The word “food” is generally restricted to the things we eat that contain MACROnutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), and MICROnutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements). Both types of nutrients have a profound impact on powerful hormones and enzymes we need to survive, grow and perform optimally. As active people, the demand for these nutrients is even more necessary, to increase our chances of success in reaching our fitness goals. Yes, if we were to eat five nutritionally-balanced meals a day, every day, we may not need to supplement with vitamins. But, let’s face it, how many of us actually do that?
As a long-time personal trainer and sports nutritionist, I must say I have been amiss on my knowledge base of MICROnutrients. As trainers, particularly, we seem to focus more on the MACROnutrients, when designing programs for our training clients. Yesterday, a client inquired as to which vitamins would better his ability to metabolize cholesterol. And, when researching this, I realized that I could talk all day about protein, carbohydrates and fat, but a five-minute presentation on vitamins would have been ugly! So, let’s talk about MICROnutrients, and more particularly, about vitamins!
Vitamins are either water-soluble (generally NOT stored by the body), or fat-soluble (which can be stored by the body). Approximately 2 billion people worldwide suffer from some kind of vitamin deficiency, causing a wide array of disorders and increasing the risk of death, disease and disability. So, not only are vitamins life-sustaining, but vitamins are needed to attain successful peak performance, too.
According to Fredrick C. Hatfield, PhD, ISSA, and other sources listed, the following vitamins are vital to successful physical performance:
Vitamin A: This vitamin helps to maintain your skin and mucous membranes and contributes to the function of night vision and color vision. Excess vitamin A intake can be toxic, since it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin A can be found in foods such as carrots, yellow vegetables, broccoli, butter, pumpkin, cantaloupe, eggs, liver, milk and peas.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): This vitamin is vital to carbohydrate metabolism and the function of your nervous system. It also effects muscle atrophy. This vitamin is water-soluble, so daily replacement is necessary. Whole grains, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, asparagus, potatoes, oranges and eggs, are great sources of B1.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): This vitamin is used in the metabolism of energy and cell maintenance. It is also important for the repair of all cells following an injury. Milk and eggs are a great source of vitamin B2.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin): This vitamin is present in every cell in your body! This vitamin is helpful in the reduction of high cholesterol. Niacin increases the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol in the blood, and is oftentimes prescribed for patients with low HDL, who are at risk of a heart attack. This vitamin is present in foods such as peanuts, chicken, beef, tuna, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B5 (Pathothenic Acid): This vitamin aids in nerve transmission, memory, and crucial in the metabolism of energy. Poultry, fish, and whole grains provide you with ample levels of this vitamin.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): This vitamin is involved in the metabolism of sugar, fat and protein. A limit of 300 mgs per day is considered adequate for any athlete. It can be found in foods like wheat germ, fish and walnuts.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): This refers to the substances containing the mineral cobalt, which is important in the metabolism of protein and fat and aids in red blood cell production. Sources include liver, oysters and clams.
Folic Acid (Folain): This is referred to as a “helper” substance of the B complex group, especially in red blood cell formation. Five mgs a day is recommended for athletes.
Biotin: This one also helps to metabolize carbohydrates and fat. Best sources are brown rice and soybeans.
Choline: This is an agent helpful in the use of the B complex vitamins, and is crucial in normal brain functions (like memory). It also acts as a factor in metabolizing fat and cholesterol. This can be found in eggs and lecithin.
Para-amino-benzoic acid (PABA): This vitamin is essential for normal skin and hair growth. This can be found in whole grains and wheat germ.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): This is a water-soluble vitamin. This vitamin may produce diarrhea and mild diuretic effects in some people. Citrus fruits provide a good source of Vitamin C, with the kakuda plum and the camu camu fruits containing the richest sources of this vitamin. Other sources include foods like strawberries, kiwi, liver, red peppers, and parsley.
Bioflavonoids: This contains chemicals that contribute to the strength of your capillaries and helps to protect vitamin C stores in your body. These vitamins can be found in fresh raw vegetables and fruits.
Vitamin D (Calciferol): This is a fat-soluble vitamin, that regulates your calcium and phosphate metabolism in your body. It is actually formed on your skin, through ultraviolet rays from light, when they react with cholesterol in your skin. Vitamin D insufficiency can result in thin, brittle, or misshapen bones, while sufficiency prevents rickets in children and helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. This vitamin can be found in milk, but sunlight is your best source.
Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol succinate): This vitamin has a lot of responsibilities in your body, and is also a fat-soluble vitamin. We use Vitamin E in many of our spa treatments, too, in that it is vital to anti-aging. Vitamin E fights the ravages of free radical damage inside your body. Eat plenty of wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and vegetable oils.
Vitamin K (the “K” stands for “Koagulation): This vitamin is important to proper blood clotting. It is synthesized in the intestinal flora. Since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it has the potential for toxicity if taken in large doses.
Well, there we go! The low-down on vitamins. Check back for a follow up blog, on the best places to attain these vitamins, and the daily recommended dosage of each. To your health!
For further information, check out the following sites:
WFP (World Food Programme): http://foodquality.wfp.org/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx
USDA (Unites States Department of Agriculture): http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=1&tax_subject=242