As a runner, a well-balanced, a nutritious diet is essential for maximizing your recovery and performance.
In fact, your diet choices can be the difference between reaching your full running potential and a plateau, even injury.
As I have already stated in previous posts, when you run, or do any sort of exercise, what you eat is as important as the training itself when it comes to making the most out of your workouts—and micronutrients are a crucial part of that.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food and needed by your body for optimal functioning.
Unlike macronutrients—carbs, proteins, and fats—the human body only needs little amounts of micronutrients to maintain wellness and health. But that does not make them less relevant.
The fact is, micronutrients are crucial in the production of proteins, hormones, enzymes and other essential processes performed by your body, as well as the optimization of physical and mental functioning.
Without them, your body cannot perform daily functions, which can hurt you, both on and off the running field.
Left unchecked, some micronutrients deficiencies can even be life-threatening.
Runners Need More
If you run regularly, certain vitamins and minerals are especially important for your exercise performance, fitness, and overall health.
Not only that, being a regular runner might mean that your vitamins and minerals reserves are tapped out—especially if you are not following a well-balanced diet and/or running too hard and too far.
But here is the good news…
In this sweet post, I’m covering 10 of the essential micronutrients you need along with the best food sources to get them from.
So, are you excited? Then here we go
Get them From your Diet
The best way to get the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
This type of eating involves getting rid of processed foods and salty snacks. Instead, you should eat plenty of natural, wholesome and fresh foods. These include vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, legumes, and fruits.
Artificial alternatives and bottled supplements are helpful to an extent, but they can never substitute a healthy diet.
Also, keep in mind that there is a fine line between reaching your RDI of these nutrients (the healthy course) and going overboard, which can do more harm than good.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most essential of all micronutrients.
Firstly, it’s in charge of intercellular maintenance of capillaries, bone, and teeth. Deficiencies in Vitamin C might lead to joint pain, tissue swelling, bone fragility, slow recovery, etc.
Vitamin can also help ward off upper respiratory tract infections, which can occur in long distance endurance runners.
Also, Vitamin C is an antioxidant. This can help fight off the free radicals produced by your body during running, and might otherwise lead to delayed onset muscle soreness.
Furthermore, Vitamin C also expedite iron absorption from non-meat sources (key for reducing the risks of anemia), boosts energy production.
What’s more, this vitamin is the building block of collagen, the raw materials your body uses to build muscle, blood vessels, cartilage, and bone.
Best sources include bell pepper, guava, orange, kiwi, strawberries, grapefruit, papaya, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupe, pineapple, and kale.
How much? 90 to 100 milligrams/day for men; 70 to 80 milligrams/day for women.
How to get it?
- ½ cup of guava= 190 milligrams
- ½ cup of raw red sweet pepper = 100 milligrams
- One cup of grapefruit juice = 85 milligrams
- One medium kiwi = 70 milligrams
- One medium orange = 70 milligrams
- One medium kiwifruit = 64 milligrams
- ½ cup of raw green pepper = 60 milligrams
- ½ cup of strawberries = 50 milligrams
- ½ cup of cooked broccoli = 50 milligrams
- ½ cup of fresh strawberries = 50 milligrams
- ½ cup of Brussels sprouts = 50 milligrams
- ¼ medium papaya= 47 milligrams
- ½ cup of raw broccoli = 40 milligrams
- ½ cups of broccoli = 38 milligrams
- ¾ cup of tomato juice = 33 micrograms
- ½ cauliflower = 30 milligrams
- ½ cup of pineapple = 28 milligrams
- ½ cup of mango = 23 milligrams
2. Vitamin D
Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, making it essential for keeping your bones strong and healthy. A deficiency can increase the risks of a stress fracture, and chronic inflammation due to overtraining, etc, compromising your peformance in the process.
Vitamin D is also crucial for the proper regeneration of mitochondria in the muscles—key for providing energy for your muscles.
Research conducted at The Newcastle University in England revealed that subjects reported feeling less fatigue after getting a dose of vitamin D.
If you have a dark-colored skin, wear protective clothing, spend a lot of time indoor, or live in a place with limited sunshine, get your levels checked with a blood test.
Next, talk with a certified physician about whether you’re at risk of a deficiency.
