Two Important Minerals for Athletes & Active People

Your body’s ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system is constantly being taxed by hectic work schedules and intense training regimes.  This ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline kick makes your heart pump faster, slows digestion, increases blood flow to muscles, and gives you an adrenaline boost to help get through the work day or a tough training routine. Did you know that all of these actions require magnesium! Every cell in your body depends on minerals for proper function and structure.  Minerals are essential for the optimal muscle tone, proper nerve function, formation of blood and bone, and support cardiovascular health.  Two ‘all-star’ minerals – magnesium and zinc – are especially important for athletes and active people because they are needed for hundreds of important chemical reactions and are consistently found to be deficient in most people.

Magnesium is an important mineral with widespread and profound health benefits.  It’s involved in over three hundred different biochemical reactions in the body, which means the busier you are, the more magnesium your body will need! Magnesium is essential for keeping muscles relaxed, supporting a healthy nervous system, maintaining acid-base balance to ensure optimum pH balance in cells, and protecting the heart by keeping arteries strong and supple. Magnesium is also crucial for energy production as it assists in metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins and fats to keep athletes lean and fit.

Magnesium is present in many popular foods yet current research shows that we are still deficient in this mineral.  A recent study by the US Department of Agriculture found that only 25% of the population consumed adequate levels of magnesium. Why is this?  Unfortunately there are many factors that affect our ability to absorb and utilize magnesium: the refining and preserving of processed foods, low stomach acidity, over-the-counter antacids, alcohol, coffee, and excess sugar consumption. All of these factors can deplete our overall magnesium stores, resulting in a significant affect on our mood and on our body. Foods high in magnesium include buckwheat, barley, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, black beans, navy beans, bananas, and figs.

Magnesium is especially important for athletes and active people.  It is essential for energy production during exercise, reduces the build-up of lactic acid, and relaxes hypertonic or tight muscles after you train.  Clinical studies show that athletes are more prone to magnesium deficiency due to the physical and psychological strains imposed from aerobic and anaerobic strength type training. It is therefore essential to supplement with magnesium daily in order to maximize performance and improve recovery time.

Zinc is another key mineral for athletes and active people, involved in over one hundred enzymatic reactions in the body.   It plays an important role in keeping your immune system strong, balancing testosterone and hormone levels, and maintaining optimal pH of the stomach. Numerous clinical studies have shown that zinc supplementation improves immunity and reduces both the severity and duration of colds. This is especially important for athletes and active people because studies show they are more prone to colds and flu due to the higher stress load associated with training and busy work days.  More frequent colds and flu results in more missed days in your training schedule, along with diminishing returns on your training progress and performance.

Zinc plays a major role in maintaining optimal androgen and testosterone levels in both men and women. A recent study of 10 male wrestlers showed that performing intense exercise to a state of exhaustion depleted testosterone levels significantly. However participants supplementing with zinc post-training did not experience anyreductions in testosterone. Testosterone is essential for building lean mass, keeping bones and joints strong, and your libido revved up.  For men, zinc is also an important mineral for maintaining a healthy prostate gland.  Prostate cancer accounts for over 25% of the new cancers found in men annually.

Finally, zinc is a potent antioxidant that has significant impact on athletic performance. Antioxidants prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals, highly ‘reactive’ molecules that can disrupt your cell membranes structure and function. The more you exercise; the more free radicals you produce.  A recent Eastern European study examined the effect of zinc supplementation on free radical and antioxidant systems in young wrestlers. Researchers found that zinc supplementation prevented the production of free radicals, and kept antioxidant systems elevated in the subjects. They concluded that athletes could improve their performance and health by supplementing with zinc.  It important to note that free radicals increase with age, making antioxidants such as zinc even more important for older athletes and active people.  Oysters, venison, cashews, and ginger root are all great sources of zinc.

When supplementing with magnesium and zinc it’s important to select a highly absorbable form. For example, magnesium bisglycinate is a very stable compound and is readily absorbed across the intestinal membrane as a dipeptide, making it easily utilized by the body. This specific form of magnesium glycinate has shown significantly higher bioavailability than magnesium oxide or citrate. It is essential to have a specially formulated balance of minerals as part of your supplement program. Excessive zinc and vitamin C supplementation can deplete copper levels, leading to diminished immunity and reduced ability to recover effectively post-training.

Start improving your energy levels, training performance, and overall health with the help of a couple of ‘all-star’ minerals.

Dr. Marc Bubbs, ND, CSCS

References

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