Nutrition 101 – What About Micronutrients?

nutrition 101 - MicronutrientsNow that we know a little bit about the macronutrients of food (protein, carbs, and fat) from this article series, we’re going to go a little deeper into high quality nutrition and talk a little bit about micronutrients.

As a quick recap, think of your macronutrients as the things that are either burnt for energy or they provide structure.  All of the macronutrients can be used to create energy, although carbs and fat are the best for it, while protein and fat are also bigtime structural bricks in your body.  The micronutrients, on the other hand, don’t really contribute much structure.  The exception to that is some of the minerals, which are important ingredients in bone, etc.  Instead the micronutrients are the little things that actually are required to make stuff happen and to tell the body what to do with the macronutrients.  So they’re not the bricks and mortar, but they’re the tools, power, and logistics that make building a wall possible.

What ARE these “micronutrients”?  Micronutrients are your vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Vitamins are essentially compounds that are utilized to do other stuff.  For example, collagen, which is a protein that makes up most of your tendons, ligaments, and skin, is made up of… protein.  You can’t just eat a bunch of protein and hope it goes to collagen, though.  In order to make it the body has to use some Vitamin C in the process.  It’s not made of Vitamin C, but without Vit C you won’t have any collagen  This is why people with scurvy, which is a Vit C deficiency, have bleeding gums, their teeth fall out, and their skin loses its elasticity.  Without that necessary Vit C, the body doesn’t produce enough collagen to keep those tissues strong and healthy.  This is obviously not good, but in today’s day and age it’s almost impossible to get scurvy, so don’t stress on this example.

The vital minerals are those that the body uses in small amounts for a variety of applications, either as “cofactors” in a reaction (like vitamins) or for structure.  For example, as I said above, a lot of your bone mass is calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium.  If you’re low on these minerals then you will have weaker bone.  This is one of the reasons why many people recommend calcium for women to help stave off osteoporosis, or weak bones.  Low intake of calcium (which is actually used for a bunch of reactions in the body) is literally depriving the body of what it needs to make strong bones.

Phytonutrients are a HUGE list of nutrients that we won’t really get deeply into, as they’re a full study in and of themselves.  We don’t have the faintest clue as to how many there are or how much is needed/optimal of any one.  More are being discovered every day and with each discovery the field becomes deeper and more complex.  To make it simple, think of it this way:  Vitamins and Minerals are essential in your diet.  You need them.  Most of the phytonutrients aren’t essential but can be helpful in the right dose.  We’ll paint them with a pretty broad brush in this course.

Are you getting enough vitamins and minerals from your food?

The truth of the matter is that the VAST majority of people, even in the United States, are walking around with some mild to serious deficiencies in your micronutrients.  Usually it’s not such a level that people die or have a severe issue, but it can create slow recovery from training, lead to long-term health issues, slower thinking, and poor performance.

What are the best sources of vitamins and minerals?

The best thing you can do is take in a diet that is made up of a wide variety of natural, healthy foods… especially of the vegetable order as vegetables produce a lot of our vitamins and phytonutrients.  With a few exceptions (such as fermented foods like sauerkraut) the closer a food is to its natural state, the better its vitamin and mineral profile is going to be.

The quick take-away on how to get your doses?

If you already eat a lot of vegetables:  Good work!  Make sure you’re getting about 10 servings of fruit and veggies per day, heavy on the veggie side.

If you are hit or miss with your vegetables:  Hit at least five servings per day, or 1-2 with each meal.

If you haven’t touched a vegetable in years:  Add two servings per day.  That’s not awesome, but it’s a start.

What’s a serving?  About the size of your fist of most vegetables.

That’ll get you started on the path.  Might you still need a quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement?

Yeah, maybe, but just because you take one doesn’t give you a license to skip eating a healthy diet.  A pill or tablet, even a good one, isn’t going to give you a blanket protection from a crappy diet.

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