As an athlete, many of your vitamin and mineral requirements are higher than the average person in order to keep your body healthy and functioning at an optimal level. You also often experience suppressed immune system in times of high volume or high intensity training. Eating foods high in vitamins and minerals can help counteract this immunosuppression and keep you healthy throughout your training cycles.

Here are some examples of micronutrients that you should prioritize when training: 

1) Vitamin D

Recent research suggests that increasing vitamin D consumption might positively impact muscle metabolism and sport performance. It is also important in maintaining the strength of the immune system. 

Some animal sources of vitamin D are fish such as herring, salmon and tuna. It is also found in meat and egg yolks. In Canada, Vitamin D is fortified in milk, margarine, and some yogurts and cheeses. As far as plant sources, vitamin D can be found in its inactive form in mushrooms and alfalfa sprouts as well as many fortified plant milks such as almond or soy. 

2) Magnesium

Magnesium is important as it's a co-factor in the conversion of vitamin D to its main circulating form in the body. Magnesium is also crucial for numerous processes that are particularly important for athletes such as oxygen uptake, energy production, and electrolyte balance. You lose a lot of magnesium during exercise through sweat, so you need to ensure you're getting enough in your diet. 

Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, legumes and green leafy vegetables.

3) Iron

The body requires iron to deliver oxygen to all tissues and produce energy at the cellular level. Oxygen binds to hemoglobin in the blood, and iron is a key component of the hemoglobin molecule. Iron deficiency anemia is more prevalent in athletes due to heavy training, but particularly in females as they lose blood through menstruation. It is important for athletes to get their iron status checked regularly in order to avoid deficiency.

You can get iron from both heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme is the more bioavailable form and is only found in animal products, especially meat, fish, poultry, oysters and clams. Non-heme iron is also found in meat, but also in legumes, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruits, as well as any foods that are fortified with iron such as grain products. Vitamin C strongly enhances the absorption of non-heme iron.

4) B vitamins

B complex vitamins are important for energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, immune function, and building and repair of muscle tissue. For many of the B vitamins, it is likely that deficiencies will negatively impact performance and increasing intake will improve performance, however there will be no added benefit if intake is already adequate.

In general, eating a lot of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts and lean meats will allow you to reach adequate B vitamin levels to maintain your health and performance. However, B12 is only found in animal products and is important in terms of red blood cell production and immune function. If you are a vegan or vegetarian you should get your levels tested and you will likely need to supplement with vitamin B12.

Today's POWER-UP: Tips to make sure you're getting the micronutrients you need 

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. At least half your meals should be vegetables!

  • Avoid processed foods as much as possible, especially refined grain products. The milling process removes the nutrient dense bran and germ leaving you with nutrient lacking, empty energy.

  • Make sure you are getting plenty of healthy fats to allow your fat-soluble vitamins to be absorbed.