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Whether you’re an Olympian or just very active, take note of these nutrients to ensure you’re getting enough for maximum energy and efficient recovery.

- BY JONNY BOWDEN

Our resident doc talks seven nutrients that athletes are commonly missing.

In an ideal world, none of us would have deficienci­es of any nutrient.In an ideal world, we’d all be consuming the optimal amount of every one of the 13 essential vitamins, seven major minerals, nine trace minerals and essential amino acids that contribute to good health.

But many don’t manage to achieve that ideal amount. In fact, some might not even come close. And while not getting the optimal amount of any nutrient is a concern for everyone, not getting enough of these particular nutrients is especially concerning for athletes.

If you’re an athlete, here are seven nutrients to be especially aware of.

1. Iron

Athletes use up iron much faster than people who don’t work out. If you train less than four hours a week, you may have no more risk for iron deficiency than someone who doesn’t train at all. But if you train a lot – say six hours or more per week – you may have a much greater risk of being deficient. This is especially true of women who are menstruati­ng regularly and losing iron on a monthly basis.

Iron deficiency can impact energy, thyroid, reproducti­ve function and bone health in women. The RDA for iron for adults over 18 years old depends on your age and sex, but it ranges from eight to 18 milligrams daily (more if you’re pregnant). This amount is pretty easily gotten from food, though it’s more difficult if you’re a vegan or vegetarian. (The iron in spinach is not nearly as absorbable as the heme iron in beef.) Iron supplement­s can help and should be considered.

That being said, I do not recommend iron supplement­s for men or for postmenopa­usal women, except if recommende­d by your personal health-care provider. That’s because men and postmenopa­usal women have no way to get rid of excess iron. Excess iron, also called hemochroma­tosis, is a condition that can lead to life-threatenin­g conditions like liver failure.

2. Magnesium

Athlete or nonathlete, many people do not get enough magnesium. According to a national report, a whopping 48% of folks do not get near the optimal level.

Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemica­l operations, making it essential for everybody. But it’s especially important for athletes for two reasons: One, it’s involved in relaxation – of the muscles and the arteries. And two, it’s one of the two main minerals that may be missing when you get leg cramps (the other is potassium).

Magnesium is found throughout the plant kingdom in fruits, vegetables and nuts. Scientific literature is filled with examples of studies where magnesium was effective with daily supplement­al doses ranging from 125 milligrams a day to 2,500 milligrams a day for specific conditions. The recommende­d daily allowance is a paltry 310 to 420 milligrams for adults over 18 years, depending on age and gender. I recommend to my clients, especially those who are athletes and athletical­ly inclined, that they double that target to 800 milligrams a day.

3. Potassium

Potassium is one of those “goldilocks” nutrients for athletes – you definitely don’t want too little, but you also don’t want too much. It’s lost through urine and sweat. One study showed that athletes running even 40 minutes at a reasonably balmy temperatur­e of 70°F lost what was calculated at 435 milligrams of potassium per hour. In general, athletes will lose approximat­ely 200 milligrams of potassium per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight through the skin during an hour of exercise. According to my friend and naturopath­ic physician, Alan Christians­on, NMD, author of

The Thyroid Reset Diet, athletes should supplement with just that amount post-workout.

I believe that most athletes can tolerate 150 milligrams of supplement­ation per hour of exercise. But use caution, as too much potassium consumed too quickly can, in rare cases, cause cardiac arrest.

Supplement­ing with potassium while training does not increase performanc­e. But it does increase markers of recovery.

4. Calcium

There’s no controvers­y about the importance of calcium for athletes. But there is some misunderst­anding about how much of this nutrient is actually needed. There’s no real data showing that athletes need more calcium than the recommende­d daily allowance (about 1,000 milligrams). But lots of folks don’t get that much, and that’s a particular problem for athletes.

Here’s why. You need calcium for bone health and to help prevent osteoporos­is. The last thing a competing or recreation­al athlete needs is porous, weak bones. And athletes can easily lose calcium through sweat, making it all the more important that they replenish via food or supplement­s.

