Between making sure to eat enough protein and trying not to skimp on much-hyped vitamins and minerals like vitamin D and calcium, it can be easy to unknowingly let less celebrated nutrients fall through the cracks. But do so and you risk jeopardizing your health and fitness gains from your workouts. In fact, activities like strength training and cardio can heighten your need for certain nutrients, meaning not getting enough is a big problem. The following is a quartet of chronically under-consumed nutritional superheroes that keep everything from your brain to your immune system to your muscles operating smoothly — plus ways to make sure you get what you need.
How it helps: Consider magnesium the renaissance man of minerals — it’s a vital part of hundreds of incredibly important enzymes in the body that play a role in everything from nerve to heart to bone to muscle functioning. No wonder deficiencies may increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, weak bones, poor brain functioning (including migraines and depression) and heart disease. And owing to its role in energy production within our cells, low levels could contribute to general fatigue and feeling beaten down during training. If your magnesium is lacking, so are you.
Do you need more? The average person needs to consume between 300 and 400 milligrams of magnesium a day. Sadly, dietary surveys show that about half of all Americans are not reaching their daily quota for this MVP of the mineral world. This happens when too many processed and refined foods like white rice — which are stripped of magnesium — edge out plant-based whole foods. Modern-day chemical-intensive industrial farming may lessen soil levels of magnesium, so foods will soak up less as they grow, making them a less reliable source. Certain common medications also may deplete magnesium levels in the body (certain diuretics, antacids and acid blockers), and a small amount is lost in sweat during exercise.
Dish it up: Generally, foods high in dietary fiber also tend to be good sources of magnesium. These include legumes like beans, whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice, nuts, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), potatoes, dark chocolate products like cacao nibs and dark greens, including spinach and Swiss chard. So if you’re following a diet that restricts items like beans and grains, you’re going to have to work harder to eat enough magnesium. Since meats are generally not a good source of magnesium, a meat-centric diet can set you up for poor magnesium status.
Supplement savvy: If you decide to take a magnesium supplement — either as part of a multivitamin or in isolation — citrate, chloride or glycinate are easier on the gut. Magnesium supplements are likely safe for most adults when taken in reasonable doses of 100 to 400 milligrams a day. Taking it with food or spreading doses throughout the day (e.g., 100 milligrams up to three times a day) may improve absorption rates and reduce the chances of experiencing stomach woes.
See Also The Power of Magnesium
How it helps: Think of choline as the bassist of the nutrient world — though generally flying under the radar without it, your body won’t play a good tune. The vitamin-like compound is the main building block of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in brain functioning as well as muscular movement. Unsung choline (officially recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine in 1998) also plays a role in our metabolism and nervous system — plus, higher intakes in women may lessen the risk for breast cancer. Symptoms of a prolonged choline shortfall can include poor memory, sagging energy levels, muscle aches and altered mood.
Do you need more? Choline is one of the most poorly consumed nutrients — only about 8 percent of Americans eat the recommended amount of 550 and 425 milligrams each day for men and women, respectively. And poor intakes might be especially concerning for athletes. One study on long-distance runners published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that choline stores dropped by about 40 percent following a race. The more you exercise, the more acetylcholine is used up for the purpose of stimulating muscular contraction. So without consistently resupplying choline, your muscles may feel less than spunky during training.
Dish it up: Your liver does have the capability to make some choline, but your needs can’t be met without eating it. The best way to inhale more choline is to crack open an egg — a single yolk has about 145 milligrams. Other dietary sources include liver, beef, fish, chicken, milk, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and peanut butter. Still, a 2017 report in the journal Nutrients determined that it’s very difficult for people to nail their daily choline quota without eating plenty of eggs or taking a supplement.
Supplement savvy: Unless you are a big fan of omelets and frittatas, you may want to consider a daily choline supplement to make sure you get what you need. Since many multivitamins contain little if any choline, look for a dedicated supplement providing 350 to 500 milligrams in the form of phosphatidylcholine.
