An athlete who performs at their best is also a healthy athlete. Fundamental to good health is meeting your vitamin and mineral requirements. A healthy diet for an endurance athlete isn’t just about making sure you are eating enough calories to meet the energy requirements of your training and everyday life, and within that a suitable balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. It’s also essential that you are providing your body with the micronutrients that it needs to function, primarily vitamins and minerals. These act as co-factors in the thousands of biochemical reactions that take place within your body. For example, magnesium, iron and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, folate and B12 are all involved in energy production, while vitamin C and zinc play important roles in immune function.

If your diet is largely comprised of processed and packaged foods, and lacks sufficient fresh fruit and vegetables, there is a risk you could fall short of your vitamin and mineral requirements, which is likely to adversely affect your athletic performance. Yes, you could take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement as “insurance” or look for packaged foods like cereals which are fortified with certain vitamins and minerals, but synthetic micronutrients are generally less well absorbed by your body than those found in real foods. If most of your diet comes from vegetables, fruit, quality sources of protein such as unprocessed meat, fish, seafood, lentils, beans, eggs and dairy products, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, your vitamin and mineral needs should be covered.

what minerals and vitamins do endurance athletes need

There are some exceptions: vegans may fall short on vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods (see my blog here for

more on vegan diets for athletes). Anyone who avoids dairy products due to milk allergy, lactose intolerance or for ethical reasons may be low on calcium (see my blog here and another blog here for more on this topic). People who do not eat red meat risk being low on iron (see my blog here for information on other sources of iron).

Below I’ve put together an easy to use guide to the main vitamins and minerals, giving the main function and best food sources for each.

Micro-Nutrient Reason it is needed for endurance sports performance Best Food Sources
Vitamin C To support the immune system

To combat free radicals &  oxidative stress (anti-oxidant)

To manufacture adrenal hormones, eg cortisol

Berries, kiwi fruit, oranges, green leafy vegetables, peppers, potatoes
Vitamin E To combat free radicals & oxidative stress (anti-oxidant) Avocado, nuts, seeds
Vitamin A (and beta-carotene) To support the immune system

To combat free radicals (anti-oxidant)

To maintain healthy digestive function (gut wall)

Butter, eggs, oily fish, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potato, red peppers, apricots, mango
Vitamin D To support healthy bones

To support muscle function

To support the immune system

oily fish, butter – and SUNSHINE
B vitamins To produce energy

To support red blood cell production (folate and B12)

To support the nervous system (B12)

Wholemeal bread, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, meat, dairy products, green leafy vegetables
Calcium To support healthy bones

To support the nervous system

Milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, sesame seeds, soya products eg tofu
Magnesium To produce energy

To support muscle function

To manufacture adrenal hormones, eg cortisol

Green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils
Iron To produce energy

To produce red blood cells

Red meat, eggs, spinach, chickpeas, apricots, figs
Zinc To support the immune system

To maintain healthy digestive function

To support growth

Meat, fish, wholegrains, beans, nuts, seeds
Selenium To combat free radicals & oxidative stress (anti-oxidant) Brazil nuts
Sodium To maintain fluid levels

To support muscle function

Salt, salty foods
Potassium To maintain fluid levels

To maintain blood pressure

To support the nervous system

Fruit and vegetables, especially bananas

 

For more information and to check the daily amount required, which varies for men and women and by age in some cases, eg iron, check out this website.

 

Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) is a BANT Registered Nutritionist, writing and giving talks about nutrition for endurance sportBased in London, she also works as a Registered Nutritional Therapist, conducting onetoone consultations with triathletes, distance runners and cyclists to help them eat well, be healthy and perform better through the creation of an individual nutritional plan. To learn more about these consultations, please visit www.nutritionforendurancesports.co.uk