We’ve heard it all. Popular diets often reduce the relationship between human health and nutrition down to three main categories: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. These food groups are classified as macronutrients, commonly referred to as ‘macros’, which constitute the nutrients that your body requires in the largest amounts. When ingested, these macronutrients break down in the GI tract into smaller constituents that support a wide range of functions throughout the body.
While macronutrients undeniably serve as the foundation of nutrition, to stop there would be a disservice to the complex relationship between food and health. If ticking off these three boxes every meal was all there was to optimising human health through food, why does the Australian Guide to Health Eating recommend the addition of 2 servings of fruit and 5 vegetables per day, when vegetables and fruit are not particularly macronutrient dense?
One word. Micronutrients or ‘micros’.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals needed by the body in smaller amounts, when compared to macronutrients. Their role in our overall health status however, is imperative and responsible for a vast range of functions, such as enzyme production and hormone release amongst many others. As the name suggests, micros are small but mighty and deficiencies can result in severe, life-threatening conditions in serious cases or sub-clinical yet notable reductions in energy, mental clarity and performance in others. This tends to show up as impacted emotional outcomes, reduced work productivity, decreased physical output, and increased susceptibility to illnesses and health conditions.
Micronutrients and other key minerals include a vast array of compounds such as:
- Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, K
These micros are broken down into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble.
Fat soluble meaning they are best absorbed in the presence of fats (hence why most salads call for a drizzle of olive oil) and can be stored in the liver for use later – these include vitamin A, K, D and E.They are not as easily excreted since they are stored in body fat, and can be drawn upon by the body over longer periods of time. They do not need to be consumed as often as water-soluble vitamins, although adequate amounts are needed, which can be obtained through a well balanced diet and supplementation.
Others are classified as water soluble, which means they are easily absorbed into the bloodstream, but also just as easily flushed out in urine if not immediately necessary. e.g. vitamin B (coenzyme in important metabolic reactions) and vitamin C (synthesis of collagen and neurotransmitters). This means they cannot be stored in the body and must be consumed daily in order to replenish the body’s resources. An added benefit is while water soluble vitamins are needed more frequently, they are safer and pose less of a risk to reaching toxic/concerning levels.
Just as macro requirements differ between sedentary and active individuals, so do micro requirements. This is because athletes have higher rates of energy metabolism and frequently push their bodies to extreme levels to facilitate peak performance. These nutrients help ensure several key physiological processes are supported for optimisation, through improved energy production, production of neurotransmitters and hormones, muscle growth and repair, and serving as a cofactor for key elements such as iron.
PILLAR’s Performance range, including D3 Sport Effect, Elite Calcium, and Ultra B Active formulations, cover a vast array of micronutrients to provide synergistic support to multiple biological systems, ensuring the body is protected from even the smallest of deficiencies that may compromise performance.
We know severe deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to increased vulnerability towards muscle and bone related conditions, such as an increased risk of osteopenia, as well as precipitating and exacerbating osteoporosis among others. This is because vitamin D plays a synergistic role in supporting the absorption of Calcium.
Now, let's look at it from a performance perspective.
A study of 214 NFL trialists (with a median age of 22) found that overall, 59% of the athletes had below-normal levels of vitamin D, defined as > 50 nmol/L. Researchers also discovered that 56% of the players with low vitamin D experienced a recent lower extremity muscle strain or core muscle injury. Additionally, of the 14 study participants who missed at least one game due to a muscle injury, 86% were found to have significantly low levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D works alongside Calcium, with Calcium Citrate Tetrahydrate being one of the most readily absorbed, and well tolerated forms of Calcium, playing a protective role in bone health (density) and in turn protecting individuals against increased risk of bone and muscle injuries. We’ve been educated for years on the importance of Calcium for issues highlighted above, with data also indicating that bones are more likely be to be reinjured after an initial injury (often due to Calcium deficiency), reinforcing the importance of adequate levels of Calcium as a preventative and supportive addition to all stages of your training regimen.
An often forgotten figure of the micro mix, and one that works in harmony with vitamin D and Calcium is vitamin K – not common in a Western diet because it is typically found in fermented foods. Vitamin K2 in particular, supports a wide range of physiological functions such as optimising the absorption of vitamin D, increasing the production of ATP (cellular energy) and has been demonstrated to support mitochondrial function.
In a performance context, a 2017 randomised study across 8 weeks found that vitamin K2 supplementation was also associated with a 12% increase in maximal cardiac output, suggesting further benefits to athletes looking to support their endurance and overall performance.
Vitamin B is of particular interest to athletes because this group of vitamins play a role in many metabolic processes that are directly related to performance. These include energy production, red-blood-cell formation, and muscle building/repair.
B vitamins – especially thiamine, riboflavin, and Vitamin B6 – are used to convert food into energy that can be utilised during exercise, with supplementation demonstrating the ability to support efficient energy production at a cellular level. Folate and Vitamin B12, play an integral role in the synthesis of red blood cells and repair of damaged muscle cells, making it an integral element of the recovery process.
Nutrition and health are complex topics and with a myriad of resources available, and infinitely more opinions, making decisions pertaining to sports nutrition can be confusing at the best of times.
Experiment with what works best for you, and what routine allows you to function at peak performance. A solid base of macronutrients, accompanied with the supplementation of key essential micronutrients ensures you will be covering all of your bases with clinically supported formulations to assist you at every step of your journey.
PILLAR’s Performance range will ensure you are supported in achieving your peak performance consistently, through joint protection, energy production and immune support.
Micronutrients may not receive as much attention, but it’s certainly not due to their lack of relevance. Which is why dietitians will always advise you to ‘eat the rainbow’…