Make no mistake. Exercise is magic. You always feel better after sweating or feeling the burn!
I often refer to exercise as The Fountain of Youth.
It does SO much for your physical as well as mental health…SO much!! It helps improve energy, insulin sensitivity, healthy bowel movements, sleep, mood, focus, circulation, libido, bone density, cholesterol and so much more!
But there’s a catch…
The benefits of exercise, come at a price. Exercise creates free radicals and initiates a natural inflammation process which uses up a lot of micronutrients that the body needs to function properly. *Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
It could be tempting to just consume a lot of antioxidants to combat this process. It may be counter intuitive but that can actually do more harm than good.1 The inflammation process is a natural part of healing and recovery post exercise, so stopping this process is not the right move.
But why are these micronutrients important and what role do they play?
For example, let’s look at the kreb cycle (sometimes referred to as the citric acid cycle). You don’t have to understand all the biochemistry here…just know that the kreb cycle is one of the primary pathways that your body uses to create energy from the food that you eat. This process alone requires over 20 micronutrients (including b vitamins, various amino acids, vitamin E, copper and others). If you are low in even one of these, this process is hindered. This is one of the reasons that so many people struggle to have good energy that lasts all day.
How do I know?
There are two things that I like to look at before I draw a strong conclusion. First, the research and next, the clinical testing that I have done on countless clients. In this case, they show a very consistent similar result. (This is important to me as the “research” isn’t always the final say given the bias, funding, etc).
The research is clear. Here are just a few examples:
- Magnesium, iron and phosphorus were found to be depleted as a result of physical training resulting in a loss of performance.2
- Iron deficiency is more common in athletes, especially women.3 Another study found that iron based anemia was more prevalent in athletes due to ruptured red blood cells from intense training.4
- A study done on runners compared runners who ate an omnivore diet to those on a vegetarian diet and found that both were deficient in vitamin D.5
- A study done specifically on female athletes showed calcium as a common deficiency.6 This is important as calcium is needed for muscle contraction.
- Magnesium deficiency is common in athletes.7 Magnesium is also important for muscle contraction as well as cardiac output.
- B vitamins are used up with exercise and several biochemical pathways use them. Specifically, riboflavin (b2), thiamine (b1) and B6 will commonly need to be supplemented in athletes.8
- Pretty much any micronutrient that you are potentially low in to begin with, will likely get worse as you exercise.8 This is one of the reasons you want to focus on nutrition and recovery between workouts.
We could go on and on with various studies for specific nutrients. Suffice it to say, although some of the most common deficiencies from intense exercise include vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins, there are lots of variables and everyone is unique.
My clinical experience: Over the past several years, I have started doing micronutrient testing. This test looks at various vitamins, minerals and amino acids within the cell (that is key…you can’t get that from conventional labs). This allows me to see what a person is deficient and borderline deficient in. I have tested men and women at various ages, with various diets, and a wide variety of health conditions. The common theme is this: those under a lot of stress and those who exercise a lot, often have the most deficiencies (unless of course they are actively working on one of our athletic performance programs).
What’s the answer?
Keep exercising! DO NOT STOP! Exercise is a powerful part of any health program. Let me be clear. Exercise is GOOD and you can not have optimal health without it…
But be a stickler about re-fueling!
And be a scientist about it. Get tested so you know with certainty, what your body needs, What if You Could See Inside Your Cells?.
Although it’s not the point of this post, your exercise should push you in terms of intensity, but of course you want to avoid overtraining and injury.
The real solution is figuring out the best way to REPLETE what is used up so you can recover faster, stay in the game longer and get the most out of your workouts (and your life).
In addition to MACROnutrients, (fats, protein and carbohydrates), you will also need to pay attention to getting plenty of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and amino acids).
3 ways to offset your (potential) exercise-derived nutrient depletions:
- Create a foundation of health with a whole food plant-based diet. It makes sense, right? If you want the best performance from your body, you need to fuel it with the best nutrition/fuel. If you are trying to reach a specific health or fitness goal, you won’t be able to do that long term with the cheapest junk fuel. YOU are the treasure…fuel like you love yourself!
- Assume that the research is generally correct and supplement with the things that we know get used in large quantities in exercise. That would be magnesium, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron and vitamin D. This is a good option…but for the BEST option…
- The most ideal is to let us run a micronutrient test on you so we know EXACTLY what you need and can replete specifically. This will give you a major edge in your performance. Whether you are trying to lose body fat, improve your life or health span, or win in some athletic endeavor, this is the optimal way to know what your body needs. Doing this will also save you money in the long run as you will have a better idea of exactly how to supplement as opposed to just guessing and buying all kinds of things that you might need.
A few other things to note:
Of course, the intensity and duration of your exercise makes a difference in how depleted you may become. 30 minutes of easy walking is of course going to have a minor effect as compared to 60 minutes of power lifting, running, or playing soccer. However, of course walking for 30 minutes in a weighted vest on hills will change the game. Basically, the harder and longer you work out, the more you’re depleting your reserves and the more you will need to refuel (and rehydrate). Also, your rest/recovery time between workouts, as well as sleep and hydration will play a role in what you need.
Also, I know there is a school of thought out there that, “you should be able to get all you need from food”. Although I love this in theory and wish it were the case, if you’re going to honestly evaluate both the scientific evidence as well as clinical results, this is just NOT TRUE. Our food isn’t what it used to be in terms of nutrients. Plus, if you work out with any degree of intensity, you are using up more than the average person who is sedentary. Food alone will not be enough. You will need to supplement somewhat heavily to keep up with the losses that are created from heavy exercise.
Finally, keep in mind that although the purpose of this article is to discuss deficiencies created by exercise and their implications, every micronutrient has multiple roles in the body. By way of example, calcium doesn’t just support muscle contraction…it is also critical for healthy bones, teeth and cardiovascular health. We always want to keep the big picture in mind for optimal health (not just physical fitness).
Train like a beast! Just know that part of your training is your nutrition including food, water and supplements. You’ve got this!
Need help? Feel free to reach out to schedule your micronutrient test/consultation!
1. Adams RB, Egbo KN, Demmig-Adams B. High-dose vitamin C supplements diminish the benefits of exercise in athletic training and disease prevention. Nutr Food Sci. 2014. doi:10.1108/NFS-03-2013-0038
2. Mariño MM, Grijota FJ, Bartolomé I, Siquier-Coll J, Román VT, Muñoz D. Correction to: Influence of physical training on erythrocyte concentrations of iron, phosphorus and magnesium. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2020. doi:10.1186/s12970-020-00363-8
3. Sinclair LM, Hinton PS. Prevalence of iron deficiency with and without anemia in recreationally active men and women. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2005.03.005
4. Damian MT, Vulturar R, Login CC, Damian L, Chis A, Bojan A. Anemia in sports: A narrative review. Life. 2021. doi:10.3390/life11090987
5. Nebl J, Schuchardt JP, Ströhle A, et al. Micronutrient status of recreational runners with vegetarian or non-vegetarian dietary patterns. Nutrients. 2019. doi:10.3390/nu11051146
6. Holtzman B, Ackerman KE. Recommendations and Nutritional Considerations for Female Athletes: Health and Performance. Sport Med. 2021. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01508-8
7. Nica AS, Caramoci A, Vasilescu M, Ionescu AM, Paduraru D, Mazilu V. Magnesium supplementation in top athletes – effects and recommendations. Sport Med J. 2015.
8. Manore MM. Effect of physical activity on thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 requirements. In: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. ; 2000. doi:10.1093/ajcn/72.2.598s
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a qualified health care practitioner and is intended for educational purposes only.