For active women, proper nutrition is key to fueling performance, enhancing recovery, and maintaining overall health. While macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are essential, trace minerals also play a crucial role in supporting optimal performance, recovery, bone development, and preventing injuries. Trace minerals are important in supporting optimal health and performance for active women and can be incorporated easily into a nutrition fueling plan.
Overview of Trace Minerals for Active Women
Trace minerals are essential minerals that the body requires in small amounts. They are called “trace” minerals because they are needed in less quantities than the macro minerals – magnesium, sodium, calcium, and potassium. Despite their small quantity, trace minerals play a key role in various physiological processes, including bone health, oxygen transport, hormone production, antioxidant and immune defense, nerve function, and muscle contraction. all of which are necessary for active women to reach their fitness goals.
Why We Should Care About Trace Minerals
1. The Energy Connection
Trace minerals play an important role in energy production. They are used in the transportation of oxygen, production of ATP, conversion of glucose into usable energy, and act as cofactors for enzymes involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Maintaining a balanced intake of trace minerals is important for sustained energy levels, both during training and every day.
2. Bone Health & Strength
Several trace minerals are essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones, including zinc and copper. They contribute to bone mineralization, density, and structure, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Active women, particularly those who engage in high impact sports or intense training are at an increased risk of developing bone-related issues. This risk is due to a number of factors including hormone changes, nutrient intake, and repetitive stress on the bones. To maintain optimal bone health, active women and runners need pay extra attention to trace mineral intake.
3. Nerve & Muscle Function
Trace minerals are essential for proper nerve function and for muscle contraction. They support healthy brain function, contribute to cognitive processes, and help maintain optimal nervous system activity. They also play a role in maintaining electrolyte balance, which is especially important during endurance activity.
Trace minerals support optimal training and performance by aiding in growth and repair of muscle tissue. They ensure proper communication between nerves and muscles, support muscle relaxation after contraction, and reduce cramps and spasms. Trace minerals support collagen production, contribute to reducing exercise-induced muscle damage and promote optimal muscle healing.
4. Immune System Support
Trace minerals support a robust and functioning immune system and antioxidant defense. They play roles in the development and activity of immune cells, production of antibodies, and regulation of inflammatory responses. Adequate intake of trace minerals helps to support a healthy immune response and strengthens the body’s defense against infection.
During prolonged endurance activity, immune function is suppressed to allow for the most energy need to move toward keeping the body alive and moving. Having strong immune defenses is key for runners and endurance athletes to support this lowered immune function during peak training.
Many trace minerals are also integral parts of antioxidant enzymes that protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, They help neutralize harmful molecules and reduce the risk of chronic disease associated with oxidative stress.
Bringing this full circle, I want to note that oxidative stress can come from a number of sources, but is commonly seen with unregulated iron (iron + oxygen = rust or, in the body, oxidative stress!) Iron depends on bioavailable copper to regulate and circulate properly, so these trace minerals work together and in harmony when we have optimal levels of each in the body. We cannot look at a single marker alone.
Top Trace Minerals for Active Women
Iron is essential for active women as it plays a critical role in oxygen transport, energy production, and muscle function. During exercise, iron stores can be depleted due to increased red blood cell production and losses through sweating. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, decreased endurance, and impaired performance. Good sources of iron include meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, cooked leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, and blackstrap molasses.
Copper plays a role in energy production and iron recycling. It contributes to bone health by participating in the formation of connective tissues and supports collagen production and bone strength. Active women may have higher copper requirements due to increased oxidative stress during exercise and iron needs. Oysters, organ meats, fish, soy, citrus, chlorophyll, bee pollen, and spirulina are excellent sources of copper.
Zinc is essential for immune support, muscle protein synthesis, wound healing, and bone mineralization. Active women may require more zinc due to increased physical activity and potential losses through sweat. Zinc deficiency can impair bone health and delay healing of exercise-related injuries. Great ways to include zinc into your day include red meat, oysters, poultry, fish, legumes, dairy, eggs, and nuts.
Selenium is an important trace mineral with antioxidant properties that support thyroid function and bone health. It helps protect bones from oxidative stress and inflammation. Intense exercise can generate oxidative stress, increasing the need for selenium. Selenium deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Brazil nuts, shrimp, oysters, poultry, eggs, and cod are good sources of selenium.
Manganese is necessary to support energy metabolism and the formation of bone mineral density, which is the measure of bone strength. It acts as a co-factor for enzymes involved in bone formation and helps regulate bone turnover. Oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, pineapple, and green leafy vegetables are rich sources of manganese.
Boron is a trace mineral that contributes to bone health by influencing the metabolism of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. It enhances the absorption of calcium and magnesium and promotes the conversion of vitamin D into its active form. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes are natural sources of boron.
Incorporating Trace Minerals into your Diet
To ensure you are getting optimal amounts of trace minerals into your diet as an active female, focus on consuming a varied and balanced diet, rich in proteins, healthy fats, and fiber. Some ways to do this are:
1. Consume a range of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat and seafood to obtain a broad spectrum of trace minerals.
2. Plan your pre and post workout meals: prioritize meals and snacks that provide a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fibers rich in trace minerals to support muscle recovery and replenish nutrient stores.
3. Stay hydrated: proper hydration is crucial for optimal mineral absorption and maintaining electrolyte balance. Remember to drink fluids, preferably water WITH minerals, before, during, and after workouts to support sweat losses.
4. Consider supplementation, with caution. Many foods are fortified with these trace minerals including cereals, dairy products, and plant-based alternatives. These can be helpful, but generally, the more we can get these nutrients in their natural form, the better absorbed and utilized they are. We also need to be careful with supplementation that are in dosages that are higher or lower than our needs or combined with other supplemented nutrients that can further hinder absorption and utilization in the body. It is best to work with a registered dietitian or functional nutrition professional to get the right supplementation for you and your needs, if sourcing from whole foods is not sufficient.
Active women and runners have unique nutritional needs, and trace minerals play a key role in supporting their performance and overall health. Iron, zinc, copper, and selenium are among the key trace minerals that need to be prioritized. By incorporating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and considering supplementation when necessary, you can ensure optimal intake of these vital nutrients. Prioritizing nutrition and mineral status to support your training will go a long way in achieving your fitness goals while staying strong and healthy.