If you are serious about weight training you know how important good nutrition is. You make sure you get enough protein to feed your muscles. You eat enough carbohydrates so that your glycogen stores are replenished and you have energy in the gym. You provide a healthy amount of fats that support the functioning of your body. But did you know that providing your body with enough micronutrients is just as important? Vitamins and minerals are not only important to keep your body healthy, but also determine how you perform in the gym!
The world of micronutrients can only be quite confusing. There are countless vitamins and minerals and to make it even more complex, often different names are used for the same substance. Once you have realized which vitamins and minerals are important to you, the next challenge is imminent: discover which foods you use to get them.
To make it easier for you, we have put together the vitamin & mineral handbook for you: the 10 most important vitamins & minerals for everyone who does strength training. We explain why you should get enough of it and how to do it!
We start with the first category: vitamins. But what exactly are vitamins? Vitamins are substances that occur in small amounts in our diet, such as milligrams or even micrograms. With the exception of a few vitamins, your body cannot make these yourself, so it is crucial to get enough of this.
To start with, we have the B vitamins. We are cheating here, because this group actually consists of no less than 8 different vitamins. Those are the following 8:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Nicotinamide)
- Vitamin B5 (Panthothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B8 (Vitamin H / Biotin)
- Vitamin B11 (folic acid and folate)
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalimines)
B vitamins are important for everyone, but especially when you do strength training. To give just a few examples:
- Vitamin B11 (folic acid) plays an important role in amino acid synthesis. This is important to properly process all the proteins that you eat every day
- Vitamin B8 (biotin) supports normal (fat) metabolism. An important factor when you not only want to build muscle, but also want to lose fat and stay in shape
- Vitamin B12 supports the energy level. Indispensable if you want to get the most out of your (strength) training sessions every day
- Vitamin B6 is good for the nervous system. Also not unimportant, because your muscles can still recover so well, if your nervous system gets tired you really won't make any progress
And that's just a few of the reasons why B vitamins are so important to you. If we still have to give a brief summary, we can state that B vitamins contribute to your nervous system and energy metabolism so that you can deliver maximum performance every day.
How do you get enough B vitamins?
Because B vitamins consist of so many different types, it is difficult to provide one guideline for this. But in general B vitamins are common in the following products:
- Dairy products
Enough possibilities to get those B vitamins daily, but do you realize that as a fanatic power athlete you have a considerably higher need than someone who doesn't train. That is why it can be valuable to have one Vitamin B Complex to add to your daily diet, especially when you have the idea that you do not have the energy that you should have.
Finally, B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins. This means that they are not stored in the body and the surplus leaves the body through the urine. That makes it extra important to ensure that you take enough B vitamins every day.
The next vitamin will be a familiar one to most, we are naturally talking about Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that also fulfills an antioxidant function.
Funny fact: Vitamin C also bears the name ascorbic acid. That word comes from a (not) and scorbutus (a corruption for scurvy). In the 19e scurvy was a common disease in the century and researchers discovered that lemon juice, for example, helped in this. It was only later discovered that this was due to Vitamin C and scurvy was a result of a long-term Vitamin C deficiency.
Scurvy is fortunately no longer a problem with the diet as we know it today, but Vitamin C has countless other benefits beyond that. The list is too long to list here completely, but the following is especially interesting for strength athletes:
- Vitamin C promotes resistance during and after physical exertion
- Vitamin C activates your natural energy in the body
- Vitamin C is important for the cartilage
- Vitamin C helps protect healthy body cells
It is therefore clear that Vitamin C, also because of its antioxidant effect to protect against free radicals, plays an enormously important role in your body. Do you realize that intensive strength training not only ensures muscle growth, but that it is primarily a load on your body. Cells and tissues are damaged, only then can recovery take place. And yes, let Vitamin C play an important role in this.
