Every athlete needs a balanced diet for optimal performance, and these beneficial nutrients should not be slept on.
Nutrition can be a tricky thing, especially for athletes. It isn’t always easy to be eating healthy round the clock, every single day. But even in the hard work it takes, every athlete still understands the value of maintaining a healthy and balanced diet because when you’re training often and pushing your body to its limits, your body needs to be ready for it.
While practicing a healthy diet should generally provide your body with all the vitamins and nutrients that it needs, there are certain nutrients that, as an athlete, you should pay attention to. We’re talking about some of the more underrated vitamins that might seem simple, but that you shouldn’t take for granted.
Here are five supplements that every athlete can benefit from.
Magnesium is one of the most underrated nutrients that your body needs and yet, many people lack the recommended intake for this, despite it being an incredibly beneficial nutrient, especially for athletes. Studies have shown that athletes may need more magnesium because of how active they are and how much of it is lost in sweat.
Magnesium is important because it plays a big role in muscle function and energy production. Among its many benefits, proper magnesium intake can aid in the production of ATP, which provides energy for muscles; it can improve healthy bones; it acts as a muscle relaxant that can aid in recovery; and it can help maintain blood sugar levels. Consequently, a low magnesium intake can lead to an increase in muscle damage.
This mineral is found in many foods such as leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, or whole grains. But if you’re thinking of taking a supplement to reach the recommended daily intake, a magnesium supplement might be worth considering.
If you’re an athlete who trains or works out under the sun, vitamin D might not be on the list of your nutritional worries. However, the benefits of this are still worth taking note of.
Similar to magnesium, vitamin D plays a big role in bone health, muscle growth, heart and lung functions, and inflammatory modulation — things that every athlete experiences with intense levels of exercise. On top of this, it also can help function overall immune health and can aid in recovery as vitamin D helps regulate your circadian rhythm. And a little fun fact: your body needs magnesium to activate vitamin D so you get the best of both nutrients.
There’s no better substitute for getting vitamin D from direct sunlight exposure early in the morning — 10 to 30 minutes is already a good starting point, practiced several times per week.
One of the more popular nutritional supplements that athletes add to their diets is collagen. Collagen is a protein that makes up around 30% of all the protein in your body, covering tendons, ligaments, cartilage muscles, hair, skin, nails, and several others. Thus, the main reason many athletes add this to their diet is because it helps with bone health, especially for the joints.
Athletes who do a lot of running, jumping, biking, or similar movements tend to put a lot of strain on their knees. Although your body naturally creates collagen, athletes may wear and tear their joints a little more quickly than the rest of the population with regular and intense use.
Because of this, collagen supplements have become more popular lately (many enjoy adding them to their breakfast smoothies), with many versions of this supplement now available on the market.
Iron is a nutrient that all athletes need, but female athletes may have an even bigger need for this. Iron has many uses: it helps produce energy, it aids in turning the carbs you eat into fuel, it helps transport oxygen into your muscles, and can help prevent fatigue. This is why athletes with iron deficiencies can experience shortness of breath, low energy levels, or weakness.
While anyone can be prone to an iron deficiency, female athletes are at a higher risk of this because of blood that is lost during menstruation, which can lead to changes in performance.
Because of this, athletes need to pay attention to their iron intake, but luckily, this vitamin can be found in red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, and certain vegetables.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The word ‘fat’ in the food world may have negative connotations to it — this is why ‘low-fat’ food options are so popular. But, it’s important to remember that there are healthy fats, and Omega-3 fatty acids are part of that list.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat that has many benefits: they may boost muscle building, they can improve one’s endurance capacity, and they can help with recovery. In general, this nutrient can also help an athlete’s overall health, as it can improve risk factors for heart diseases, can help metabolism, and can reduce inflammation.
The most common source of Omega-3 fatty acids comes from certain fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. But, there are also nutritional supplements that you can take to help achieve the recommended level of daily intake.
We know that this may have been a lot to process all at once, and it’s normal to wonder (or even worry) about the amount of nutrients you are taking in on a daily basis. So our overall recommendation would be to consult a nutritionist to find the best route to getting all the nutrients your body needs as an athlete, how to get these from whole foods, and what supplements you should be taking.
Remember that everybody is different, so make sure to listen to what your body needs before anything else.
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