Usually macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) are mentioned when it comes to surfers’ food, however, micronutrients: vitamins and minerals in food are also essential.
“Micronutrients are essential to support energy metabolism, the transfer and delivery of oxygen and tissue repair”, says nutritionist Marni Sumbal.
If your body is a machine, think of micronutrients as gears. They facilitate metabolic reactions that help turn food into fuel, says Ingrid Skoog, nutritionist and trainer from the Oregon State University School of Public Health and Human Sciences.
And while all vitamins and minerals are essential for your overall health, some are especially crucial for athletes.
To optimize your performance, focus on these eight and try to obtain them (preferably) from natural food sources, rather than supplements.
What it does: Iron helps red blood cells to carry oxygen to muscles, says Sumbal, who is instrumental in improving endurance. Researches show that regular resistance training leads to greater daily iron loss, making deficiencies common among the highly active.
To combat this rapid and accelerated loss, the Food and Nutrition Council suggests a 30% increase in iron intake for people who exercise intensively regularly.
Where to find: Oysters, red meat, fish, raisins, tofu, lentils and white beans are great sources of iron. Another inexpensive option: a cup of cooked spinach contains about 80% of the recommended daily allowance for men and 35% for women.
What they do: Each vitamin B – including folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, pantothenic acid and biotin – plays a role in energy production, but many of them work together to increase impact, says Sumbal. Specifically, they break down carbohydrates into glucose for energy and help to process fat and protein. “They are like a flame in a fire,” she says.
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Among the B vitamins, B12 stands out for its role in the production of red blood cells and in the synthesis of DNA. Since red blood cells are responsible for removing carbon dioxide from the body and transporting oxygen, it is especially important that endurance athletes keep vitamin B12 levels high.
Where to find them: Chicken, meat, vegetables, eggs, milk, beans and whole grains contain most of the B vitamins. Animal sources are the best sources of vitamin B12, but vegans or vegetarians can also find it in fortified cereals and nutritional yeasts.
Vitamin D + Calcium
What they do: Vitamin D and calcium work hand in hand for bone health. Although calcium alone strengthens your bones and functions as an anti-inflammatory, it will not be fully absorbed without the help of vitamin D.
The lack of this vitamin is very common in outdoor athletes, most of whom assume that this vitamin is obtained only by sunlight. “Especially if you are a winter sports athlete, you may not be getting the necessary sun exposure,” says Skoog.
Where to find them: Most dairy products – such as cheese, milk and yogurt – provide a high dose of calcium and vitamin D. Since vitamin D is best absorbed when combined with fat, choose a full fat option instead of a fat. Salmon is another great source of both.
What it does: It is known for fighting disease and for good reason. Vitamin C is a major driver of immunity, and research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise have shown that long-term, moderate-intensity exercise decreases immunity.
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Where to find: Place foods like broccoli, peppers, kiwi and orange. The yellow pepper is full of vitamin C, with a large pepper containing almost four times the recommended daily dose for men and five times for women.
What does the magnesium plays a role in nerve and muscle function, including how the heart contracts, says Sumbal. It also assists in the synthesis of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and electrolyte balance.
When there is not enough magnesium in the cells, the muscles and nerves can become stressed, causing cramps or restless legs and involuntary spasms, she says.
Where to find: to achieve the recommended daily dose of 420 milligrams for men and 320 milligrams for women, look for a daily mix of dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Potassium + Sodium
What they do: Potassium is one of the three main electrolytes and works in conjunction with sodium to maintain the cell’s membrane potential. This is an elegant way of saying that it is largely responsible for proper muscle contraction, cardiac function and communication between the nerves.
The two micronutrients also work together to maintain fluid balance in the body. During exercise, you lose electrolytes through sweat, which can lead to fatigue and muscle cramps, but potassium and sodium help restore proper hydration and keep these side effects under control.
Where to find them: Bananas are the traditional option for a potassium serving, but a small white potato with the skin contains almost twice the banana’s potassium count. Other good sources of potassium include oranges, beans, salmon and milk. For a quick addition of sodium, just add a pinch of salt to the table. Sprinkle a potato with salt and eat after an intense intense training session to rebalance the electrolytes.