How do you get enough Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is mainly found in many different fruits and vegetables. In addition to that you will also find some Vitamin C in (sweet) potatoes, but these quantities are considerably lower than in fruit and vegetables. The following foods contain the highest amounts of Vitamin C:
- Black berries
If you want to get considerably more Vitamin C for certain reasons, it's a good idea to go to a supplement because otherwise you are soon looking at 100 grams or even kilos of fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin D is a very special vitamin, but no less important for you. The most important source of Vitamin D is not found in our daily diet, but in sunlight. Vitamin D is in fact one of the few vitamins that the body can make itself, provided you get sufficient exposure to sunlight. Now we all know that the latter is not always easy in the Netherlands. Even if the sun shines sufficiently, it is still not easy, because to get the maximum benefit from this, you must have direct exposure to the sun with almost your entire body. So what sunlight in your face through the windshield of your car does not count…
In addition, it is important to mention that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. That means, among other things, that your body needs fat to be able to fully absorb Vitamin D. When you supplement Vitamin D, it is therefore important to take it together with a meal that contains enough fat.
Enough introduction about Vitamin D, let's see what Vitamin D does in your body:
- Vitamin D is important for normal muscle function
- Vitamin D plays a role in the process of tissue growth and contributes to cell renewal
- Vitamin D ensures the maintenance of strong bones
Vitamin D therefore plays an important role for your muscles, your recovery and your bones. All three things that you as a strength athlete undoubtedly want to have.
How do you get enough Vitamin D?
We already mentioned it above: Vitamin D is mainly made by the body when exposed to sunlight. In addition to that source of Vitamin D, there are a number of dietary sources that can provide you with Vitamin D, but in all honesty, these often fall short in quantity. You can think of the following:
- Fatty fish such as rainbow trout, salmon or mackerel
The rainbow trout contains a good amount of Vitamin D per 100 grams, but all other options are soon much lower. To illustrate, you should eat 250 grams of trout to get as much Vitamin D as one 1000 IU lozenge. For eggs it becomes even more unrealistic, because then you are already on more than 25 eggs per day!
So unless you live in a warm country and spend a lot of time in the sun every day (lucky you ...?) It is advisable to take a Vitamin D supplement. You can hardly avoid this, especially because for many people the amount of 1000 IU is not even sufficient to meet their needs. You should determine your exact need by taking blood samples, but it seems especially in winter 3000 IU no unnecessary luxury. And remember, take this with a fatty meal.
The last vitamin from this list is Vitamin E. This is just like Vitamin D a fat-soluble vitamin and fulfills an important function as an antioxidant in the body. You would think that this is not so important for strength training, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we mentioned in Vitamin C, strength training has a strong effect on the body. Cells are damaged, waste accumulates and inflammation occurs in the tissue to trigger recovery and growth. It is precisely for that reason that it is especially important to keep your cells healthy, so that it can withstand all the violence that you throw at it.
Vitamin E is known for the following characteristics:
- Vitamin E helps protect healthy body cells
- Vitamin E works to protect against free radicals
- Vitamin E helps protect cells against oxidative damage caused by air pollution and UV radiation
Remember: a healthy body is a strong body! So make sure that the basis is always good, that will benefit your result in the gym.
How do you get enough Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is mainly found in products such as sunflower oil and margarine. Now we cannot elaborate on why, but these are products that you actually do not want to be included in your diet as standard. This is mainly due to the high amount of Omega 6 that disturbs the Omega 3: 6 balance in your body and the chance of trans fats that can have adverse health effects.
Other sources of Vitamin E are nuts, leafy vegetables and even kiwi. These are the most important sources and even with that it can sometimes become tricky, because while almonds contain a considerable amount of Vitamin E, that is already a lot less with walnuts.
Because the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E is not terribly high, when you eat a good portion of nuts and green vegetables, you will be able to cover your needs. However, if you are dealing with a nut allergy, for example, it becomes a lot more difficult. In such a case it is a good idea to Vitamin E in supplement form to be combined with a fatty meal.
