You often hear that a well-balanced diet will provide all the vitamins and minerals you need to support health and performance. Without doubt a solid food focused nutrition plan lays the foundation for energy and other nutrient needs. However, athletes and other active individuals may have increased nutrient requirements – not just for elevating performance, but to maintain optimal health and functionality while meeting training goals and life demands.

This is where some smart supplementation comes into play.

For instance – heavy sweating can lead to large losses of certain minerals; and hard training means increased metabolic demands, exercise associated muscle damage, demands on tissue repair, stress response and hormonal control. Don’t be afraid to supplement wisely to meet these demands, but do choose carefully – look for high quality, safe, effective products, and seek out guidance for best use. It may be that different periods of training, competing, injury, illness, travel or life stresses require different strategies when it comes to appropriate supplementation (and diet).

Here’s a roundup of some of the most beneficial micronutrients:

Sweat contains multiple minerals, including magnesium. Magnesium is needed for the relaxation phase of muscular contraction – so a deficiency can mean reduced power and an increased tendency to cramp and to experience muscle soreness. Magnesium is found in dark leafy greens and other vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and legumes – all of which we generally don’t tend to eat enough. Coupled with intense training, deficiency is very common amongst athletes.

A little powerhouse when it comes to anti-inflammatory actions. This can be utilised well for general recovery, but has shown benefits for joint soreness and stiffness. Reduced pain and faster recovery can only be a good thing!

Omega 3 fatty acids:
Most diets don’t provide adequate Omega 3 to balance out our intake of Omega 6’s. This can promote inflammation meaning reduced recovery and adaptation to training as well as increased risk of illness. A good quality Omega 3 supplement will also support joint health and muscle repair. They’re also a great addition for ‘return to play’ post-injury plans, as well as ongoing mobility throughout and post prime playing years. Your heart and brain will also thank you! A good quality, high-strength supplement here is a must.

Hard training can deplete stores of zinc and deficiencies have been linked to poor immune function and increased inflammation; which in turn blunt muscle recovery, growth and training adaptations. Zinc is found in a range of foods – think oysters, wheat germ, red meat, even dark chocolate and peanuts – so ongoing supplementation may not be necessary (and too high a dose of zinc can be toxic). But, there is support for taking a zinc and vitamin C combo at the first sign of a cold to help reduce severity and/or duration. Again, go for quality and seek guidance if unsure.

One of the micronutrients most likely to be low in the diet, plus high intensity exercise can lead to further losses through sweat and energy metabolism. This may lead to risks to bone health in the short and longer term. Dairy is an obvious choice for dietary sources of calcium, but it’s also found in tofu, dried figs, canned fish with bones (eg salmon, sardines), kale, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, sesame seeds, chia seeds and almonds.

The bottom line?
Eat for energy and to set the foundations for health and performance. But don’t shy away from incorporating carefully selected, good quality supplements. The how/when/what is best addressed on an individual basis and this is where your health professional plays a role. A good Accredited Sports Dietitian is a great place to start – they will have a good handle on health and understand performance demands.

- Pip Taylor