You’re probably already aware of the importance of fueling your runs, but your pre-run nutrition shouldn’t end at carb-loading and drinking water. Your body needs a fine balance of nutrients to perform optimally, so a good approach to nutrition is essential. Vitamins and minerals are a vital part of nutrition and getting the right ones can improve your overall performance, as health expert Leanne Edermaniger explains.
Iron is a mineral found in certain animal and plant based foods such as beef, liver, seafood, beans and tofu. Having enough iron for the body to metabolize is critical for runners because the haemoglobin proteins within the red blood cells are partly made up of iron. The iron within the haemoglobin protein binds oxygen so that it can be delivered to the runner’s working muscles.
But this isn’t the only reason why having enough iron is important. The red blood cells are being constantly renewed and need iron for this process. When our feet strike the ground while running, a part of our red blood cells stock is destroyed by the impact force - more so than when we’re not running, so runners need even more iron than non-runners.
On average, men require 8 milligrams of iron a day and women 18 milligrams, but regular runners should increase this slightly. Iron from animal sources (like meat) is generally easier for the body to absorb than plant-based sources (such as tofu), although both can be rich in iron.
Vitamin B6 helps to make haemoglobin, an essential component of red blood cells. Haemoglobin is needed to transport oxygen around the body to the cells and tissues which use it to produce the energy needed to run. It also transports carbon dioxide, a waste product, to the lungs which then remove it from the body.
On top of this, this vitamin helps to break down proteins into more manageable molecules called amino acids. Most cells and tissues, including our muscles, use amino acids and if needed, the body can convert proteins into energy if our glycogen stores run out when we’re on a long run.
Sources of vitamin B6 include poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas and bananas. The recommended daily amount of B6 for adults is 1.3 milligrams and a medium-sized banana would provide around 0.4 milligrams.
Calcium is essential for our skeleton as, when we run our, bones can suffer under the heavy impact. When it comes to running, calcium is the nutrient which helps our bones to recover quickly, keeping them strong. Maintaining stable calcium levels helps to prevent stress fractures and keeps osteoporosis at bay.
Both male and female runners should aim for at least 1000 milligrams of calcium a day. To put this into perspective, an 8 ounce portion of low fat yogurt contains 415 milligrams and a small cup of broccoli, 21 milligrams.
Vitamin D is a unique and essential fat-soluble vitamin. It’s unique in that, even though it’s present in some food sources, our skin can make vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. This vitamin is essential for calcium homeostasis and so facilitates the uptake of calcium from the diet and controls the use of calcium in bone growth and development.
Vitamin D receptors have been shown to be present in nearly all tissues within the human body, prompting the idea that it may have other functions. There is some research which suggests that there is an interrelationship between the skeletal and muscular systems. Therefore, a deficiency in vitamin D not only causes osteomalacia (a disease which results in a softening of the bones), but can also result in poor muscle function - not ideal for a runner.
Vitamin C helps to protect the body from free radicals, damaging chemicals which can freely roam around the body. You may be exposed to free radicals in pollution when you’re running outside.
Vitamin C is also great for improving the absorption of iron from vegetal sources such as spinach and lentils. Next time you have spinach in your salad, try adding a squeeze of lemon to increase the iron absorption. Peppers and oranges are also good sources of vitamin C with one medium-sized orange providing almost your entire daily requirement.
Fueling your body with the correct vitamins and minerals is essential to ensure you can perform at your best. Additionally, many vitamins and minerals also help recovery and combining specific nutrients can increase the rate of their absorption into the bloodstream. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting the right amount, consider using supplements to boost your intake.