On to the next category: the minerals. Vitamins and minerals are often mentioned in the same breath and therefore have many similarities. The biggest difference between the two is that vitamins occur in living nature, while minerals come from dead nature. That sounds a bit raw, but simply means that they have to be absorbed by plants from the earth and by animals from food or water.
The trace elements are a subcategory of minerals. The biggest difference between minerals and trace elements is the amount you need of them, with trace elements this is considerably less. However, that does not mean that it is easier to get enough of this, because trace elements usually also occur in lower amounts in your diet.
The first mineral that is indispensable for every athlete is calcium. It is also one of the best known minerals, because almost everyone knows that calcium contributes to the maintenance of strong bones. Not unimportant when you do strength training, because the prevention of injuries and joint problems should be at the top of your priority list. But beyond those known benefits, there is more to say about calcium. We list below the most important characteristics that you need to know:
- Calcium is good for the skeleton
- Calcium is important for normal muscle function
- Calcium is important for the nervous system
- Calcium helps to release energy from food
As you can see, calcium plays an indispensable role in strength training, so it's not for nothing that dairy products are so immensely popular in the fitness world!
How do you get enough Calcium?
Probably one of the easiest questions to answer in this article and you probably know the answer yourself: eat dairy. Whether you are talking about cottage cheese, yogurt, milk or cheese, they are all extremely rich in dairy. Nowadays, especially in recent years, dairy products have received a lot of criticism, with the result that many people have been bothered with dairy products or have even stopped eating it. Now it is not impossible, but very difficult to get enough calcium without dairy.
So ask yourself if this is worth it to you. If you actually have a lactose intolerance or even cow's milk allergy, it is the logical choice. If both of these are not the case and you are functioning well on dairy, there is probably little reason to completely remove it from your diet.
Other sources of calcium include fatty fish, vegetables, and white beans. If you cannot or do not want to eat dairy products and find that you do not get the above products daily, consider a supplement with calcium.
Bonus tip: Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium in the body. So combine these 2 for the best effect.
The next mineral you absolutely don't want to lack is iron. You may have heard that you have to watch out for a surplus of iron because this can be toxic, but you don't want a shortage any more!
Iron helps with the normal formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin and let the latter be the protein that carries oxygen in your body. Yes, also the oxygen to your muscle cells that it can use so hard during those last reps.
Now an iron deficiency is not easily a problem for someone with a carefully composed nutrition plan, but in certain situations it is important to pay extra attention to this as we will explain to you shortly.
But first about iron itself, this is what it does even more in your body:
- Iron is good for the cell division process
- Iron is important for energy metabolism
- Iron helps to reduce fatigue
- And we already mentioned it, but iron contributes to efficient oxygen transport
So if you find yourself tired quickly and cannot get the most out of intensive (expensive) training, there is a chance that you will have a lack of iron from your diet.
How do you get enough iron?
It is not a major challenge for most people to get enough iron. Iron is mainly found in red meat, eggs, dark green vegetables, dried fruit and nuts. Foods that you as a strength athlete often already get enough.
Who then runs the risk of an iron deficiency? These are mainly vegetarians and vegans. Despite the fact that there are enough vegetable sources of iron, it seems more difficult in practice to get enough of this if you do not eat red meat or eggs.
A final option is to supplement iron, but this is usually discouraged without first having a blood test. As we mentioned at the start, an excessive intake of iron can be toxic to your body, so you don't want to play your own doctor with this!
Magnesium is a very interesting mineral. It is extremely valuable for athletes, it is found in many different foods and despite that many athletes are short of it. How is that possible?