Note: Technically, vitamin D is actually a hormone, and we can make it in our body; it’s not a vitamin.
The Best Sources:
Although a well-rounded diet will provide all the other key vitamins and minerals, it is unlikely to offer you enough vitamin D.
In fact, the best way to get ample amounts of this vital nutrient is to spend time outdoors. The human body produces this nutrient when the skin is directly exposed to the sun. That’s why Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin.”
So, make sunshine, not food, the primary source of this valuable nutrient.
It’s not known exactly how much sun exposure needed. But according to most experts, going outside for 10 to 15 minutes in the midday sun—in a tank top and shorts with no sunscreen—will provide you with enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of the vitamin.
Dietary sources include dairy, irradiated mushrooms (grown under UV light), fatty fish, and Vitamin D fortified foods, such as milk, and orange juice.
How Much? 2000 to 3000 International Units (IU) per day for both men and women.
How to get it?
- One tablespoon of cod liver oil = 1300 IU
- 3 ounces of swordfish = 550 IU
- 3 ounces of salmon = 450 IU
- 3 ounces of canned tuna = 150 IU
- One cup of orange juice fortified with Vitamin D = 140 IU
- One cup of nonfat, whole, and vitamin D-fortified milk = 120 IU.
- 8 ounces of fortified milk = 100 IU
- 8 ounces of fortified orange juice = 100 IU
- 4 ounces of fortified yogurt = 60 IU
- One tablespoon of Fortified Margarine = 60 IU
- 3 ounces of cooked liver beef = 42 IU
- One cup of fortified cereal = 40 IU
- 3 ounces of Swiss cheese = 18 IU
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that performs many vital functions in the body, including aiding normal growth, strengthening the immune system, improving vision, etc.
But, most importantly, Vitamin A is an antioxidant that can protect your body’s cells from the dangerous free radicals you’re exposed to while running.
Fun fact: Vitamin A was the first vitamin discovered. That’s why it’s being given the first letter of the alphabet.
Best sources: Sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, squash, green leafy vegetables, bell pepper, eggs, beef, and peaches.
How much? 900 to 1000 micrograms daily for men and 700 to 800 micrograms daily for women.
How to get it?
- 2 ounces of beef liver = 4000 micrograms
- One medium sweet potatoes = 1000 micrograms
- ½ cup pumpkin = 950 micrograms
- ½ cup of carrots = 680 micrograms
- ½ cup of spinach= 570 micrograms
- ½ cup turnip greens = 450 micrograms
- One cup of ricotta cheese = 270 micrograms.
- 3 ounces of Atlantic herring = 220 micrograms
- One cup of, fat-free or skim, milk = 150 micrograms
- ½ cup of raw cantaloupe = 140 micrograms
- ½ cup of sweet, red, peppers = 120 micrograms
- One medium mango = 112 micrograms
4. Vitamin E
The term vitamin E include a group of eight compounds, called tocotrienols and tocopherols, with different subgroups of each, which make up its structure in its natural state. Each of these various compounds has specific biological effects and chemistries
Vitamin E is another powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant that’s key to keeping the body resilient, preventing cell membrane damage, and guarding the immune system against bacteria and viruses.
If you do lots of intense running, you can reduce the risks of becoming sick by getting plenty of this oily antioxidant. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, adequate intake can lessen the possibility of pneumonia by 69 percent among non-smokers who exercise.
How Much? 12 to 16 mg a day for both men and women.
Best sources: Almonds, sunflower seeds, olive oil, peanut butter.
How to get it:
- One tablespoon of wheat germ oil = 20 milligrams
- One ounce of dry roasted sunflower seeds = 8 milligrams
- One ounce of sunflower seeds = 7.4 milligrams
- One ounce of almonds = 7.3 milligrams
- One ounce of dry roasted almonds = 6.8 milligrams
- One tablespoon of sunflower oil = 5.6 milligrams
- One ounce of hazelnuts =4.3 milligrams
- One ounce of dry roasted hazelnuts = 4.3 milligrams
- One medium avocado = 4.2 milligrams
- One ounce of pine nuts = 2.6 milligrams
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter = 2.5 milligrams
- ½ cup of tomato sauce = 2.5 milligrams
- One tablespoon of corn oil = 2 milligrams
- ½ cup of spinach = 1.9 milligrams
Calcium is essential for bone density–and strong bones are crucial for any high impact exercise, especially running.
