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Top Nutrients Needed by Athletes

Eating lots of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, following a healthy and balanced diet is essential for good health and for a correct intake of vitamins and minerals. However, if you regularly go to the gym or play a sport at a competitive level it may not be enough. Some nutrients are essential for making the muscles work properly and efficiently, and moderate to vigorous exercise increases the loss of some minerals, mainly through sweat. In other words: being very active can mean that your reserves are completely exploited. Keep reading this article to find out which of these essential elements you may need the most and how to increase your contribution to help you achieve optimal performance.

Vitamin B

When you lack the energy to perform those last repetitions it is likely that you have a deficiency of this group of micronutrients, including vitamins B6 and B12, thiamin, riboflavin and folic acid. Your body needs them to turn proteins and sugars into energy and to make red blood cells. Athletes with lower levels of these micronutrients had reduced performance during high-intensity exercise, according to a research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
Food sources: tuna, black beans, lentils, peanuts.

Calcium

Milk is good for the body - commercials do not lie. For each cup of skim milk consumed per day, the incidence for runners to develop a stress bone fracture is reduced by 62%, according to a study by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Calcium, together with vitamin D, potassium and proteins in dairy drinks, can significantly improve the bone density of participants - and a strong skeleton is an important key to any high impact activity.
Food sources: milk, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, beans, cereals.

Vitamin C

Up to 50% of people who play sports in cold climates suffer from a certain degree of asthma induced by exercise. The good news is that citrus fruits that are in season throughout the winter, like oranges and grapefruits, can help. Vitamin C can reduce coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath during and after exercise, according to a recent study by the University of Helsinki in Finland. Also a sufficient intake of this vitamin significantly decreases the likelihood that active people get the common cold.
Food Sources: Citrus, strawberries, peppers, cabbage.

Vitamin D

Taking some sun will not only improve your mood, but it can also increase your energy. In a recent study by the University of Newcastle, England, patients experienced less fatigue after receiving a dose of vitamin D. This is due to the fact that when lacking this micronutrient, mitochondria in muscle fibres can not regenerate properly the energy after the muscles contract, making you feel tired more quickly.
Food sources: milk, salmon, trout, egg yolk.

Vitamin E

If you are a regular visitor to the gym, you can reduce the possibility of getting sick by consuming some of this precious oily antioxidant. According to a study published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, taking this vitamin reduces the risk of pneumonia by 69% among non-smokers who play sports.
Food sources: sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter.

Iron

To assist your muscles in working more efficiently, you literally have to consume iron. One hour of training can decrease by 5.7% the level of this mineral that helps red blood cells to transfer oxygen to the muscles. Consuming too much of your reserves can result in an iron deficiency anemia, which causes fatigue and reduces resistance during long exercise sessions.
Food sources: beef, eggs, spinach, broccoli, cereals.

Magnesium

This mineral is a panacea for weekend sportsmen as well as for endurance professional athletes. Magnesium is a key component of over 300 enzymes responsible for energy metabolism. Furthermore it plays an important role in bone formation. Enhanced bone density is essential in preventing stress fractures during high impact sports. Magnesium is lost through sweat. To avoid this inconvenience, an adequate dose can be taken, through supplementing, before a particularly heavy or long-lasting training session.
Food sources: green leafy vegetables, almonds, halibut, quinoa.

Potassium

Marathon runners are used, for good reason, to taking a banana after crossing the finish line: its high potassium content helps reduce cramps and accelerate recovery.
Why? Potassium, along with sodium, helps muscles and nerves to function properly. It is also the primary electrolyte in the intracellular fluid, which plays an important role in balancing the water content throughout the body. It should be considered an indispensable fuel after a hard training or exhausting exercise of more than an hour.

Food sources: sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, tuna.

Sodium

The word "sodium" may seem like a dirty word in the healthy world of proper dieting and it is true that most people need to reduce their intake from junk and pre-packaged foods. But if you take part in endurance sports, you lose sodium through sweat and, by hydrating only with water, you may experience heat cramps or hyponatraemia, which is a low sodium concentration in the blood that can be dangerous in the worst cases. People with salty sweat (notice a whitish layer on the skin after a workout), people with high sweating (produce a high quantity of sweat while exercising), people working in hot temperatures and humid climates and endurance athletes must pay due attention to their sodium levels. During long and exhausting performances, bring along supplements rich in salts to be consumed in the middle of the training.
Food sources: Gatorade, pretzels, salted nuts.

Zinc

An overload of carbohydrates, limiting proteins and fats, can cause a zinc deficiency of up to 90% in athletes. This can drastically reduce your energy and endurance levels.
A recent research by the US Department of Agriculture has found that a limited intake of zinc has reduced oxygen absorption in cyclists, resulting in a higher and quicker level of fatigue. Be sure to get a sufficient amount of this mineral before a demanding workout by consuming a serving of meatballs during a pre-race meal based on carbohydrates.
Food sources: red meat, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, quinoa.

Excessive intake of some nutrients can be as harmful as being deficient of them, so consult with your physician before changing your diet or adding any supplements. Find the right balance for your body and, when you're fit, obtain your best performance.