Why do they call it a health craze? Is it because no sane person has ever been “obsessed” with kale? Yes, partly. But mostly, we use this phrase because the human drive to live a healthy life is crazy powerful. It’s biologically insane to ignore our essential good health.
Most of us are lucky to live lives insulated from inadequate nutrition. Yet research shows us that 50 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient and 80 percent are magnesium deficient.
The negative effects of such widespread afflictions include slowed metabolism and weight gain, bone brittleness, lack of energy, and much worse. In a developed nation, these conditions are as avoidable as they are counterproductive to success.
For student athletes especially, an incomplete nutritional balance can cripple both the present and the future. How can you expect to excel in training and compete for future goals when the building blocks of strength, energy, and stamina are lacking?
Today, we’ll look at five crucial nutrients student-athletes and athletes of all ages absolutely require to reach their best competitive potential.
If you’re keen to see muscle gains, improve your speed, and achieve your everyday optimal health — read on.
Here come the commonsense performance nutrients your body needs, plus why they’re necessary and where to find them.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, yet an estimated 80 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient. Why? Mono-crop farming depletes the soil, causing magnesium levels to drop. As a result, the food we eat is often lacking this vital micronutrient.
Magnesium plays a variety of roles in regulating our metabolism, most notably with fat and protein. It also stabilizes hormone, immune, cardiovascular, and neuromuscular functions, making it crucial to everyday healthy functioning.
Athletes are particularly prone to high rates of magnesium turnover in the body because of the sweating and hormonal fluctuations that accompany physical activity. Deficiencies are most common in those practicing weight-conscious sports like wrestling, ballet, tennis, etc.
Magnesium deficiency reduces endurance performance by increasing the oxygen requirements needed to complete submaximal exercise. This means basic training becomes instantly harder if you’re running low. Insufficient dietary magnesium also predicts muscle spasms and aches, poor digestion, and sleep problems.
When your body has enough magnesium, this mineral also helps detoxify your body and minimize the damage done by chemicals in your environment. For example, the potent antioxidant glutathione requires magnesium to be produced.
Dietary sources of magnesium.
Dark, leafy greens like seaweed, spinach, and Swiss chard are rich in magnesium. Beans and nuts, and sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Enjoy tasty mangosteen and avocados to get your fill of necessary magnesium.
Plants naturally produce antioxidants to protect themselves from the damaging effects of sunlight, drought, soil depletion and excess rain.
When we eat antioxidant-rich plants, our bodies gain the protection of these powerful phytochemicals. Antioxidants protect our cell walls from oxidative damage caused by free radicals via UV radiation, but also decrease the damages of inflammation incurred during exercise.
Antioxidants reduce the impact of oxidative stress to help your body repair faster after exercise. Because exercise increases oxygenation in tissues, antioxidants are a critical component in reducing inflammatory “oxidative stress” on muscles and other membranes.
Yes, plants are painkillers. This means reducing painful inflammation in joints, ligaments, and tendons. You’ll experience improved flexibility and range of motion from reduced swelling. Lower overall acidity translates into a more efficient training routine with minimal recovery time.
The faster you heal, the faster you gain muscle to achieve peak levels of performance. Good nutrition leads to good recovery. Plus, you’ll stave off inflammatory diseases like cancer.
Dietary sources of antioxidants.
Brightly colored berries and green leafy vegetables are best sources of antioxidants. Cilantro, kidney beans and artichokes hearts are quality choices too. Blueberries and Goji berries rank the highest in essential antioxidants.
B-vitamins come in two groups that complete two different and essential functions in active bodies.
B-complex vitamins like B12 and folate are required for protein synthesis to build muscle and repair tissues after physical activity. Vitamin B12 is known as the “energy vitamin” because you feel listless and suffer what’s called “brain fog” without it.
The other group — consisting of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and biotin — are B-complex vitamins that ensure proper energy production. Short-term deficiencies aren’t known to impair physical performance, but longstanding shortages do compromise endurance training performance.
Dietary sources of B vitamins.
Vitamins B12 and folate are available through most animal-source foods. The remaining essential B-complex vitamins are available through a balanced diet of healthy grains like lentils, animal products, beans, avocados and strawberries.
Potassium is a critical electrolyte that balances fluid levels, nerve functions and nutrient transport systems in the body. Because potassium is lost when sweating, intense physical activity can result in immediate fatigue and muscle weakness. Athletes need high levels of daily potassium guarantee optimal levels of performance.
Muscle cramps are common when potassium levels are low. Muscle contraction and muscle relaxation require that potassium be present in the blood. No surprise, for the fastest reflex time your potassium levels must be opptimal before training.
Potassium also ensures muscle tissue growth. Without potassium, the energy released during metabolism cannot be used by the muscles. Studies detail how potassium is essential to the synthesis of proteins that impact tissue regeneration and metabolic balance after exercise. Bottom line: to use your strength, eat potassium!
Dietary sources of potassium.
Bananas and pomegranates are notable and portable sources of potassium. Baked or sweet potatoes, dried apricots, white beans and winter squash also provide loads of potassium for daily activity.
We all know protein is crucial for muscle growth. This essential macronutrient also synthesizes hair, enzymes and hormones. Plus, protein helps with weight loss.
But what type of protein is truly ideal? For athletes looking to make gains, protein selection is important. Animal protein sources are great, but carry dietary acidity that inhibits healing and often prove too inconvenient for a fast-paced life.
Two options emerge: casein protein or whey protein? Casein protein is an 80 percent milk protein. As a result, it’s slow to digest and can inhibit training potential. Those with lactose sensitivities are also likely to suffer gas and bloating from casein protein.
Whey protein is a natural byproduct of cheese and contains only 20 percent of the protein found in milk. It delivers branch-chain amino acids, lactose, minerals and vitamins, plus healthy fats to increase satiety.
The added benefit to whey protein is that it enhances glutathione levels, meaning it contributes the necessary amino acids for muscle growth — plus an antioxidant to reduce bodily stresses. Glutathione also maintains blood iron levels for improved physical output.
When choosing protein sources, look for what feels best in the body and delivers additional natural benefits to optimize performance.
Each of these five nutrients plays a huge role in energy production and muscle growth, and in healing the body. Because routine exercise increases the turnover of these nutrients, ensuring a steady and balanced diet is a top priority for serious athletes.
To build, repair, and maintain lean body mass, fitness-conscious athletes ensure they’re enjoying these crucial nutrients every single day. To play your best, give your body what it needs. Give it the best balance of nutrients possible. It’s just commonsense sports nutrition.