According to research conducted by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, consuming an extra cup of skim milk—a calcium-rich source— per day can reduce the risks of developing a stress fracture in runners by up to 60 percent.
Your bones act as a reservoir for calcium. So, when blood supply runs low on calcium, the latter is borrowed—or stolen— from your skeleton. But when your diet is low in the mineral, the borrowed calcium never gets paid back, and over time, this can decrease bone strength, which might result in serious injury.
Also, calcium helps aids in proper blood clotting, muscle contraction, etc.
Best Sources: Milk, yogurt, cheese, canned salmon, beans, dark leafy greens, and some fortified cereals.
How Much? Research recommends getting at least 900 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day for active people.
How to get it?
- 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt = 415 milligrams
- 2 ounces of part skim Mozzarella = 400 milligrams
- 8 ounces of low-fat, yogurt fruit = 360 milligrams
- 3 ounces of, canned in oil, sardines = 320 milligrams
- 8 ounces of calcium-fortified orange juice = 320 milligrams
- 8 ounces of non-fat milk = 300 milligrams
- 8 ounces of calcium-fortified soymilk = 300 milligrams
- 8 ounces of whole milk = 275 milligrams
- ½ cup of tofu made with calcium sulfate = 260 milligrams
- 3 ounces of canned salmon = 180 milligrams
- One cup of cottage cheese = 138 milligrams
- ½ cup of turnip greens = 100 milligrams
- One cup of fresh, cooked kale = 95 milligrams
- One cup of raw Chinese cabbage, bok choy = 75 milligrams
- One slice of whole wheat bread = 30 milligrams
Iron is a mineral found in cells and organs throughout the body and serves many vital functions.
Iron is needed for the formation of myoglobin and hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying compounds in muscle cells and red blood cells. This aids red blood cells to carry oxygen to muscles, which improves oxygen transfer efficiency.
Iron shortages can cause your red blood cells count to drop, causing anemia, and leading to poor recovery, chronic fatigue, and mediocre performance.
Runners should pay particular attention to this one since an hour of pounding the pavement could deplete 6 to 8 percent of your level of this mineral, research shows. That’s why Iron deficiencies are common among athletes, especially females.
Best Sources: Eggs, beef, broccoli, lentils, spinach, dates, raisins, almonds, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals.
Research suggests that men should shoot for 8 mg of iron a day while women need no less than 16mg.
How to get it?
- One serving of breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for iron = 18 milligrams
- 3 ounces of Oysters, cooked with moist heat = 8 milligrams
- One cup of canned white beans = 8 milligrams
- 3 ounces of dark chocolate = 7 milligrams
- 3 ounces of beef liver = 5 milligrams
- ½ cup of boiled and drained lentils = 3 milligrams
- ½ cup of boiled and drained spinach = 3 milligrams
- ½ cup of boiled and drained chickpeas = 2 milligrams
- ½ cup of kidney beans = 2 milligrams
- ½ cup of canned tomatoes = 2 milligrams
- One medium potato = 2 milligrams
Potassium, along with sodium, is one of the most important electrolytes.
Potassium aids in muscle contractions, speeds up recovery, and promotes fluid balance in your body.
Other functions of potassium include: aiding the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins, promoting normal muscle growth, regulating the acid-base balance in the body, controlling blood pressure, and muscle contractions, etc.
Research shows that potassium shortages can boost the risks of heart diseases, hypertension, and high blood pressure.
Best sources: Bananas, dried fruits, winter squash, potatoes, cantaloupe, milk, spinach, and pinto beans.
How much? 4000 to 5000 milligrams a day for both men and women—if possible through your diet.
How to get it?
- One sweet potato = 700 milligrams
- ½ cup of cooked beet greens = 700 milligrams
- One regular potato = 610 milligrams
- ½ cup of white beans = 600 milligrams
- One cup of artichoke hearts = 600 milligrams
- 8 ounces of nonfat yogurt = 580 milligrams
- 3 ounces of avocado = 540 milligrams
- 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt = 530 milligrams
- One cup of cantaloupe = 500 milligrams
- 3 ounces of halibut = 490 milligrams
- ½ cup of soybeans = 485 milligrams.
