Getting enough of five key minerals will supercharge your workout and strengthen your muscles, bones and heart. Here’s how to safely up your intake.
Vitamins may be the nutritional superheroes everyone talks about, but minerals deserve an equal share of the spotlight. They play a key role in muscle strength and flexibility, bone density, and heart and lung health, research shows. That makes them especially important for fit women who exercise regularly, says Liz Applegate, the director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis.
What’s more, studies report that activities like cardio and strength training can actually drain your stores of minerals.
“Zinc and magnesium are lost through sweat during exercise,” says dietitian Kim Larson, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the US. And endurance training may deplete calcium, according to a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
That’s a big problem, since most of us aren’t getting enough of these minerals to begin with. “Healthy, active women tend to focus on eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat,” Liz says.
While a produce-packed diet is indisputably healthy, meat is a top source of minerals like iron and zinc, she explains. As a result, women who avoid animal protein tend to fall short.
Fortunately, you can up your intake and get exactly what your body needs without going paleo. Use the smart strategies here to make these five minerals your priority.
It’s essential to help you power through your workouts. “When you exercise, your muscles take in oxygen from your bloodstream, and iron helps that process,” Kim explains. “If your iron stores are low, you’ll feel tired and lethargic.”
The longer and more intense your workout is, the more of the mineral your body requires. For instance, distance running may increase your iron needs by as much as 30 per cent, Kim says.
But finding the right balance is tricky: Too much iron can cause symptoms like joint pain and fatigue. Liz suggests that you aim for the recommended daily allowance of 18mg.
The typical diet supplies just 6mg of iron for every 1,000 calories consumed, so she advises eating iron-rich foods such as fortified cereal (look for one that contains no more than 9mg per serving), beef (85g has 2.9mg) and shellfish (one medium oyster has 4mg).
Vegetarians are especially vulnerable to iron deficiency because plants contain a type of iron, known as nonheme iron, that the body has trouble utilising. If you’re not a meat eater, pair iron-packed legumes and dark leafy greens with vitamin C–rich foods such as broccoli and bell peppers, which help your system better absorb the mineral.
This bone-building champ also regulates muscle contractions, which influences how hard and long you’re able to exercise, Kim says. Women who work out four to five times a week should get the recommended 1,000mg to 1,300mg a day, says Stella Volpe, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist at Drexel University.
Yet around 62 per cent of us are falling short, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “If you don’t take in enough calcium, your body will leech it from your bones, leaving you susceptible to fractures,” Stella says.