Optimal Nutrition for Athletic Performance

When we are physically active, our bodies work differently. The body is continuously metabolically active at rest or during exercise to maintain its physiological functions. During training, the respiratory and cardiovascular systems must work harder to amend the increased energy demands of the muscles. That’s why athletes’ energy demands can increase depending on their energy expenditure. To meet these demands, athletes need completely different nutritional support. This article breaks down the key facts about optimal nutrition for athletic performance. 

What about micronutrients?

Understanding the requirements of the body for an athlete is very important. For example, research suggests that athletes with high activity levels must increase their vitamin and mineral intake. However, there are no official guidelines for micronutrient recommendations specific to athletes and their needs. Therefore, a personalised approach would be the best way to address their needs. 

Keeping track of the body functions, including nutrient deficiencies in the blood, is crucial for the health and performance of athletes. Micronutrients play a vital role in producing oxygen-carrying proteins, maintaining bone health, proper immune system function, and maintaining fluid balance. They also help synthesise and repair new muscle tissue and protect against oxidative stress. That’s why once low levels of certain minerals are detected, it is necessary to correct them. 

What are those key micronutrients?

Let’s start with iron deficiency – athletes' most common micronutrient deficiency. Iron is essential for oxygen transportation throughout the body and good heart health. Lack of iron in the body may cause fatigue and impact physical performance.  Iron deficiency can also impair muscle function and limit work capacity. Exercise may cause some iron losses or decreased iron absorption. That's why endurance athletes require more iron than the general population.

Then, there is calcium, which is important not only for bone health but also for proper nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and prevention of blood clotting. Intense physical activity puts additional stress on bones and joints. That’s why keeping optimal calcium levels is crucial for athletes to promote bone health.

Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D also plays an important role in reducing the body’s inflammation and boosting the immune system. Clinical studies show that low levels of vitamin D can have a negative impact on physical performance and increase the occurrence of muscle fractures.

B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, pyridoxine, vitamin B9 and B12) are involved in energy production during exercise. Optimal levels of folate and B12 are necessary for your body to produce red blood cells. They are also involved in protein synthesis, tissue repair and maintenance. Severe deficiency of B12, folate or both may result in anaemia and reduced performance. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products – hence, vegan or vegetarian athletes are often at risk of a deficiency.

Antioxidants protect cell membranes from oxidative muscle damage caused by excessive exercise. That’s why athletes’ bodies need to get enough antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, A, CoQ10 and selenium, in order to maintain healthy muscle tissues. However, it is crucial to remember that exceeding the optimal levels of antioxidants can harm your health. 

Zinc aids in the growth and repair of muscle tissue and immune status. Zinc status directly affects thyroid hormone levels and protein utilisation.

Magnesium supports the metabolism of macronutrients and regulates neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune, and hormonal functions.

Athletes are considered to be at risk of sodium depletion due to excessive sweating (losing more than 4 litres of sweat a day). That’s why it is very important to stay hydrated during the workout. If you exercise more than 2 hours daily, a sports drink that contains sodium and carbohydrate can restore the sodium balance, especially in high temperatures.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that getting regular checkups is essential to keep track of your macronutrient balance and maintain healthy body functions. bioniq LIFE TEST will help you look into your health and get personalised nutritional support for your personal needs.

Author of the publication

Polina Kuznetsova
Polina Kuznetsova
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