Vitamins and minerals are organic compounds found in high concentrations in fruit and vegetables. Though they are all needed for proper bodily function, there are a few that are important for performance.
The important vitamins are: B vitamins, vitamin D, C, E and beta-carotene.
- B vitamins are a group of vitamins that optimise energy production as well as the building and repair of muscle tissue. B vitamins are also vital in red blood cell production.
- Vitamin D is needed for adequate calcium absorption and promotes bone health. It also helps regulate the homeostasis of the nervous system and skeletal muscle.
- The antioxidants (Vitamin C, E and beta-carotene) help protect cell membranes from oxidative damage. More antioxidants are needed because exercise increases oxygen consumption, which increases oxidative damage.
The minerals vital to performance are: Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Calcium.
- Iron is the most important as it gives haemoglobin and myoglobin their shape allowing transportation of oxygen around the body and in the muscle. Without enough Iron, there will not be enough oxygen to maintain the higher intensities that would normally use the aerobic energy system. The lack of oxygen will also negatively affect the recovery times of the anaerobic systems and delay recovery after performance.
- Calcium is required for bone repair, growth and development, but is also a vital nutrient for muscle contraction and nerve conduction (transmission of message). Calcium and Iron are particularly important for female athletes, as they are more likely to be deficient in both.
- Zinc is required for the growth and repair of muscle tissue.
- Magnesium is required for muscular contraction and plays a role in glycolysis. A deficiency in magnesium causes an increased requirement for oxygen for submaximal output.
- Sodium, Chloride and Potassium all play an important role in neural transmission. Sodium is critical, especially as it is lost during exercise through sweat. Sports drinks often help replace Sodium and Potassium.
Supplementation of these micronutrients is only needed when adequate amounts are not gained through a regular diet.