The cause of this is 2 things:
- When you exercise intensively, your magnesium needs increase as it is an important mineral for the functioning of the muscles and protein synthesis
- The most widely consumed sources of magnesium such as grains, nuts and cocoa are rich in anti-nutrients such as phytic acid. This acid has the property that it adversely affects the absorption of minerals such as magnesium, so your body cannot absorb all magnesium. Although you get enough on paper, this can still be too little
Combine these 2 causes and it soon becomes clear why you as an athlete want to pay close attention to your magnesium intake. But first, let's see what exactly the function of magnesium is:
- Magnesium supports the bones
- Magnesium helps to build up body protein
- Magnesium contributes to a good electrolyte balance
- Magnesium promotes energy metabolism
- Magnesium is good for the muscles
- Magnesium contributes to extra energy in fatigue
As you can see, magnesium offers a huge complete range of health benefits that you as an athlete don't want to miss out on. Muscle cramps during intensive training are sometimes blamed for magnesium deficiency, but this can have several causes.
How do you get enough magnesium?
As mentioned above, many foods that are rich in magnesium are not optimal to meet your needs. Consider the following foods that are naturally rich in anti-nutrients:
The presence of anti-nutrients does not of course mean that it is of no use to you, but if these are your only sources of magnesium, there is a strong chance that you can still make a profit.
But what are good sources of magnesium? For that, we soon have to move to foods that generally contain slightly less magnesium, but the intake of which is as it should be. Consider the following products:
As you can see, products that most people do not eat every day, so that is precisely why magnesium is such a popular supplement. But here too it is important to pay attention, because not every type of magnesium is the same.
Magnesium oxide, for example, is cheaper, but is also a lot less available. If you are looking for high-quality magnesium, please look at it magnesium citrate, chloride, lactate or aspartate.
Potassium is often seen as the healthy counterpart of sodium, an important component of salt. It is too extensive a topic to cover in this article, but for now it is good to know that both potassium and sodium play an important role in the hydration and regulation of blood pressure in your body and none of the 2 are by definition bad is. An excessive salt intake is of course not good for you, but you realize that a sodium deficiency is just as bad.
However, where it often goes wrong, is the balance between these two substances. Where the average diet is full of salt (often without realizing it, because in particular ready-made products often contain a lot of salt), the potassium content is usually a lot more limited. It is precisely this imbalance that can cause problems in the body and even have negative consequences for your health.
Instead of eliminating all the salt from your diet (which you learn more about with the mineral iodine), it is better to start working on your potassium intake first.
But what does potassium actually do for you?
- Potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure
- Potassium is important for normal muscle function
- Potassium has a positive influence on the functioning of the nervous system
Besides that potassium therefore plays an important role for your overall health, it is also an important mineral for you to function well in the gym.
How do you get enough potassium?
Potassium is mainly found in (green) vegetables, potatoes, fruit and to a lesser extent in lean meat, grains and nuts.
Foods that are particularly known for their potassium content are bananas, avocados, spinach, beets, (sweet) potato and white beans.
As you can see, it doesn't have to be difficult to get enough potassium if your diet consists mainly of unprocessed, natural food. In spite of that, it can be a difficult task, especially during the bulking, to still cover this need. As you probably know yourself, your focus will automatically shift more towards calorie-rich foods to achieve your daily goals. An automatic consequence is that food with a high saturation such as fruit and vegetables receives less attention.
So the most important message is to always have your health in position 1, even when you are bulging and have to work away huge amounts of calories on a day.
Are you naturally not very hungry and is it an impossible task for you to do this? Then consider daily a supplement with potassium to take.
Zinc is a popular mineral among strength athletes and with good reason. In addition to all the other benefits of zinc, it is one of the few micronutrients that has been shown to contribute to normal testosterone levels in the blood.
Testosterone is the male sex hormone and is responsible for a variety of effects. Good welfare and a major role in building muscle mass are the 2 most important for us. Now a zinc supplement is not going to suddenly turn you into an unrestrained, muscle-building machine, but a shortage of zinc will certainly affect you adversely.
For that reason, it should always be your priority to optimize your hormone levels in a natural way. Optimal hormone values ensure that you know how to get the most out of your potential and as a bonus it also ensures better well-being, libido and overall health.
The effect of zinc on your hormone balance should therefore never be underestimated, but for what is zinc even more important?
