Eat whatever you like as long as you hit your macro’s?
This often gets misconstrued as ‘eat as much junk as you like as long as it fits into your macro’s’.
The truth is that most people that follow ‘flexible dieting’ pay attention to their micro nutrient intake as well.
But what IS a micro nutrient, how do you track them and how will they help us to build some quality muscle mass?
What ARE micro nutrients and what do they do?
Micro nutrients are basically vitamins and minerals and fibre.
They can be found in a huge variety of foods, but the highest concentrations are found in fruits and vegetables, meats, grains and pulses to name just a few. The amounts and types of vitamins and minerals in foods are all different which is why having good variety in your diet is important.
A lack of variety in the diet can lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients.
Micro nutrients help to maximise muscle growth, support recovery and help to maintain health and immune function.
The body uses the vitamins and minerals to facilitate physiological functions such as energy production, muscle contraction and tissue growth \ repair– essential parts of the muscle building process.
Without them your body is not able to operate at peak efficiency.
So just hitting your macro’s without considering your food choices could mean that you are short changing your results.
Of course if you’re reading this then you probably train pretty hard.
The additional stresses you put on your body during training mean that your daily requirements will be higher than those of a sedentary person.
It is worth nothing that all the vitamins and minerals will play some role in improving health and promoting muscle gain but to list them all would require hundreds of pages.
You will also notice that a lot of the benefits overlap between the vitamins and minerals. For example, assisting with energy production is a common characteristic but this is just one benefit.
In most cases, one vitamin or mineral cannot do a job on its own and needs other compounds in order to get the maximum benefit.
Here are some of the key nutrients that you should be making sure of consuming for best results in the gym and maximum muscle growth and recovery outside the gym.
Everyone reaches for the soluble vitamin C tablets when they get a sniffle, but what does it actually do?
Unsurprisingly, it helps to bolster the immune system which is essential when training hard as this can otherwise leave you susceptible to illness.
Vitamin C will also help to remove the harmful free radicals created during exercise.
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which means that it is not stored by the body, therefore it needs to be ingested daily for maximum effect.
Good sources of Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, peaches, peppers, kale, broccoli, strawberries, kiwi, mango, cauliflower & pineapple.
If you struggle with persistent colds or poor energy levels then try supplementing with 500mg vitamin C per day.
Be careful not to overdo it though as too much can cause digestive issues!
Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun.
This means that most people will be deficient in vitamin D unless they’re lucky enough to have their skin exposed to the sun all year round.
Its functions include immune support as well as muscle growth and performance.
Vitamin D facilitates the body’s uptake and use of calcium and phosphorous which are key in muscular contractions. Phosphorous is also used in the production of energy.
There are not many foods that provide vitamin D, however oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines do provide some.
Recommendations for vitamin D supplementation are far from conclusive due to the fact that it is hard to tell how much your body is producing naturally without a blood test.
For most people however, supplementing with 2500iu (international units) should cover your minimum requirements and provide noticeable benefit.
Notice that B vitamins is pluralised, this is because there are quite a few types, all of which play important roles in health and bodily repair \ function.
Notably, vitamins B2 and B12 are both key components in converting what we eat in to energy.
B vitamins are available individually but for best value for money a vitamin B complex is probably best.
Many foods are fortified with B vitamins, meaning that they are added artificially. They are often referred to by alternative names such as Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Biotin (B7) and Folic Acid (B9).
Due to the variety of B vitamins, recommending foods to eat would encompass a lot of things.
You know by now that a balanced diet is key. One thing to note however is that vegans will struggle to consume sufficient vitamin B12 as it is found in meat, fish and dairy products and not in fruits, vegetables or grains.
Zinc is hugely important, not least because it helps the body to utilise the protein, carbohydrates and fats we consume in our diet.
It is also a key mineral in post exercise recovery and supporting the immune system as well as promoting fertility.
When we’re talking muscle growth, zinc aid in the production on that all important testosterone.
For those that like to look their best, it also helps improve the quality of the hair, skin and nails.
The highest concentrations can be found in meat (particularly red), dairy products, eggs, seeds, pulses and bread.
Most people will probably be covering their bases with their dietary intake but supplementation should not be a problem unless going over 25mg per day.
It is possible that too much zinc can lead to a copper deficiency, causing anaemia and weak bones.
Again used for converting dietary intake into energy but also will help to boost energy levels giving you that extra edge in the gym.
It can also boost gym performance by reducing fatigue, allowing your workload to be increased.
In terms of recovery, magnesium can be extremely useful for those who struggle to get a good sleep as it promotes restful sleep, allowing you to convert your hard work in the gym into muscle growth.
Excellent sources include leafy green veg, nuts, brown rice, fish, meat and dairy.
If sleep is a problem for you then a Zinc & Magnesium supplement taken 30 minutes before bed on an empty stomach should help to relax you and leave you feeling a bit fresher in the morning.
Iron helps produce red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygenated blood around the body. Therefore being deficient in Iron will lead to poor energy levels, fatigue and will affect your workouts.
Women can also suffer greatly if blood loss during their menstrual cycle is high.
Therefore supplementing with Iron may be essential for health and gym performance during this time.
The easiest way to get iron from the diet is to consume meat, liver, beans, nuts, dried fruit (apricots in particular) and dark green leafy vegetables.
You may know that calcium is required to build and maintain strong bones. Regular weight training also improves bone density and therefore reduces the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Insufficient calcium levels will cause your body to break down bone tissue to maintain normal blood levels.
As well as bone density, calcium is also vital in the process of muscle contraction of all muscles, including the heart.
Dairy is the most obvious source of calcium but it’s also in cabbage, broccoli, nuts, soya beans and various products do contain added calcium.
Last but most certainly not least.
The human body is approximately 60% water so it comes as no surprise that it’s important.
Vital in fact.
Water is technically neither a vitamin nor a mineral, however it is essential for the absorption and utilisation of nutrients.
Not only that but even a mild dehydration can lead to a significant loss in gym performance.
How do I know what I am deficient in and what to take?
The simple answer is you won’t know. Not without getting your blood tested anyway.
If you are permanently lethargic or prone to illness this could be a sign that something is missing from your diet.
As mentioned previously, your first port of call is to eat as broad a range of foods as possible, especially fruits and vegetables.
It is also worthwhile investing in a multivitamin supplement.
This will ensure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients daily and acts as an insurance policy.
There is no risk of overdosing on any one vitamin or mineral by doing this and it is a cheap and convenient option.