Micronutrient Requirements for Athletes
  • Micronutrient Requirements for Athletes
    An excerpt discussing the biological roles of vitamins and minerals in support of physiological function during exercise.
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    The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition, part of the NSCA’s Science of Strength and Conditioning Series with Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

    nutrition_coverThis chapter provides an overview of the biological roles of vitamins and minerals in support of physiological function during exercise, and it highlights the effects of reduced micronutrient status on measures of physical performance. The chapter also identifies the points at which micronutrients can affect metabolism during physical activity and outlines the effects of reduced intakes of micronutrients on physical activity.

    Micronutrient Requirements for Athletes

    Micronutrients include vitamins, which are organic compounds, and minerals, which are inorganic elements that exist as solids; they cannot be produced by the body and thus must be consumed in food and beverages. Micronutrients form bioactive compounds, generally proteins. They are not direct sources of energy but facilitate energy production and utilization from carbohydrate, fat, and protein; transport oxygen and carbon dioxide; regulate fluid balance; and protect against oxidative damage.

    As shown in figure 6.1, many of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and pantothenic acid) and some minerals (iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc) are needed for the metabolism of carbohydrate into energy for muscle work. Iron, copper, B6, B12, and folate are required for red blood cell (RBC) formation and oxygen (O2) transport to muscle cells. Zinc is essential for removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from working muscle and recycling of lactate to glucose. In the adrenal gland, vitamin C is necessary for the production of epinephrine, which acts to release free fatty acids (FFA) from adipose tissue. Niacin may block the release of FFA during exercise. Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and some minerals (zinc, copper, and manganese) neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS) and prevent free radical damage in muscle and other tissues.


    Organic Compounds - Compounds made mostly of carbon atoms

    Evaluation of micronutrient needs for optimal physical performance requires concurrent assessment of nutrient intake and biochemical measures of nutritional status (Lukaski 2004). Only a limited number of investigations have met these criteria. Sole reliance on self-reported food intake to characterize nutritional status is problematic because of underreporting of food intake (Magkos and Yannakoulia 2003). Assessment of the adequacy of micronutrient intakes relies on the appropriate DRI (RDA or AI) (IOM 2003). Low micronutrient intakes generally result in subclinical deficiencies characterized by decreased biochemical indicators of nutritional status and impaired physiological function.

    Figure 6.2 presents an overview of how a subclinical deficiency of several minerals (zinc, iron, riboflavin, and magnesium) leads to reductions in exercise performance and markers of performance. Overt or clinical deficiency is rare without excess loss or impaired absorption (IOM 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001).


    NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition, published by Human Kinetics, describes how food, sport supplements, and their interactions with a client’s biological systems can enhance exercise and sport performance for optimal training, recovery, and competition. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

  • Henry Lukaski

    About the Author:

    Henry Lukaski, PhD

    Henry Lukaski currently serves in the Department of Physical Education, Exercise Science, and Wellness for the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND. In addition to earning his PhD, Lukaski is also a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

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