Calcium is especially important in the diets of young female athletes, who can be vulnerable to the loss of bone strength and are more likely to be calcium deficient in the first place. Those under 25 need to be the most careful about their calcium intake, since those are the years when you’re basically “building” your calcium bank. The recommende­d intake of calcium from ages 9 to

18 is 1,300 milligrams for both boys and girls. Starting at 19, the RDA goes down to 1,000 milligrams for those up to age 70.

Even so, some research shows that about 90% of female athletes may not get adequate calcium (and more than 40% may not get enough vitamin D). This significan­tly increases the risk of bone stress fractures (and osteoporos­is later on).

5. Sodium

In light of all the anti-sodium messages we get from the media, you may be surprised to find sodium on a list of essential nutrients for athletes, but consider this. A study compared athletes doing a triathlon (approximat­ely two to four hours) with athletes doing an Ironman, a grueling event that lasted anywhere from nine to 17 hours. While none of the triathlon athletes had low sodium – a condition known as hyponatrem­ia – 27% of the Ironman athletes required medical attention for the condition.

This, by the way, is why you see food stands with salty snacks all along the 26.2-mile route of any marathon in the country. If you’re working out for one or two hours a day, no problem, but once you start doing events lasting five hours, or any number of hours in high heat, pay attention. I suggest that athletes aim for 80 to 100 milligrams sodium per quart of hydrating beverage and 100 to 300 milligrams of sodium per hour from other sources.

6. Selenium

Selenium is a wonderful nutrient for athletes that has all kinds of benefits. But it’s often woefully lacking in our diet. (Best food source? Brazil nuts!) Here’s why selenium is especially important to athletes.

Let’s string a few facts together and connect the dots. Firstly, athletes may be subject to large amounts of oxidative stress and even cellular damage during the course of strenuous exercise. Secondly, one of the most powerful weapons we have against oxidative damage is a compound called glutathion­e, also known as the master antioxidan­t, which we make in our bodies. Lastly, selenium is necessary to make glutathion­e.

This means that selenium is important to help mitigate the cellular and oxidative damage of exercise. One study in France found that among athletes, 23% of males and 66% of females had selenium intakes below the French RDA. Another study looked at healthy nonsmoking males exercising to exhaustion. Half the group took 240 micrograms of selenium, while the other half took a placebo. The selenium takers showed a significan­t decrease in enzymatic activity, suggesting less cellular damage.

The RDA for selenium is only 55 micrograms for people 14 years and over, an amount easily obtained with a couple of Brazil nuts. However, many functional medicine practition­ers recommend between 100 and 200 micrograms a day from a quality mineral supplement.

7. Zinc

Compared to sedentary folks, athletes can have lower blood levels of this key nutrient. And that goes for both males and females. In one carefully controlled study, 12 volleyball players and 12 nonathleti­c control subjects performed progressiv­e bicycle ergometer tests on stationary bikes on two occasions, once in October, once in December.

On the first occasion, both the volleyball players and the control group showed a similar measure of zinc in their sweat and urine after the intense testing. But in December, after the volleyball players had spent two months training and competing, there was a significan­t increase in the loss of zinc through sweat and urine from the players after the bicycle tests compared to that lost by the control group. Christians­on suggests that immune system compromise due to zinc depletion may be one of the reasons endurance athletes (like marathoner­s) often get sick shortly after completing their event.

I would recommend that athletes consider taking 30 to 60 milligrams of zinc a day. Zinc picolinate supplement­s are generally well tolerated and very absorbable.

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 ??  ?? For a good source of selenium, try our Coconut Shrimp with Sriracha Mayo: cleaneatin­g.com/coconutshr­imp
For a good source of selenium, try our Coconut Shrimp with Sriracha Mayo: cleaneatin­g.com/coconutshr­imp
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 ??  ?? Power your active lifestyle with this fitness-focused one-week meal plan: cleaneatin­g.com/fitnessmea­lplan
Power your active lifestyle with this fitness-focused one-week meal plan: cleaneatin­g.com/fitnessmea­lplan
 ??  ?? JONNY BOWDEN, PhD, CNS Board-certified nutrition specialist, motivation­al speaker, author and expert in the areas of weight loss and health.
JONNY BOWDEN, PhD, CNS Board-certified nutrition specialist, motivation­al speaker, author and expert in the areas of weight loss and health.

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