Vitamins and minerals are two substances that make up micronutrients. In my opinionmicronutrients often get overlooked in the general population as well as the fitness industry. The term “micronutrient” simply means a nutrient that is needed in small quantities. Although they are needed in small amounts, vitamins and minerals play important roles throughout the human body. On the other hand, the big buzzword in the nutrition field that gets a lot of attention is macronutrient. Similarly, “macronutrients” are nutrients that are needed in large amounts. Hence the prefix “micro” and “macro”. Since the components of macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat contribute calories, people feel as if they are the only important nutrients needed to be monitored.
The problem is most people do not know enough about micronutrients to realize how important they are for bodily function or athletic performance. This article is going to detail a complete overview of the topic of micronutrients and hopefully provide a greater understanding of the topic.
What are vitamins?
This is a question I get asked quite often but when I think about it not often enough. By definition vitamins are organic molecules that are essential for human survival. There are two types of vitamins, water soluble and fat soluble. The water soluble vitamins are all B-Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Choline. The fat soluble vitamins are Vitamin D, E, K, and A.
Water soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are easily transported in the blood. Since they are water soluble, excess is excreted in urine which creates a low potential for toxicity. Water soluble vitamins have low stores in the body because of this. On the other hand fat soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water; they require fat for transportation in the blood. Unlike water soluble
vitamins, excess can be stored in fat which creates a greater potential for toxicity and a larger storing potential.
(B1) – RDA/AI Men 1.2mg Women 1.1mg a day
plays a major role in energy production and most specifically carbohydrate
metabolism. Thiamin is involved in the conversion and utilization of glycogen
to produce energy. Also of note Thiamin
helps maintain a healthy nervous system. A deficiency in Thiamin is normally
cause by a severe restriction in calories. If untreated for up to 10 days the
condition could turn into the disease Beriberi. Like most water soluble
vitamins toxic build up is rare. Thiamin is found in a variety of foods including
whole grains, nuts, pork and fortified foods such as cereal.
Riboflavin Vitamin (B2) – RDA/AI Men 1.3mg Women 1.1mg a day
is highly involved in aerobic energy production and electron transport.
Riboflavin deficiency can lead to poor exercise performance and can be seen as
red cracked lips, sore throat or inflamed tongue. Toxicity is rare. Riboflavin
can be found in yogurt, milk, bread and cereal.
Niacin Vitamin (B3) – RDA/AI Men 16mg Women 14mg a day
Niacin is highly involved in energy production and mitochondrial metabolism. It is involved in electron transport in BOTH aerobic and anaerobic energy production. Niacin can be used to lower cholesterol because it can slightly block fat breakdown. Another interesting fact about Niacin is that it can be made in the body in small amounts from the amino acid Tryptophan. Niacin deficiency will affect a number of different metabolic pathways. Symptoms of deficiency are skin rashes, mental confusion, muscle weakness, and fatigue. If deficiency is not treated it can turn into the disease pellagra. Symptoms of toxicity are itchy rashes,
headaches, and liver complications. The upper limit is 35mg. Niacin is found in
fortified foods such as flours, grains and cereals. Other Niacin rich foods are
beef, poultry and seafood.
Vitamin B6 – RDA/AI Men and Women 1.3mg a day
B6 has many pyridox forms. The body uses it very efficiently therefore only a
small amount of intake is needed. It plays an important role in glycogen
metabolism. B6 is involved in breaking down glycogen for energy and
gluconeogenesis in the liver, both processes are very important during
endurance activities. Vitamin B6 is also important for red blood cell
production. Deficiencies are rare. The upper limit is around 100mg. Extreme high
levels of B6 (1000-2000mg/day) can cause irreversible nerve damage. Vitamin B6
is found in high protein foods such as beef, poultry, fish, and eggs. Unlike
the previous B vitamins fortification does not replace lost B6 from foods.
Vitamin B12 – RDA/AI Men and Women 2.4 micro grams a day
B12 is commonly referred to as cobalamin.
B12 is important for energy production, tissue growth and development as
well as nervous and cardiovascular health. In order to properly absorb Vitamin
B12 intrinsic factor is needed. Pernicious Anemia is caused by a lack of
intrinsic factor. Deficiencies are caused by either impaired absorption or lack
of intake. Vegans need to be sure to intake fortified foods or consume a
supplement because B12 is only found naturally in animal products. Toxicity is
very rare and no upper limit has been established. Vitamin B12 is found in
meat, dairy, eggs and fortified foods such as cereal.
Folate (Folic Acid) – RDA/AI Men and Women 400 micrograms a day
is naturally occurring form found in whole foods; folic acid is used in
supplemental form. Folate plays a huge role in growth and development of a
fetus and is also important for prevention of neural tube defects during
pregnancy. Folate is involved with Red Blood Cell maturation as well. Signs of
deficiency are neural tube defects, anemia and impaired immune function. High
Folate can hide Vitamin B12 deficiencies. Toxicity is rare. Folate can be found in dark
leafy green vegetables as well as a variety of other plant based fruits and
Biotin – RDA/AI Men and Women 30 micrograms a day
plays a role in DNA synthesis for healthy cell production and an important role
in energy production for endurance activities. Deficiency is rare and there is
no documented case of toxicity. Biotin can be found in a wide range of foods
from legumes, cheese, nuts, egg yolk, and green leafy vegetables.
Pantothenic Acid – RDA/AI Men and Women 5 mg a day
Acid is very important to athletes because of its role in energy metabolism. PA
is a component of coenzyme A, which is a molecule that is critical for the
passage of metabolic intermediates from protein, carbohydrates and fat into the
citric acid cycle. Deficiencies are rare but take in the symptoms of a constant
hangover. No documented toxicity. PA can be found in beef, poultry, fish, whole
grains, dairy products, potatoes, oats and a variety of other foods.
Choline – RDA/AI Men 550mg and Women 425mg a day
is a vitamin type compound but is not considered a B vitamin. Choline is
involved in the formation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is
involved in muscle activation. Deficiencies are rare but toxicity can happen
around 3,500 mg. low blood pressure, diarrhea and a fish body odor are all
symptoms of Choline toxicity. Choline
can be found in egg yolks, nuts, milk, cauliflower, soybeans and a variety of
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) – RDA/AI Men 90mg and Women 75mg a day
C has gained a lot of attention because of its antioxidant properties. Vitamin
C’s main functions are collagen synthesis and enhanced immune function. Vitamin
C also can enhance iron absorption. Vitamin C deficiency is connected with
Scurvy. Short term toxicity does not happen but long term toxicity can effect
kidney function and lead to kidney stones. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits,
tomatoes, kiwi, green leafy vegetables and green peppers.
Vitamin A – RDA/AI Men 900 micrograms and Women 700 micrograms
A is found in three different forms- retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid. These
three forms are collectively called retinoids. Vitamin a plays an important
role in vision. It can also help maintain skin and mucus membrane. Deficiencies
are rare but can cause a loss of vision including night and color blindness. Toxicity
can cause vomiting, fatigue, blurred vision, and liver damage. The upper limit
is 3,000 micrograms. Toxicity can be quick and fatal. It is found in fish oils,
egg yolks, carrots, sweet potatoes and other fruits and vegetables.
Carotenoids – No RDA/AI established
are not considered vitamins although some can be converted into vitamin A.
These compounds can be found in plants and have antioxidant properties and
immune function properties. To increase Carotenoid consumption, have 5-9
servings of a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables a day. Examples of Carotenoids are lycopene and Beta
Vitamin D – RDA/AI Men and Women 5-15 micrograms a day depending on age
- Ages 19-50=5micrograms 51-70=10micrograms 70+=15micrograms
Vitamin D is called the sunshine
vitamin because the ultraviolet rays of the sun initiate vitamin D synthesis in
the body. The primary role of Vitamin D in the body is to control blood calcium
levels which in turn effects bone growth and development. Calcitrol is the
active form of vitamin D. Vitamin D regulates calcium concentration in the
body. Having adequate levels of vitamin D will improve muscle function. Signs
of deficiencies are rickets and osteoporosis. Symptoms of toxicity are
Hypocalcemia (above normal blood calcium levels), muscle weakness and kidney
stones. Vitamin D is found in milk, cereal, fish oils, egg yolks and portabella
Vitamin E – RDA/AI Men and Women 15mg a day
Vitamin E has two types
Alpha-totocopherol which is the supplemental version and Gamma-tocopherol which
comes from food. The primary role of Vitamin E in the body is to act as an
antioxidant. Vitamin E also helps maintain healthy skin. Deficiencies are rare
but cause muscle weakness and loss of motor coordination. Toxicity causes
decreased blood clotting and easy bruising. The upper limit is around 1,000mg.
Vitamin E is found in plant oils and fortified cereals.
Vitamin K – RDA/AI Men 120 micrograms and Women 90 micrograms a day
Vitamin K’s major function is blood
clotting. Deficiencies include impaired blood clotting and excessive bleeding.
There are no symptoms of toxicity and there is no upper limit established.
Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and milk, eggs and cereal.
I want to end the vitamin section of this article with a brief discussion on antioxidants and how they are beneficial. To understand the concept of antioxidants you need to have a basic understanding of the parts involved. Vitamin A, E, and C all have strong antioxidant properties. An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical
reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent, producing free radicals. A free radical is a molecule
with an unpaired electron that causes “havoc” within the body. Free radicals are always looking for an electron to become stable. Antioxidants are electron donors; they give away electrons freely to free radicals but then they become free radicals
themselves. Once the antioxidants become free radicals a cycle starts and then they start looking for another antioxidant for an electron to give up. This cycle continues until the enzyme glutathione reductase gives up an electron but with the help of selenium gets restored to its original form ending the cycle. Antioxidants are important to athletes because endurance exercise creates more
oxidative stress. However, though exercise your body become more efficient at handling the added stress.
What are minerals?
Minerals are inorganic molecules unlike protein, carbohydrates, fats, and
vitamins which are organic. Minerals contain no caloric value but are essential
for human survival. There are two classifications of minerals, “Major Minerals”
and “Trace Minerals”. Major minerals are needed in amounts greater than 100mg and
trace minerals are needed in amounts equal to or less than 100mg. the
classification does not indicate the importance of the mineral only the amount
Calcium – RDA 1,000mg Females 50yrs+ 1,200mg
Calcium is the most abundant mineral. Calcium is involved in four main
functions, blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve transmission and bone
formation. Signs of deficiency are Hypocalcemia which is low blood calcium
caused by decrease kidney function excreting it all out. Muscle spasms and low bone density. Symptoms
of toxicity are hypercalcimia, which is the opposite of Hypocalcemia and kidney
stones. Calcium is found in all dairy products and green leafy vegetables.
Phosphorus – RDA 700mg
Phosphorus is important for energy metabolism. Phosphorus is also involved
with bone and tooth formation, cell membrane formation and enzyme activity. Deficiencies
are rare but can cause hyperparathyroidism. Toxicity is another concern causing
altered calcium metabolism and can lead to osteoporosis. The upper limit is
around 4,000mg. Phosphorus can be found in animal proteins including meat,
fish, eggs, and dairy.
Magnesium – RDA Men 400mg Women 320mg
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. Some
of the functions include bone formation, blood clotting, and regulation of
blood pressure. Magnesium has an inverse reaction to blood pressure. As
magnesium goes up blood pressure can be lowered. The major issue stemming from
a deficiency is decreased carbohydrate metabolism. Other issues of deficiency
are irritability, muscle cramps, and hypertension. Symptoms of toxicity include
nausea, vomiting and muscle weakness. Magnesium can be found in whole grains,
leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts and seafood.
Sodium – AI 1,500mg
Sodium is a major electrolyte that is extremely important in athletics.
Sodium is involved in GLC/NA transport, muscle contractions, regulation of
blood pressure and fluid balance. A consistently high intake of sodium can lead
to high blood pressure. Signs of deficiency is hypotremia or low salt volume.
Toxicity includes swelling and increased blood pressure over time. Sodium can
be found in table salt; anything processed, and sports drinks.
Chloride – AI 2,300mg
Chloride is a major electrolyte that is involved in nerve impulse
transmission, fluid balance and aiding in digestion through hydrochloric acid
(HCL). Consistent vomiting can limit
chloride and cause a deficiency because of the removal of HCL from the stomach.
Deficiencies cause increased blood ph and abnormal heart rhythm. The main issue
with toxicity is increased blood pressure. Chloride can be found in salt, and
in small amounts some fruit and vegetables.
Potassium – AI 4,700mg
Major electrolyte. Potassium is involved in the regulation of many bodily
processes including blood pressure, nerve impulse transmission, muscle
contraction, and fluid balance. Deficiencies in potassium can lead to muscle
cramping (although most issues with “cramps” are caused by dehydration),
weakness and loss of appetite. Toxicity is rare and an upper limit is not
established. Potassium can be found in bananas, russet potatoes, spinach, and a
bunch of other fruits and vegetables.
Iron – RDA Males 8mg Females 18mg
Iron is critical for optimal health and performance. Iron is involved in
oxygen transport and utilization as a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Hemoglobin is made up of iron and protein; it transports oxygen from the lungs
into the muscle cell. Myoglobin transports the oxygen while in the muscle cell
into the mitochondria. Vegetarians need
to be especially concerned with deficiencies . Deficiencies are caused blow
intake, increased need for hemoglobin and myoglobin due to training, loss in
sweat and can cause anemia. Toxicity issues can cause nausea and diarrhea. Iron
is found in red meat and leafy green vegetables.
Zinc – RDA Men 11mg Women 8mg
Zinc is a cofactor in over 200 enzymatic reactions. Functions of zinc
include wound healing, protein synthesis, growth and maintenance as well as producing
hormones. Signs of zinc deficiencies include poor immunity, dermatitis and
diarrhea although zinc deficiencies are rare. Deficiencies are normally caused
by low calorie diets or mal absorption. Toxicity is also rare but can cause
nausea, vomiting, and anemia. Zinc is found in beef, fish, whole grains, eggs,
and dairy products.
Chromium – AI Men 35 microgram Women 25 micrograms
Chromium’s major function is enhancing the function of insulin causing an
decrease in cellular insulin resistance which decreases blood glucose. Signs of
deficiency include high blood sugar and decreased muscle endurance because of
lower glycogen stores in the muscle cells.
Toxicity is rare but high intake may decrease levels of zinc and iron.
Chromium is found in mushrooms, whole grains, nuts, broccoli, eggs, and
asparagus among other vegetables.
Selenium – RDA 55 micrograms
Selenium is a component of many proteins in the body. It is an enzyme
cofactor which supports immune function, thyroid function as well as antioxidant
function. Selenium helps glutathione production. Vitamin E and selenium work
together to quench free radicals.
Deficiencies are rare but can cause an increased risk for cancer.
Symptoms of toxicity include brittle hair and nails. Selenium can be found in
seafood and plants depending on the selenium concentration in the soil.
What to know about the rest of the minerals….
Fluoride- aids in bone and tooth mineralization and can prevent dental
Copper- Biggest impact is enhancing iron metabolism. Also is an antioxidant
Manganese – Enzyme cofactor in metabolism, tissue growth and antioxidant.
Deficiencies can cause altered carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
Iodine – Assists in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. In table salt.
Molybdenum – Antioxidant cofactor.
To conclude this article I want to give some general recommendations.
In order to hit all of your micronutrient totals I recommend the following.
– Eat a wide range and variety of food. A common theme is vitamins and minerals are
found in a number of different kinds of food so do not just eat the same thing every
– Make it a point to eat at least 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. This can easily be
done by including a large salad with a meal and a side of veggies in another.
– Don’t be afraid of fruit. Yes fruit can be high in sugar and carbohydrates but use it
to your advantage and have a banana after your workout or some berries with
your oatmeal at breakfast.
– Take a multivitamin to ensure you have all of your micronutrient needs taken care
Until next time “One Dream One Reality”
P.S- This is how I study for my exercise nutrition test tomorrow! I write a blog article going over everything I need to know for the test!