How it helps: Your body calls on the mineral potassium for a host of functions, including muscular contraction, regulation of fluid balance and maintenance of a normal blood pressure. When you get enough potassium, it helps your body excrete sodium, which eases tension in the blood vessel walls to help lower blood pressure numbers. Potassium also appears to play a role in reducing aortic stiffness for healthy cardiovascular function, and limiting bone breakdown, making it easier to maintain a strong skeleton.
Do you need more? While most Americans have no trouble eating plenty of sodium, dietary data presented in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that not even 2 percent of the population meets their daily potassium recommendation — 4,700 milligrams each day as suggested by the Institute of Medicine. Like magnesium and vitamin E, eschewing whole foods for processed packaged ones is largely to blame for the collective shortfall. Since potassium is lost in perspiration, those involved in regular bouts of exercise sweat sessions need to be diligent about the need to replenish stores.
Dish it up: Though most of us associate potassium with bananas, there are other foods that should be in your shopping cart to get what you need — namely, dark leafy greens, potatoes (white and sweet), avocado, winter squash, yogurt, lentils, beans, dried fruits, cantaloupe, kiwi, mushrooms and (surprise!) fish like salmon and halibut. In general, serving up at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily will go a long way in helping you achieve your potassium requirement.
Supplement savvy: If you focus on eating a whole foods–based diet rich in plants, you should get enough potassium from your diet. Very high potassium intakes may limit your kidneys’ ability to eliminate the mineral, and that can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. Because of this potential risk, especially to those with impaired kidney functioning, the Food and Drug Administration limits potassium supplements to less than 100 milligrams. That’s just 2 percent of the 4,700 milligrams daily recommendation, so the reality is you’d need to pop a lot of pills to get close to this amount. During prolonged exercise sessions, however, sports drinks containing potassium can help replace what’s lost to the sweat stains on your shirt.
How it helps: To be accurate, vitamin E is a name given to a group of fat-soluble compounds (tocopherols and tocotrienols) that possess antioxidant powers. Antioxidants like vitamin E reduce the cell-damaging effects of free radicals in the body and, in doing so, may offer protection against a range of health woes. There is also the possibility that antioxidants like vitamin E play a role in recovery from intense exercise. Additionally, vitamin E is required for a robust immune system, and scientists recently discovered that it may have a positive impact on an enzyme that is involved in normal, healthy cell growth.
Do you need more? Recent research paints a grim picture when it comes to vitamin E — 93 percent of Americans aged 20 to 30 have suboptimal vitamin E status, with 81 percent of those older than 30 coming up short. Adults are encouraged to consume at least 15 milligrams (22 IU) of vitamin E each day.
Dish it up: To get the vitamin E you need, it’s time to fatten up your diet. The nutrient is often present in higher fat foods of plant origin like nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocado and culinary oils like olive and sunflower. Wheat germ is another good source and can easily find a home in your oatmeal and protein shakes. Some vegetables like spinach and broccoli provide small amounts. In refining grains, vitamin E levels suffer greatly with more than 90 percent of the nutrient present in a whole grain being lost and often not replaced.
Supplement savvy: If you want some vitamin E insurance, you can pop a pill containing 100 to 400 IU of vitamin E. Just keep in mind that many supplements typically provide only one form of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), so you won’t reap all the rewards of consuming the vitamin E mix found in foods. Look for brands that offer a variety of different forms (mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols). Absorption rates of vitamin E supplements are better when taken with a meal containing some fat, and you should never exceed taking 1,500 IU in a day.
*Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can assess your diet and other medications, supplements or herbs you may be taking for potential interactions or adverse effects.
Solgar Calcium Magnesium Citrate offers 1,000 milligrams of calcium (as calcium citrate) as well as 500 milligrams of magnesium per tablet.
Source Naturals Phosphatidyl Choline in Lecithin has been concentrated to contain three times the phosphyatidyl choline.
Optimum Nutrition Vitamin E contains a high-potency dose of 400 IU per softgel.
Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator contains 400 milligrams of potassium per serving to help you meet your daily requirement.