In February, we held a webinar around micronutrients and the female athlete. We answered questions around what are micronutrients, how do we get them from food and why we advocate for a food-first approach. Plus, we talked about the impact micronutrients can have on health, exercise performance and the menstrual cycle.
In case you missed the conversation, we summed up some key take home messages from the webinar with Orreco Sport Scientists; Exercise Physiologist Esther Goldsmith and Performance Nutritionist Niamh Mallon.
What are micronutrients?
NM: “Micronutrients are essential dietary elements and they’re often referred to as vitamins and minerals, which also encompass electrolytes and your trace elements as well and they’re required by the body in quite small amounts.
“It’s important that micronutrients don’t work in isolation, they work interactively with one another and have a wide range of goals. So, anything from energy metabolism to muscle contraction. They’re key players in blood and bone health, controlling electrolyte balance and assisting in immune function.”
What role do micronutrients play in the body?
EG: “Iron is a key player in oxygen transport. Magnesium is involved in muscle function and nerve function as well as energy storage. Zinc is involved in immune function which I think lots of people have become more aware of in the last two years, as well as protein synthesis.
“Vitamin D is also involved in immune function and bone health as well as calcium. Vitamin D and calcium are the perfect example of micronutrients working together, as you need to have vitamin D to be able to absorb calcium.”
Which foods contain magnesium and zinc?
NM: “Probably the most potent sources of magnesium you can get is from green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, things like that but magnesium is readily available if you consume a well-balanced diet. Zinc can be got from red meats, oysters, and baked beans is a really good source of zinc, plus legumes.”
How can micronutrients help with menstrual cycle symptoms such as premenstrual syndrome?
EG: “Vitamin B6 is a co-factor in the generation of serotonin, and we know that as the drop off in hormones occurs in phase 4 so at the end of the menstrual cycle, that can affect serotonin production, so that might mean that your B vitamins are slightly lower because of the whole mechanism behind that.
“There are studies that show that people who have higher intake of vitamin B6 are potentially at lower risk of PMS symptoms.”
Is Omega 3 a micronutrient?
NM: “No, although it’s not a micronutrient, in practice on the ground we’ve seen how effective consuming regular Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of oily fish, can be in terms of symptom management.
“A lot female athletes are adverse to fish consumption so if that is the case and obviously we do always advocate for a food first approach, but if that’s not possible, potentially going down the line of a fish oil supplement is something we’ve found to be really effective in trying to combat those menstrual cycle symptoms particularly, with a big focus on EPA and DHA(types of Omega 3 fatty acid).”
Catch up on the full webinar where we cover micronutrients and exercise performance, micronutrient deficiencies, recommended daily allowances and go into B Vitamins in more depth.