Are nutrient deficiencies making your workouts harder?

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If you’re someone who exercises regularly (especially if you do strenuous workouts) your risk for some nutrient deficiencies may go up. This makes a whole lot of sense, because while exercise is an extraordinarily healthy thing to do, it does tax your body. Burning more calories increases your energy requirements and makes getting enough micronutrients even more important. For optimal recovery outside the gym and optimal performance in it, your body needs adequate levels of all micronutrients. In this blog, you’ll find which eight vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants deserve special attention from exercisers.

[Skip to shopping our multivitamin and micronutrient picks for athletes]

8 Vitamins, Minerals, & Antioxidants for Exercisers

Vitamins & Minerals

1. Calcium

chia pudding with yogurt strawberries and kiwis contains calcium

Because of calcium’s critical role in bone formation and maintenance, some studies suggest taking calcium and vitamin D can actually influence how bones adapt to exercise. Supplementing calcium before a workout may protect against the bone density loss that occurs as a result of some forms of exercise, like cycling. For a bone bonus, pair weight-bearing exercise with proper nutrition.

Find Calcium in:

Find high levels of calcium in seeds (especially poppy, celery, chia, and sesame), dairy (cheese and yogurt), beans and lentils, almonds, whey protein, some leafy greens (kale and collard greens), and rhubarb.

2. Vitamin D

person laying on beach under umbrella soaking up vitamin d

While exercising may actually boost vitamin D production, the critical role it plays in bone, brain, and heart health makes a vitamin D supplement a helpful ally to exercisers. According to this review, athletes are just as at risk as non-athletes in their location when it comes to vitamin D deficiency, and those who exercise indoors are more likely to have low vitamin D levels than those who do not exercise.

Find vitamin D in:

Unfortunately, fish, eggs, and mushrooms are some of the only dietary vitamin D sources. Since there are no unfortified foods that are particularly high in vitamin D, it’s a good idea for the vast majority of people to supplement it, especially if they live in darker climates or exercise heavily.

[More Than a Third of U.S. Adults Are Vitamin D Deficient: Are You?]

3. Zinc

oysters on plate with lemon contain zinc

Because of the critical role that zinc plays in exercise performance and recovery (and the fact that exercise can “use” it up), this one is a particularly important one to keep an eye on. Long term endurance athletes are likely more at risk for zinc deficiency than other exercisers. Because meat is a major source of zinc, people on plant-based or low protein diets should pay special attention to their intake.

Find Zinc in:

Meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, and dark chocolate all contain high levels of zinc.

[6 Science-backed Supplements for Immune Health]

4. Magnesium

black and white photo of sweat on chest

Strenuous exercise can result in so much magnesium being lost in sweat that daily requirements go up 10-20%. Magnesium deficiency amplifies the bodily stress that can occur as a result of intense exercise.

Find Magnesium in:

Many plant-based foods like nuts and seeds, avocados, legumes, whole grains, and (once again) dark chocolate are high in magnesium.

Antioxidants

5. Vitamin C

pile of guavas

Because vitamin C is also water-soluble, it is one of the multiple vitamins lost in sweat. Vitamin C can also reduce the oxidative damage that occurs with exercise. Additionally, vitamin C deficiency (most recently studied in rats) is associated with muscle wasting. As a result, consuming beverages or foods high in vitamin C pre-workout to protect and/or post-workout to replenish your stores is a good idea.

Find vitamin C in:

Foods high in vitamin C include guava (one cup has over 400% of your daily amount!), tomato and orange juice (not from concentrate!), sweet peppers, broccoli, oranges, strawberries, and other fruits.

6. Vitamin E

woman running at sunset

Studies have shown vitamin E supplementation may help prevent free radical damage (and LDL cholesterol production!) that occurs as a result of long-distance exercise, so it’s better to have these foods well before a workout.

Find vitamin E in:

Foods high in vitamin E include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds (and oil), nuts (almonds, pine nuts, peanuts), avocado, and salmon.

7. Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene)

carrots and carrot juice are high in vitamin a

Beta-carotene can be converted by the human body into vitamin A (retinol). Because of its antioxidant activity, some studies show beta-carotene may decrease oxidative damage and therefore enhance exercise recovery. However, if possible, it’s preferable to get micronutrients from your food before considering supplementation. When it comes to antioxidant supplementation and exercise, it’s likely that too much of a good thing may hamper some exercise-induced benefits.

Find beta-carotene in:

While there are high levels of beta-carotene in many spices, foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, butternut squash, and cantaloupe are probably easier to consume in higher amounts.

8. Selenium

selenium containing brazil nuts in front of wooden bowl

Selenium may not receive as much attention as other antioxidants at the moment, but especially in individuals who are overweight, selenium may alleviate the oxidative damage associated with exercise.

Find selenium in:

The superstar food when it comes to selenium is the Brazil nut. A single ounce of Brazil nuts contains 544 mcg, so it’s wise to limit your consumption to a few times a week to avoid overdoing selenium.

Ensure you’re getting enough of these eight micronutrients through food or supplementation and you’ll be well on your way to optimized workouts and recovery. Want one product that contains all of them? Shop our multivitamin picks for athletes.

[If you’re looking for a little more guidance first, read How to Pick the Perfect Multivitamin for You]

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