- Zinc plays a role in protein synthesis
- Zinc contributes to normal carbohydrate and energy metabolism
- Zinc helps protect healthy body cells
- Zinc is good for man's fertility
- Zinc has a positive influence on the cell division process
Add these things together and it soon becomes clear that zinc, in particular for men, is an essential mineral that you would like to have in order.
How do you get enough zinc?
By far the 2 best sources of zinc are red meat and seafood such as oysters. If you regularly eat a good portion of this, you don't have to worry about a shortage of zinc. However, if this is not the case, there is a good chance that improvement is possible.
Other sources of zinc such as grains, poultry or nuts usually have poorer absorption. That, or you need huge amounts of it to cover your daily zinc needs. Because let's be honest, how realistic is it to eat a kilo of chicken fillet every day to get enough zinc?
Discovering whether you have a shortage of zinc is also a rather difficult task. The largest amount of zinc in our body is not in the blood, but within the cells. This makes blood tests not a very reliable method to discover whether you have a zinc deficiency.
Instead, look for one of the following symptoms:
- Poor, dry skin, possibly with acne
- Inflammation around your mouth
- Poor hair quality
When you suspect that you have a shortage of zinc, especially when you eat little or no meat, it is wise to zinc as a supplement to take. With this you have covered your need in one fell swoop and you no longer have to be afraid of suboptimal hormone values due to a shortage of zinc.
The last mineral in this article is iodine. Let's start right away with the fact that something interesting is happening with iodine. Decades ago governments all over the world already discovered that a massive part of the population had an iodine deficiency. This had adverse consequences, in particular for the functioning of the thyroid gland, but also for the functioning of your brain. The solution that was devised then? Add iodine to a product that can be found in every kitchen: kitchen salt!
This solution soon proved effective. Iodine deficiency was becoming less common and the matter seemed to be closed. In any case, until salt got an increasingly bad reputation, people started using less and less salt. In the same period, 'healthy salts' such as sea salt, himalayan salt and celtic sea salt became more and more popular, so people switched to these variants.
The problem with that? The actual benefits in the field of minerals were very disappointing in practice. And to top it off, Iodine was usually not added to these types of salt. As a result, the iodine deficiency has slowly but surely become a bigger problem again, especially for athletes trying to avoid salt for their health.
Let's see what iodine does for you:
- Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones
- Iodine contributes to normal memory and learning
- Iodine is good for concentration
- Iodine plays an important role in the functioning of nerves
So no mild claims and especially the first point is very interesting for anyone who wants to improve his body composition. Thyroid hormones play an enormously important role for your metabolism, which means that iodine deficiency can put a brake on your fat loss.
How do you get enough iodine?
Iodine is especially common in foods that are closely linked to the sea. Seaweed is undoubtedly at the top, one portion a week can be enough to cover your entire needs (sushi, anyone?). Alternative foods are cod, shrimp, certain forms of dairy, tuna and eggs. However, the proportion of iodine in these foods is a lot lower, so you soon have to eat more of them.
The easiest option in practice is really iodized salt. You have already learned above that salt (specifically: sodium) is not something you need to be afraid of. Especially when you also take in enough potassium. By adding flavor iodized salt to your meals, chances are that you will immediately get enough iodine. Do not make it crazy of course and prevent your grams of salt from scattering over all your food. Your taste senses are your friend, because of this you realize quickly enough when something is too salty.
If you belong to the group of people who are hypersensitive to sodium and therefore suffer from high blood pressure, then your last option is to take a kelp (seaweed) extract as a supplement.
Vitamins and minerals to boost your progression
And they were! The 10 most important vitamins and minerals for everyone who does strength training. If you already pay attention to your diet, chances are that you have already covered many of these needs, but you have probably also come across a number of vitamins and minerals where you can still improve. So use this article as a checklist and try to make improvements step by step and experience for yourself how much result you can still achieve by putting the dots on the i!
Written by Mathias Jansen