So far, we have discussed a number of topics including digestion, blood sugar regulation, and fatty acids. Today I want to talk all about minerals and why they are so important. They are always important, but as we approach summer, they become crucial to sports performance. Let’s start with the basics – what are minerals?
Minerals are broken up into Major and Minor Minerals, based on their levels in the body. The Major minerals include Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, and Sodium. Calcium is the most abundant in the body amounting to 40% of the total mineral mass (only 1.5% of total body mass). Having balanced mineral levels are key for everyone, but they are particularly important for physically active adults. Too much or too little can really throw your entire system off!
The simplified mineral interaction chart below shows how some minerals interact with each other. Though this looks complicated, let me explain how to read it. If a mineral has an arrow pointing to another mineral, it means a deficiency of that mineral (or interference with its metabolism) may be caused by an excess of the mineral from where the arrow originates. And some pairs work in both directions – such as magnesium and calcium. If you have too much calcium, you may not be absorbing the magnesium you are consuming and vice versa.
Minerals serve a number of roles including: contracting and relaxing muscles, maintaining proper nerve function, regulating tissue growth and providing functional and structural support (think strong bones here).
An example of a mineral imbalance would be when an athlete gets leg cramps during short high-intensity or endurance type workouts or events. Without the proper balance of calcium and magnesium, this can happen easily since calcium regulates muscle contraction and magnesium regulates the muscle relaxing.
Even the microminerals can have a big impact on how you feel. For example, if you’re looking for peak performance (or just want to feel your best), you need to have proper levels of iodine. Iodine is essential in the production of thyroid hormone, which affects everything from metabolism to sexual hormones. Iodine is also key in nerve and bone formation which affects muscle memory and recovery.
Aside from performance improvements through better mineral balance, minerals directly affect your immune system. For example, most people are aware that zinc can support the immune system, but did you know that zinc is also important in the creation of stomach acid?! Since minerals are essential cofactors in creating enzymes which then convert fatty acids into prostaglandins (inflammatory regulators) – you can better understand why proper digestion is key. Isn’t it amazing how everything is truly connected in our bodies! Psst…If you haven’t been reading along, my last post on fatty acids discussed prostaglandins and how important they are for managing inflammation.
So now you might be wondering, “How do I balance my minerals? Do I take a supplement?” The short answer is – “It depends”. Many Functional Practitioners and some M.D.s will run tests for vitamin and mineral levels. If you have a known deficiency, talk to your Doctor or Practitioner about supplementing. Regardless of your mineral status, the best way to get your minerals is through your food. This is why variety matters! Eat all different colors of veggies, types of meat and seafood, and a variety of leafy greens. This will give you a full spectrum of minerals from your food.
Mineral rich foods include:
- Cruciferous veggies (kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy, arugula, etc.)
- organ meats (try making a chicken liver pate!)
- Eggs ( WITH the yolks!)
- Avocados (more potassium than a banana)
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish (sardines, herring, salmon)
And if you are going to hit a hard workout, you should consider adding electrolytes to your water. A simple pinch of high-quality sea salt is the cheapest method and is just as effective as the $20 sports electrolyte powder without the added sugar or sweeteners. (Note – there are some decent ones on the market now DM me for some recommendations)
Remember though that digestion is Queen in this cascade and if your digestion is not functioning properly, you may not be absorbing the minerals you are eating. It all starts with digestion!
Something else to look at is if any prescription or over the counter medications could be causing deficiencies of some minerals. This is very common, so ask your Pharmacist or Doctor about this when you start any new meds. And finally, times of high stress can also cause depletions, and some minerals are more prone to depletion from stress than others. Magnesium is a big one that is depleted with stress (physical and emotional). This is where supplementation can help support your system. A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can also help evaluate ways to help you functionally support your body through food and/or supplements. If this is a concern for you, let’s talk. I’m here to help!
For more support in your efforts to improve digestion and mineral balance: Let’s work together!