least 30 different jobs in our bodies including supporting the immune system, repairing connective tissue and antioxidant function. You’ll find it in orange juice, but you knew that, right? It’s also available in strawberries, kiwis and even potatoes!
Hopefully the reason why you need this is obvious – no one likes getting sick do they? Well regular exercise plus plenty of vitamin C results in a strong immune system that will have you brushing off those pesky colds that have most people out of action for days.
Potassium – For Muscle Stability
Helping to stabilise muscle contraction, and regulate the amount of water in our bodies, potassium is vital for our diet – having too little can mean weak muscles, but also abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure. Try bananas, milk and whole grains to get your fix.
Zinc – For Fuel & Recovery
Zinc can help you repair your muscles after exercise, as well as turn food into fuel when you work out, so it’s a favourite amongst athletes. It’s present in bran and egg yolk.
Sodium – Salt Isn’t All Bad
Salt can prevent cramps, but too much can lead to strokes or heart disease. A sports drink with electrolytes and salt is useful if you’re working out for more than four hours at a time, but don’t use these unless you need them.
Of course, most of the western world get too much salt, but the irony is that as an athlete you probably need more, and if you eat mostly whole foods and lots of veg you may actually be consuming LESS than you need!
Other Important Bits
The ones above are the big hitters, but good nutrition is all about balance, so here’s a quick rundown of the other important vitamins and minerals that it is easy to forget about:
This antioxidant helps to reduce damage to muscular tissue, which is essential for any athlete! You’ll find it in sunflower seeds and olive oil.
Your respiratory system and skin are helped by Beta-Carotene, which is present in orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots.
Garlic, mushrooms and Brazil nuts contain selenium, which is a free radical that is great for your immune system. It also helps to repair cellular damage.
Magnesium helps to prevent cramps, and a lack of it can cause nausea and fatigue while exercising. It’s in nuts, figs and soy beans.
About The Author
Hi there, my name is Jonathon, I am a fitness professional and a life-long vegetarian, so I understand the importance of good nutrition. I love eating a healthy diet and how great it makes you feel. I also work for Natures Best, where we sell various natural health supplements which can be helpful to supplement a plant based diet.