What fuels your body? Food, for the most part. Macronutrients are made up of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. It is these three elements that run your body. They give you the basic energy you need for your organs and basic living functions to continue operating properly. The rest will give you energy, letting you focus on tasks, move your body, and keep your emotions in check. Too little can cause a drop in function and make you lethargic, cranky, and ill. Too much can store that excess energy on your body as fat, acting as a reserve for times of famine.
But what about micronutrients? These often ignored nutritional powerhouses are just as necessary for the body to remain alive as the more popular counterparts. They make up the many vitamins and minerals we need to regulate hormones, release chemicals from the brain, repair damaged tissue, and so much more. But when it comes to micronutrients, we are failing on a global scale.
Much of this issue comes down to nutrient bioavailability, which is the amount of nutritional value that can be absorbed from food products.
How Food Impacts Our Brains and Bodies
Food is more than just a provider of energy. What we eat has a major impact on our brains, our moods, and some may even reverse the signs of aging and help us live longer. You can’t understate how crucial it is for us to get the proper nutrition. If you aren’t able to get the proper balance of vitamins and minerals from your food, it is important to at least get it from a daily multivitamin that offers them in concentrated doses. But natural sources are always best, and more complete.
When we look at the issue of malnutrition, it is often the lack of macronutrients that dominate the argument. After all, isn’t a lack of food itself the biggest problem, as evidenced by struggling nations that face food shortages? Yes, and no. Studies have shown that a lack of micronutrient bioavailability pose as much of a threat as lack macronutrients, in particular iodine, iron, and Vitamin A. Developing nations lacking in these vitamins and minerals face major health crises, particularly pregnant women and children.
Micronutrient bioavailability plays a role, not only in developing nations, but wealthy ones as well. If only so much of a nutrient can be extracted and used by the body from food sources, than more sources are necessary to get the recommended amount. Finding them from whole foods (like fruit instead of juice) is best. For runners, this provides a unique challenge.
The Runner and Micronutrients
Think of the last time you planned your diet. What did you closely consider? How many carbs you would load in the lead up to a race? The appropriate amount of protein to repair your damaged leg and back muscles after a strenuous training program? Eating enough calories to keep you from hitting a wall, and maintaining the energy you need to double your distance? These are all major concerns for runners, and yet they avoid a big part of healthy nutrition: micronutrients.
You might think it isn’t that big of a deal. After all, if you eat healthy then you should be healthy, right? Not necessarily. Athletes need more micronutrients than sedentary people, just as they need higher levels of macronutrients. Unfortunately, they tend to increase their meat or starchy carb consumption, and ignore nutrient rich foods like vegetables when making this adjustment.
Without the proper amounts of magnesium, iron, iodine, sodium, vitamins, and other important minerals, you will see a drop in both performance and health. You may begin having heart irregularities. Your bones could begin to lose strength, and you could develop conditions like shin splints. You could even begin to have trouble focusing, and your brain could suffer.
Another concern is free radicals. These are loose molecules that are short one electron. They are let free in the body, after exposure environment and lifestyle elements. These may include diet, pollution, alcohol consumption, stress, and even exercise itself. While searching through the body for an electron to add to itself and make it complete, it attacks and damages healthy cells. Over time this can have a serious impact on health.
Runners are especially at risk for free radicals, because of their frequent exercise. When you run, you breath more deeply than when you are sitting stationary. Oxygen is produced at a higher level, and environmental and stress related free radicals are produced.
Micronutrients: Your Best Protection
As everything above clearly demonstrates, the need for a balanced diet full of micronutrients is a necessity for everyone, runner or otherwise. Next time you are looking to change up your diet to improve your performance, make sure you aren’t merely considering your macros. You could be missing out on what you really need.
Kevin Jones is a full time professional fitness expert. When he isn’t in the gym, he is offering practical research, fitness plans and nutritional tips to the world. Kevin regularly contributes to many fitness and health authority websites. With a passion for family, fun, and fitness, Kevin has found a way to manage and combine these three aspects in an effective and successful way. Connect with him online; LinkedIn – Twitter