16 Aug Performance Nutrition Basics, Leg Four; Vitamins, Minerals and Water

Vitamins & minerals are considered “micronutrients”.  The word “micro” may mean tiny, but don’t think that the micronutrients are less important than their macronutrient cousins.  They are equally important; the body just requires smaller quantities of them.  They are the biological components of food that are critical for the body’s cellular-level functions (as enzymes, co-enzymes, co-factors, etc.).  Here are just a few examples of micronutrients and their sources and functions:

Calcium (in leafy greens and dairy) is involved in muscle contraction (in addition to the more familiar function of bone strength).

Potassium (in bananas, potatoes and a host of other vegetables & fruits) helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

Beta-carotene (in orange fruits & vegetables) is important for our eyes & vision.

For many, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “vitamin” is a pill.   Sadly, taking a vitamin supplement is not the best way to provide your body with the vital nutrients it needs.  It is always best to get your nutrition from foods.  Unfortunately, many Americans, even fit athletes, do not always hit the mark when it comes to well-balanced, high-nutrient-density intake.  That, coupled with the athlete’s higher nutrient needs sometimes means a supplement is necessary.  It’s best to have a dietitian assess your dietary intake to determine if a vitamin or mineral supplement will be helpful or just a waste of money for you.  (Important note: most vitamin/mineral supplements are not harmful for the body, but there are a few that can build up to toxic levels if taken in excess.)   A focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains is the best way to get the nutrients your body requires.

Now a note about water.  While everyone understands the importance of hydration in athletic performance, succeeding at it can be a whole different story.

Here are some useful tips for making sure you stay hydrated at all times:

—have a cup or bottle by your bed and drink at least 8 ounces right when you get up
—carry water in a vessel that will not spill and set a goal to drink 5-10 ounces per waking hour
—train yourself to drink room-temp water so that you don’t limit yourself in any way from drinking at any time
—download a water-tracking app and set a goal for 0.5-1.0 ounces per pound
—do not count caffeinated beverages in with your intake; while regular caffeine consumers will likely not experience much of a diuretic effect, it’s hard to determine if there is extra fluid loss, so it’s better to exceed your needs than to end up short

Remember, it is best to be in a constant state of hydration instead of just focusing on “getting hydrated” for an event.  On the morning of your event, it’s important to start hydrating early, just like it’s important to start eating early.  It’s best to drink at least 20 ounces 3 hours before the start of the event.  It will also help to drink a bit more about 30 minutes before starting, but the amount depends on what you can tolerate without feeling full or bloated.  Also, during an event, it’s best to drink at least 16 ounces per hour, but your stomach will thank you if you space this consumption out through the hour & don’t try to drink it all at once.  All of these numbers are fairly arbitrary, as everyone “loses” fluid at different rates, but they are at least a good guide.

Janet Carter, MS, RD, LD, CPT, CLS
Dietitian/Sports NutritionistEndurance Athlete

Coming Soon: Performance Nutrition Advanced, Leg One; Maximizing Carbohydrate Intake for Peak Performance

This blog is written using the most updated scientific information available.  The author has no financial stake in anything that’s discussed, nor is she benefiting financially from writing the blog article.  In other words, you are receiving un-biased, science-based sports nutrition information from an experienced professional who is also a seasoned endurance athlete.

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