- ½ cup of lima beans = 480 milligrams
- One medium banana = 422 milligrams
- ¼ cup of peaches = 400 milligrams
- One cup of skim milk = 382 milligrams
- ¼ cantaloupe = 370 milligrams
- One cup of low-fat milk = 366 milligrams
- ½ cup of kidney beans = 358 milligrams
- ½ cup of cooked winter squash = 340 milligrams
The human body is composed of roughly 25 grams of magnesium. Half of which is stored in the skeletal muscles, and the other 50 percent can be found in muscles, soft tissues, and bodily fluids.
Magnesium is essential for more than 300 chemical processes that maintain basic human function and health. These include (but not limited to) nerve function, muscle contraction, energy production, insulin metabolism, blood pressure, cardiac activity, bone health, protein synthesis, etc. Yes, magnesium does it all.
That’s why magnesium is paramount for physical performance and running.
Research shows that low volumes can cause chronic muscle cramps, mediocre recovery, poor performance, and other serious health trouble.
As a runner, and once again, you’ll lose magnesium through sweat, so be sure to get plenty of it before hard and/or long runs.
Best sources: Leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, beans, almonds, Swiss chard, quinoa.
How much? 350 to 400 mg a day for men, and 300 to 340 mg a day for women.
How to get it?
- One ounce of pumpkin = 150 milligrams
- One ounce of Brazil nuts = 106 milligrams
- One ounce of Bran cereals = 100 milligrams
- ½ cup of spinach = 80 milligrams
- One ounce of almonds = 78 milligrams
- One ounce of cashews = 74 milligrams
- ½ cup of soybeans = 74 milligrams
- ½ cup of white beans = 66 milligrams
- ½ cup of black beans = 60 milligrams
- One ounce of peanuts = 50 milligrams
- ½ cup of artichokes = 50 milligrams
- ½ cup of navy beans = 45 milligrams
- ½ cup of brown rice = 42 milligrams
Zinc is a critical mineral that’s naturally found in some foods, added to others, and also available as a dietary supplement.
Zinc is an essential micronutrient that plays a huge role in the catalytic activity of roughly 100 enzymes. The list includes protein synthesis, optimal immune function, wound healing, cell division, energy production in muscle cells, proper brain function, healthy skeleton growth, DNA synthesis, etc.
Nevertheless, significant amounts of zinc are lost in sweat and urine–especially after exercise. Therefore, intense and regular training may boost your risk of deficiency, especially if your diet is lacking.
Best sources: Dark meat, poultry, wheat germ, whole grains, raw oysters, fortified breakfast cereals, and seafood
How much? 10 to 12 milligrams a day for both men and women.
How to get it?
- 3 ounce of cooked oysters = 74 milligrams (500% of RDA!)
- 3 ounces of beef chuck roast = 7 milligrams
- 3 ounces of cooked crab = 6.5 milligrams
- 3 ounces of cooked lobster = 3.4 milligrams
- 3 ounces of pork chop = 3 milligrams
- 3 ounces of chicken = 2.5 milligrams
Unlike other minerals, sodium has a particular and pleasing taste. This mineral is typically found in table salt, which is roughly 40 percent sodium.
Sodium is required for muscle contraction, regulating pH balance, nerve transmission, and proper hydration.
Other functions include keeping joints flexibility, regulating blood pressure, aiding in muscle contractions, facilitating energy metabolism, and helping maintain minerals soluble in the blood.
Runners, especially those working out for more than 90 minutes a session at a time, might have a higher need for sodium as it’s primarily lost through sweat.
In fact, you can lose up to 600 to 2000 ml per hour of exercise. Thus, sodium has to be replaced regularly. This is especially the case if you’re hydrating with only water on your long runs.
Low levels of sodium might cause heat cramps. In extreme cases, it can even lead to death.
Research recommends that you should not consume more than 2300mg of sodium a day—that’s the equivalent of one teaspoon of table salt.
How to get it?
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
- 8 ounce of tomato soup = 1000 milligrams
- 8 ounces of tomato juice = 700 to 1100 mailgrams
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 725 mg sodium
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 2 tablespoon of salsa = 220 milligrams
- One ounce of bread = 100 to 200 milligrams
- One ounce of potato chips = 160 milligram