Essential vitamins and nutrients for endurance runners
Good nutrition is a big part of enhancing endurance performance. Most often carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the primary focus, leaving micronutrients to be forgotten. I am not disputing the fact that being on a low carbohydrate diet can have an adverse impact on the performance of an endurance runner but there is a downside to paying less attention to micronutrients.
In this article I will be highlighting some of the micronutrients to watch for and the role they play in the physiology of an endurance runner.
Iron: This is by far one of the most important nutrients to consciously include in the diet. Iron is an essential functional component in the processes of oxygen transport and energy production. Both these processes are vital to the performance of an endurance runner (1). A diet poor in iron leads to anaemia in endurance athletes. This is of special concern in female runners. Iron deficiency is often seen in female athletes due to intense training, poor dietary intake and low iron levels to begin with. Some female runners develop anaemia because they feel the need to lose weight and as a result consume diets inadequate in iron.
Since iron plays an important role in the energy production cycle, anaemia hinders an endurance athlete’s performance. An iron deficiency can be improved by increasing consumption of red meats, fish like snapper, spinach, broccoli and black beans.
Sodium: Sodium maintains electrolyte and fluid balance in the body and is the primary electrolyte that is lost in sweat during exercise. Hyponatremia is the condition which results from low sodium in the body caused by either dehydration or overhydration. In the case of dehydration, sodium is lost during perspiration. Overhydration, on the other hand, causes dilution of sodium in the plasma. An endurance runner must focus on including electrolytes in their hydration drinks and watching the sodium content of foods they consume.
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Vitamin D: Vitamin D is most commonly known for its role in calcium metabolism. While this is a very important function since calcium plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bones, Vitamin D is involved in other metabolic processes which endurance runners must be aware of. Some of these include:
- Protein synthesis
- Hormone response
- Cell regeneration
- Regulation of electrolyte metabolism
The presence of Vitamin D in muscle receptors suggests an important role in muscle tissue function. A lot of the adult population is deficient in Vitamin D which makes it a priority for endurance runners as well. All the functions of Vitamin D mentioned above make it an important micronutrient that enhances athletic performance. Maintaining optimal Vitamin D levels (>40ng/mL) is essential for an endurance runner to perform at their best (2).
A lot goes into optimizing the performance of an endurance runner. To ensure good performance, the focus should fall both on macro and micronutrients, hydration and recovery.
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