The Key Nutrients Your Body Needs When You Exercise
Many people decide to start to running marathons, triathlons or lifting weights, thinking the only thing they need to change with their diet is to increase carbs, protein and calories to fuel their increased activity. Unfortunately, it is a lot more complicated than this. If you don't give your body the right nutrients it needs, you put your it at risk of deficiency, and even injury. We dive deep into exercise nutrition.
We know that exercise has a myriad of other benefits, be it on our cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolism, nervous & hormonal systems. Exercise also releases endorphins and gives us a ‘high’, which can make it rather addictive. As addictions go, this is one of the better ones, however one thing gym bunnies need to be aware of is that fuelling the body properly is even more important when you work out often. This is because the more you exercise, the more you respire, and respiring uses up more nutrients.
We aren’t talking here about taking a walk or doing some gentle yoga - more lifting weights, doing regular vigorous training, running marathons or doing endurance training. It’s also extremely important for any athletes and professional sportsmen and women.
Whether or not you’re a professional or not, there also comes a point with everyone at which we can over-train, meaning we are actually depriving our bodies of the key things they need, rather than supporting them. Fatigue, poor sleep, reduced immunity, slow recovery time and increased risk of injury are signs that you may have tipped the balance the wrong way. This can also happen if you don’t balance your exercise regime with your lifestyle - for example, those leading stressful and exhausting jobs may find their body benefits more from pilates, yoga or barre, over HIIT or spin.
So what do we need to be aware of, to prevent issues developing? Below our nutritionists have done a roundup of the key vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and gut support (we aren't covering protein or macros in this article) that you should ideally focus on to help keep the body working optimally. This should help you to reap more benefits from exercise, stay energised, all without feeling the strain.
MAGNESIUM AND EXERCISE
When it comes to exercise nutrition we don’t have favourites because we know that all our vitamins and minerals work in synergy in the body. However (!!) magnesium is definitely up there as one of the most important nutrients to focus on if you work out. Be it running, barre, lifting weights, body weight, resistance training and HIIT – you name it, magnesium often gets burned up faster by the body. The demand for this mineral increases by up to 80% if you exercise, and it’s also a mineral we use up more quickly when we are stressed out and not sleeping enough.
Being involved in over 300 biochemical reactions, magnesium has so many vital roles throughout the body but supporting the nervous system is one of the most critical ones where it regulates muscles and nerve functions. It helps us to synthesize new muscles, create GABA, melatonin, and serotonin, our calming, sleep and feel-good neurotransmitters, and is vital for blood pressure regulation.
Signs you may benefit from more magnesium – Feeling tense, tired but wired, struggling with insomnia, long recovery times, prone to injury, high blood pressure, aching muscles/joints, migraines/headaches, sugar cravings (magnesium is needed for glycaemic regulation) calcium deposits, cramps, restless legs, constipation, anxiety, poor hormone health.
Eat – Banana, green leafy veggies, oats, beans, pulses. Epsom sal baths are also an adequate way of getting magnesium into the body, as magnesium can be absorbed trans-dermally.
Ideal Supplementary Form – One of the very best forms is magnesium bis-glycinate which has high bioavailability in the body. This is the form we use in all our Formula range, Original, Beauty, Pregnancy and Lean.
B VITAMINS AND EXERCISE
There are 8 B-vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7 (biotin) and B12 and folate) and these like to work in synergy together which is why they get grouped into a complex. Choline is also classed as a B vitamin though technically it is slightly different, but no less important. Why are the B vitamins important for exercise? Being as they are needed by every single cell in the body to create energy from our food, they are essential for helping to fuel us properly. Research also shows that exercise may increase the requirements for riboflavin (B2) and vitamin B6, and researchers at Oregon State University found that athletes who lack B vitamins have reduced exercise performance when doing HIIT, and are less able to repair damaged muscles or even build muscle mass than peers who ate a B-vitamin rich diet.
B vitamins are water soluble, meaning we don’t store them very well in the body and need a regular influx through the diet. Stress and burnout can increase our demand for these too which is why overexercising to begin with can be an issue. They are collectively needed for mood, concentration, the nervous system, energy production, metabolism, DNA synthesis, liver health, hormone balance, thyroid function and beyond, so we don’t want to miss out on any of these!
Signs you may benefit from more B vitamins – Fatigue, no get-up-and-go, tired all the time, poor metabolism, low mood, bad memory or concentration, poor hormone health, bad hangovers, poor recovery times, poor sleep.
Eat – Meat, fish, eggs, seafood, bone broth, beans, sweet potato, squash, pulses, grains and colourful veggies
Ideal Supplementary form – B vitamins are best as a complex and the form is really important, as the better forms are much more ‘active’ in the body meaning that they can be absorbed by our cells and utilised more quickly. Ideally we want B vitamins to be methylated form (e.g. methyl-folate, methycobalamin) which allows them to function within our cells more efficiently. Even though these are more expensive and harder to get hold of, Equi only used the best forms of methylated B vitamins for maximum absorption in all our Formula range - Original, Beauty, Pregnancy and Lean.
ANTI-OXIDANTS AND EXERCISE
Typically we hear of antioxidants being great for skin and antiaging, and this is definitely true. They support and protect all our cells, be that in the brain, the liver or the muscles. Indeed, some antioxidants such as those extracted from turmeric (curcuminoids) have been shown to help improve recovery times.
