Essential Micronutrients for Runners

In addition to getting the right amount of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat), it is important to get all of your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)!

The easiest way for your body to absorb and make use of micronutrients is by getting them through whole foods instead of supplements. A simple way to do that is, make sure your plate is colorful and that you are eating a varied diet. Some micronutrients that you may need to supplement are iron (speak with your MD before starting any supplement, but especially an iron supplement), vitamin D3 and Omega 3s.

Iron is especially important for runners because increased demands of hemoglobin with aerobic exercise leads to increased demands for iron. On top of that, if you are a woman it is even more important. If you don’t have enough iron, you can become anemic and red blood cell production/efficiency will be limited. This leads to a decrease in performance. You can get iron from meats, chicken liver, leafy greens such as spinach, or certain iron enriched cereals. 

Vitamin D3 is a tough vitamin to get because you can only get it through sunlight exposure for 20 minutes or through certain plants that use sunlight a specific way (for example seaweed).  For that reason many of us are vitamin D3 deficient, especially if you live far away from the equator. There are many beneficial effects of vitamin D3 including prevention of type I diabetes, muscle and bone pain, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks, and several cancers.  It is also very important for runners because vitamin D assists with calcium absorption. As a runner, calcium plays a big role in maintaining bone density and completing muscle contraction. Adequate calcium levels prevent stress fractures or muscle spasms.

Make sure the you are getting enough calcium by eating yogurt, milk, or cheese each day. 

Omega 3s are important for brain and neural health which is protective against Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is also anti-inflammatory so it can help keep inflammation levels at bay. You can get your Omega 3s from fish like salmon or tuna, seeds like flax seeds or walnuts.

Its a great idea to do a self reflection every few weeks about how much variety you have in your menu.  Always you have a variety of textures and colors.

Elizabeth Brewer, SPT