Why micronutrients are so important for you in sport

Micronutrients

More performance through better micronutrient supply

Confusion of terms and examples

An important topic – micronutrients in sports. But why exactly? Athletes not only have an increased need for macronutrients (e.g. carbohydrates) during high physical exertion, but also for micronutrients.  


Micronutrients
is an umbrella term that can be further divided into different groups. This leads to the fact that often with many different terms are thrown around, without knowing that is still about micronutrients .

Micronutrients can be divided into the following categories: 

  • Mineral nutrients
  • Vitamins
  • Secondary plant substances

The following paragraphs are intended first to provide some clarity, and then to better understand why those micronutrients are so important.

Mineral nutrients

Minerals are in turn divided into trace and bulk elements. This classification is made on the basis of the quantitative proportion in the body.

Trace elements

Its content in the body is less than 50mg/kg body weight (bw). An exception is iron, which occurs in amounts of 60mg/kg bw. According to their low content in the body, they are also needed in smaller quantities. Trace elements are required inµg to mg amounts.

Some trace elements are iron, fluorine, copper, selenium, nickel, zinc, iodine, manganese, molybdenum.

Quantity elements

These are found in the body in concentrations above 50mg/kg body weight and are needed in amounts of grams per day.

Important representatives of the bulk elements are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium

Electrolytes

Whoever thought that sodium, potassium, calcium and other minerals just mentioned were actually electrolytes was right. If the confusion is now getting bigger rather than smaller, we’re sorry. Here is the resolution.

The minerals known as electrolytes are bulk elements (i.e. they are required in relatively large quantities) and are present in the aqueous environment mostly ionized as cations (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+) and anions (Cl-, SO42-…). For this reason, they are appropriately called electrolytes. As charge carriers, they play a major role in the water balance of the organism. The concentration of the individual elements in the different compartments is very different.

In the extracellular space, Na+ and Cl- predominate, while intracellularly, K+, and Mg2+ are predominant. This composition inside and outside the cell is precisely balanced and kept constant by a relatively high energy consumption of the cell. If this ratio changes, the cell can no longer perform its functions and may perish.

Vitamins

The term “vitamins” was introduced by Casimir Funk in 1912. It is composed of vita (the life- and amine (nitrogenous). Not all vitamins are amines, i.e. nitrogen-containing compounds, but the name is nevertheless used for all vitamins.

Vitamins are organic compounds that cannot be synthesized by the human body or cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities, therefore they belong to the essential food components. 

Micronutrients functions

Minerals / Electrolytes

Minerals or electrolytes are involved in numerous metabolic processes in the body. They are responsible for the absorption of carbohydrates and amino acids and they activate various enzymes as well as hormones.

Minerals also influence the transmission of stimuli (transmission of electrical impulses), they regulate fluid balance and blood pressure as well as heart and muscle functions and other important body processes.

Here is a classification of minerals according to their functions:

  • Minerals that build body structures (Ca, Mg, P)
  • Minerals serving the osmotic regulation (K, Na, Cl)
  • Minerals involved in building active substances, enzymes and hormones (cobalt, selenium, iodine)
  • Minerals needed for the transformation of organic compounds (Zn)

Vitamins

Vitamins fulfill a wide variety of tasks in the body, but they are not building blocks for tissues or organs. Rather, vitamins serve in the body to exercise and maintain physiological functions.  

Vitamins do not provide energy and must be supplied in relatively small quantities. They can be divided into fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.

You will learn more about the different effects of individual vitamins in another article.

Secondary plant substances

Antioxidants such as flavonoids and anthocyanins are also suitable for regulating oxidative stress. These are particularly abundant as secondary plant compounds in some types of fruit and vegetables such as blueberries, beetroot, sour cherries and raspberries.

Antioxidants also support tissue repair and they reduce the corresponding symptoms and damage in muscle and muscle tissue. (1,2)

Other plus points: Antioxidants have a vasoprotective and edema-protective effect and can activate various immune cell types. For this reason, it is believed that they support the immune defense and at the same time also have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Micronutrients in sports: How to supply yourself properly

Greater need for micronutrients under high stress

Exposing the body to intense physical stress increases various metabolic processes, such as sweating. During this process, you lose a lot of fluid, which can mean up to 2-3 liters per hour during high exertion in training and competition.

The body also increasingly excretes a wide variety of minerals via the sweat it produces. When you lose 1 liter of sweat, your body releases about 700 to 1,500 mg of sodium, 200 to 480 mg of potassium, 20 to 40 mg of calcium and 4 to 20 mg of magnesium, among other things.

Negative effects for athletes in case of undersupply

So after an intense workout you have a correspondingly increased need for minerals, which you should of course compensate for. A high loss of minerals can otherwise lead to a drop in performance, reduced muscle blood flow as well as a drop in blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia and thickening of your blood.

During intense physical activity, an increased number of free radicals are formed due to increased cellular respiration – this is referred to as oxidative stress.

These free radicals can, for example, lead to damage or impairment of tissues and muscles, they can cause inflammation and additionally cause muscle damage and soreness.

Natural instead of artificial food

However, free radicals are also drivers and one reason why adaptation processes occur at the cellular level in response to endurance training. Which, of course, is important for performance development. 

One should note in this context that e.g. artificial supplements can negatively affect these adaptation processes.

Therefore, we recommend natural foods as well as a controlled use of special sports nutrition during high, prolonged stress. Natural sports nutrition products with a high real fruit content also provide important vitamins for you here. 

Thus, the mentioned adaptation processes can take place unhindered – and the body is perfectly supplied with the appropriate micronutrients.

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