However, there is a careful balance to be found here between oxidant and antioxidant, because though exercise and increased respiration naturally does increase the production of reactive oxygen species (or oxidants - the electrons that anti-oxidants protect us from) this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and may even be a beneficial and normal process that occurs when muscles work to repair themselves following exercise. The key thing is to ensure a healthy balance between the two of these compounds. This means getting a steady stream of anti-oxidants in through the diet to keep the right balance.
Eat – Colourful vegetables, fruit, raw cacao, oily fish, seafood, and spices such as turmeric, saffron, fenugreek and cinnamon.
IRON AND EXERCISE
Athletes and heavy exercisers are at higher risk of iron deficiency, and HIIT and endurance exercise may increase iron losses by as much as 70% compared to those not exercising. This can occur because of heavy sweating and an increased rate in the breakdown of red blood cells. It’s also important to remember that women are already at greater risk of iron deficiency owing to their monthly periods & pregnancy/childbirth, so they need to give particular attention to this incredibly important mineral. Iron is needed for everything because it ensures that oxygen is transported around the body properly, so energy, brain health are closely impacted if levels are lower than they should be. Exercise capacity – endurance, fitness are also closely reliant on iron and it is also essential for our immune system, thyroid and mood.
Signs you may benefit from more iron – fatigue, sluggishness, feeling out of breath easily, palpitations, heavy head, headaches, poor immunity, thyroid issues and hair loss.
Eat – The best sources are Red meat, liver/offal, dark poultry meat. Also found in black and red rice and quinoa, dark green leafy veggies, dried apricots, dates, tahini and pumpkin seeds.
Ideal Supplementary form – Iron is infamous for having nasty gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach ache or constipation, but this is only the case in the cheaper form such as ferrous sulphate. A much better form of iron is ferrous gluconate or ferrous glycinate, which have far better absorption rates and no side effects. Vitamin C also aids absorption and you’ll find these in all our Formula range - Original, Beauty, Pregnancy and Lean.
GUT HEALTH AND EXERCISE
Exercise has been shown to help to encourage diversity of our microbiome, which is a good thing for our digestive system. However, if you’re into vigorous workouts, long runs or endurance training then you might want to give your digestive system some extra attention. This is because there is some evidence that these types of exercise can depress our immunity, and leave us more prone to colds, flus, viruses and bacteria. Foods and supplements containing beneficial bacteria are a powerful way to help support the immune system, much of which is centred around healthy gut function.
Compounding this is the possibility that athletes are more susceptible to ‘leaky gut’ or increased intestinal permeability, a problem with the gut membrane/lining becomes more porous. Increased stress on the body, friction and a reduced blood flow to the gut during exercise are possible causes of this. Supporting the balance of good bacteria has been shown to help here too, as is a diet that helps to nourish and reduce inflammation in the gut.
Eat – Fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and a wide array of fibrous foods – veggies, legumes, grains and nuts. Prebiotics are also great such as garlic, flaxseed, leeks, onions, artichokes and guar gum. Increase anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, and reduce processed, refined foods and charred foods.
Ideal Supplementary form – High quality probiotic supplements have been shown to help support the microbiome and our immune system. We add vegan probiotics such as Lactospore® and Bifidobacteria strains into our Formula range (Original, Beauty and Lean. ) as well as Immunity Edition.
A NOTE ON EXERCISE AND WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
They say that when it comes to making changes to your body, it is 80% diet, and 20% exercise. Exactly what the numbers are here, there are obvious positive benefits of exercise on our weight and body composition. Though exercise is so much more than just about the number on the scales, if weight loss is your main goal then remember that the best way to achieve your optimal weight and keep to it is to find balance throughout your whole body. To lose weight, it helps to have healthy hormone balance, optimal thyroid function, good energy levels, good blood sugar balance (to avoid sugar cravings), sleep well and have a healthy gut. It also helps if your mood is balanced and sunny, to help curb emotional eating habits.
This is what we are all about at Equi – keeping the whole body working harmony to help get you to place where you feel and look your best every day. We created Lean Formula to be the ideal total body support for those trying to shift a few pounds in a healthy way and alongside eating a healthy diet, it helps to encourage weight management in a natural but effective way, and helps you feel amazing in the process. It's also the perfect support if you're increasing exercise as it contains all of the nutrients and probiotics above.
“I don’t normally write reviews but just had to express how I feel the Lean Formula, I absolutely love it and cannot live without it now. I’ve been taking it for about 4 months and I’ve lost a few dress sizes - it just really helps to keep me full and gives me so much energy that I actually want to exercise! It’s really helped me to develop a running habit. It also supports me well as I am a yoga teacher. Not only this but it has balanced my hormones - I had really bad PMS symptoms before, particularly breast pain, since I’ve taken this I am free of that! Which is worth its weight in gold!! I also love how I only need to take one supplement now, so much more cost effective and easier. I can actually feel it working when I drink it!! Not to mention, the customer service is amazing :) thanks Equi xx” - Hannah ★★★★★
Disclaimer: Certain supplements are used for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be adopted. In addition, pregnant women and anyone on medication should always consult a doctor before embarking on a supplements programme. As with all articles on www.equilondon.com, this is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice.