Athletes know that you can’t have supreme fitness if your diet is a crappy one. In fact, most people have heard more than once that “you can’t out train a bad diet.” Whether you’re eating a keto, Paleo, macro-counting, or zone diet–you’re making your nutrition an important part of your lifestyle. And that’s excellent; that’s what matters when it comes to chiseled physiques, making gains, and hitting PRs.
But in all the effort we make to tweak our diets down to the last protein gram, how many of us are also doing the best we can to optimize our micronutrient intake? Boosting our daily minerals? Eating not just our fruits and veggies but the widest variety that we can?
Currently, it’s estimated that over 50% of society has a mineral deficiency in not just one mineral, but several. And figuring out which minerals we’re lacking is actually much harder than most would think. The toughest part of finding deficiencies is that you can’t really look at just one mineral–minerals work together. And if you’re deficient in one, then you’re deficient in at least one more. And the deficiency symptoms of one mineral may look very similar to the deficiency symptoms of several other minerals.
Even if you can figure out your deficiencies, learning how one mineral affects the other gets complicated. For example, minerals have to have certain ratios between one another. Zinc and Copper work together in a ratio of 11 mg to 0.9 mg and Calcium should be two-times as much as Magnesium and Phosphorus. You can’t just assume you’re deficient in calcium and pick up a bottle of calcium tablets at your local drug store.
Don’t be. My point isn’t to get you rushing to the doctor to start a series of blood tests to find your deficiencies. I just want you to be as healthy as you can and all from optimizing your grocery list.
So could you have a deficiency, and why should you care?
Mineral deficiencies are problematic. Symptoms can include anything from insomnia, joint pains, depressed growth rates, and fatigue; all the way to heart disease, fertility problems, cognitive issues, diabetes, stroke, depression, and high blood pressure.
You may be struggling with weight loss, brittle nails, fatigue and not even realize that you might just need a few more minerals in your diet. You might be suffering from depression and insomnia and you don’t understand why nothing else you’re trying seems to be helping.
Look at the following list of minerals and see what they can show you about your health. Are you deficient in any of the foods found in the list? Can you step up your nutrition to boost your overall health? Reach your goals faster? Meet PRs quicker?
COULD YOU BE DEFICIENT?
Calcium is important for building and maintaining bones, it regulates your heartbeat, regulates body weight, helps your muscles both grow and contract, among a host of other benefits.
Calcium is important for athletes because they are more likely to lose calcium (and other minerals), through sweat. And we all know calcium is important for strong, healthy bones; and it’s also required for muscle contraction. We sometimes get muscle cramps due to low calcium levels.
Could You Have a Calcium Deficiency? Check out these symptoms:
- Bone deformities
- Broken Bones
- Heart Palpitations
- High Blood Pressure
- Irritability of Nerves and Muscles
- Joint Pains
- Muscle Cramps (Tetany)
- Slow Blood Clotting/Hemorrhaging
- Slow Heart Rate
- Tooth Decay
How can you naturally get more calcium into your diet?
- Dairy products
- Kale, broccoli, cabbage
Chromium is best known for regulating blood sugar levels and assisting with weight loss. It acts as a fat metabolism, it aids protein synthesis, enhances insulin’s signaling events, prevents hypoglycemia, and helps the body grow.
Could You Have a Chromium Deficiency? Check out these symptoms:
- Arterial plaque and Atherosclerosis
- Depressed growth rates
- Erratic blood sugar levels
- Increased insulin requirements
How do you get more chromium into your diet?
- Broccoli, beets, and mushrooms
- Liver, turkey, ham, and beef
- Grape juice
- Brewer’s Yeast
Iron is found within hundreds of enzymes and proteins within the body. Iron helps create muscle protein, delivers oxygen to the cells in the body, helps with energy production, aids in DNA synthesis, helps the body heal, fight infection, and even helps with growth and reproduction.
Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the US and if you’re a female athlete, you’re much more likely to be deficient. Those who drink a lot of coffee and tea, have low levels of hydrochloric acid, high levels of phosphorus (often high-protein eaters) are all susceptible to an iron deficiency. Athletes in general lose a lot of iron from sweat, but runners in particular tend to lose more iron due to “footstrike hemolysis” — the breakdown of red blood cells (and iron) due to the repetitive impact upon the ground.
If you’re chronically fatigued, you have a loss of appetite, frequently sick, your power is low, and you have little desire to train–you could be iron deficient.
Here are some more serious symptoms:
- Brittle nails
- Cognitive problems
- Cold hands and feet
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing during exertion
- Low red blood cell count, low hematocrit, and low hemoglobin
- Pale skin
- Susceptible to infections
The RDA suggests individuals have 8 mg of iron per day. If you think you may be deficient, a doctor can perform a series of tests for you to be sure.
WARNING: If you think you may be low on iron, don’t over-supplement! Iron can accumulate in the body and become toxic. Those with toxic amounts of iron in their systems may have gray-ish skin, become severely out of breath, develop headaches, lose weight and may experience dizziness.
How do you get more iron into your diet naturally?
- Blackstrap molasses
- Beef, liver, tongue, chicken and dark meat
- Leafy green veggies
- Oysters, shrimp, and tuna
- Prune juice
Magnesium supports over 100 enzymes and over 300 metabolic reactions in the body. It aids protein and fat synthesis, transports potassium and calcium, helps wounds heal, activates enzymes for carb metabolism and amino acid metabolism, helps the heart function keep its normal rhythm, regulates body temperature, enhances bone growth, and so much much more!
Magnesium plays a pivotal role for athletes in both anaerobic and aerobic energy production, especially in the metabolism of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — the way we store and use energy.
Could You Have a Magnesium Deficiency?
In normal adults, a deficiency would show an altered cardiovascular function including electrocardiographic abnormalities, high blood pressure, and impaired carbohydrate metabolism, with insulin resistance and decreased insulin secretion.
Other more serious symptoms:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Confusion and irritability, as well as apprehensiveness combined with personality changes
- Formation of clots in blood
- Eclampsia, pre-eclampsia, and painful contractions and swelling at the end of pregnancy
- Hard of hearing
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistant
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Muscle twitches, spasms, and tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
How do you get more magnesium into your diet?
- Beef, poultry, and eggs
- Lentils, seeds, and peanuts
Zinc is actually a mineral that is only needed in small quantities. It helps the body absorb B vitamins, aids in digestion and metabolism, helps wounds and burns heal, maintains reproductive organ growth, helps degrade alcohol, and digest carbs. For athletes, zinc improves strength and increases lean muscle mass. It repairs tissue after exercise, aids testosterone production, and it helps maintain your cardio engine!
Athletes with a zinc deficiency have low energy levels and wounds that heal slowly. (Are those ripped hands taking forever to callus over?) Has your endurance tapered off?
Check out these other symptoms:
- Body odor
- Enlarged prostate
- Fainting tendencies
- Impaired growth or dwarfism
- Infertility/sterility problems or pregnancy complications
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Poor circulations
- Problems staying alert
- Skin rashes
- Stretch marks
- Susceptible to infections and impaired wound healing
- Vision problems
The RDA suggest 8-11 mg of zinc per day. Your doctor can perform a blood test if you think you might be suffering a deficiency. The good news is that you can get plenty of zinc in your diet through healthy, wholesome foods!
- Beef, chicken, eggs, pork
- Black beans and baked beans
- Cashews, almonds, and pumpkin seeds
- Chickpeas and peanuts
- Oysters and crab
- Wheat bran and wheat germ
REMINDER! The purpose of this article is help you realize how important is to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure better all-around health. Supplementation can be tricky and sometimes even dangerous. I strongly encourage you to work with a practitioner who is familiar with mineral supplementation and can help you supplement correctly if you think you need to start supplementing with one or more mineral.
Doctors and Publishers in Holistic Nutrition
Weston A. Price, DDS and the Weston A. Price Foundation
- Jeffrey Smith
- Geoff Lawton
- Robert Lustig, M.D.
- Cherie Calbom
- Dr. Donna Schwontkowski
March is the founder and owner of The Barbell Beauties which she started in 2015. She is from the Philippines and currently lives in beautiful Thailand with her American husband and daughter. She is an avid Crossfitter and has just started her journey into Muay Thai (kickboxing).