Nutrition

Hey, Athletes: This Is Why Micronutrition Is So Important

6 min read
Our resident dietitian offers some pointers on micronutrition for endurance athletes.
Our resident dietitian offers some pointers on micronutrition for endurance athletes.

Article Content

Micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals) are involved in many functions in the body such as oxygen transport, protection against free radicals, synthesis and support of the skeletal muscle tissue and bone metabolism. Endurance activity stresses a number of metabolic pathways in which nutrients are utilized, which may increase the demand for specific nutrients and possibly widens the gaps and risks for nutrient inadequacy.

Although the role of multivitamin supplements on athletic performance is not clear, the underconsumption of certain micronutrients may impact exercise performance and recovery times. In other words, while macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) get a lot of the glory, endurance athletes may need to pay special attention to their micronutrient intake.* (1)

Below are some key micronutrients to consider as they relate to endurance activities:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin naturally found in a few foods such as fatty fish and egg yolk. It is also produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight hit the skin. Vitamin D inadequacy is prevalent in the United States. Among athletes, the inadequacy risk is higher among those who live at higher altitude, have less UVB exposure through clothing, equipment, and sunscreen as well as those who primarily train and compete indoors, high body fat content, or those typically training in the early morning and evening when UVB levels are low. (2)

Recently, vitamin D has found the spotlight in the athletic world as it is involved in physiological functions beyond bone metabolism, such as normal immune function and skeletal muscle function. Supporting normal muscle function and maintaining bone health are recognized as key areas where vitamin D can provide benefits to athletes. It should be noted that vitamin D is not ergogenic (read: isn't intended to have an impact on performance) and it functions as a supplement through helping meet the biological needs.*

Currently there is no consensus on the minimum serum vitamin D levels to guarantee sufficiency in athletes. However, several studies have found serum levels of 50 ng/mL 25(OH)D to be associated with improved neuromuscular performance. Other key benefits associated with adequate vitamin D levels are reported to be key for muscle protein synthesis and type II muscle fibers.*

Iron

Iron is a trace mineral that is naturally present in many foods such as meat, sea foods, lentils and spinach. It is one of the most critical micronutrients for endurance athletes because of its role in normal energy-yielding metabolism, and oxygen transport. Endurance athletes are at increased risk for iron inadequacy due to increased iron needs as well as inadequate dietary intake. Iron requirements for female athletes is reported to be increased by up to 70% of the estimated average requirement which may raise their daily requirement to >18 mg. Endurance athletes need to be aware of their iron status as inadequate iron levels may impact their performance by decreasing work capacity as well as increasing sense of fatigue.* (3)

B Vitamins

As critical components of coenzymes, B vitamins aid the conversion of food energy into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), as well as the formation of red blood cells. To fuel performance and training, athletes need to consume more energy by consuming greater amounts of foods and nutrients compared to more sedentary individuals. However scientific research usually concludes that exercise does not increase the requirements for B vitamins, and athletes need to follow the dietary reference intake. Meeting the dietary reference intake for vitamin B12 is challenging for athletes who are vegan as it is not commonly found in plant foods. Thus, consumption of fortified foods and supplementation are recommended. A balanced diet can provide enough of other B vitamins to meet the dietary reference intake as they are found naturally in a variety of food sources.

Nutrient adequacy is not just about diet and what is consumed. It is also impacted by how the body processes nutrients. Research has shown that individuals with certain genetic variations in methylentetrahydrofate reductase (MTHFR) enzyme process folic acid less efficiently than those without this genetic variation, and thus are at a greater risk for Folate inadequacy. For athletes with genetic variations in MTHFR enzyme, consumption of the active 5MTHF (the form Ritual uses in its multivitamins) may be a good strategy to ensure folate adequacy.

Ritual's approach

Ritual not only considers dietary intake in our product formulation process, but we also take into account nutrigenetics, lifestyle and function. Ritual products are formulated using a Food First approach, meaning our scientists look at the most up-to-date NHANES data, showing which nutrients men and women at each age and life stage are getting from their diets—and then Ritual formulates products to help fill dietary gaps.

Ritual products are also vegan-friendly. An example of how this is integrated into the formulation process is the inclusion of Vitamin B12 (methylated). Those who don’t eat animal products tend to not get enough of B12, and since there is no upper level toxicity limit, the amount we include works for both people who are vegan and those that aren’t.

Nutrigenetics, how genes and nutrients interact at the molecular level, is also considered. For example, Ritual includes active 5MTHF, or methylated folate, to account for the portion of the population that has a genetic variation in the MTHFR enzyme, making it difficult to consume folic acid, the most commonly used form of folate in supplements. Many people don’t even know they have this variation, so the form that Ritual includes can be efficiently utilized by the body for those with and without the variation.

And finally, Ritual’s scientific team looks at the interplay between different nutrients and their impact, for instance the inclusion of Vitamin D3, and Vitamin K2—that help the body better absorb and or utilize Calcium from the diet.*

References:

  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Sport Nutrition Care. Retrieved from Nutrition Care Manual
  2. Owens, D. J., Allison, R., & Close, G. L. (2018). Vitamin D and the Athlete: Current Perspectives and New Challenges. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 48(Suppl 1), 3–16.
  3. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports MEDICINE: Nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528

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Meet the Experts

The experts have helped inform the contents of this article.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, VP of Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

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