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Updated December 28, 2020
We know we need fruits and vegetables (and healthy protein sources) for their high vitamin and mineral content. Vitamins and minerals are both essential to our health, but when these two terms are separated, one overshadows the other.
While everyone is talking about vitamins, minerals often get overlooked. But your body needs them, too—especially if you’re hitting the gym regularly. Don’t base your post-workout meal or morning snack just based on A, B or C. Use these tips to create a balanced diet and supplement routine that contains a healthy list of essential vitamins and minerals.
The difference between vitamins and minerals
But let’s backtrack for a second. What is the difference between a vitamin and a mineral, anyway?
Vitamins are organic compounds produced by plants and animals. We can find Vitamin C in oranges, for instance, and Vitamin D in dairy products. These compounds break down when they enter the body, either in water or fat. (Hence the terms “fat soluble” and “water soluble” you typically see on vitamin labels.)
Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic compounds. That means they’re not created by plants and animals, but are instead absorbed by the plants and animals that we can eat. Minerals are crucial to maintaining strength and maintaining a properly functioning body, even if they don’t get as much time in the spotlight as vitamins do.
Before we go any further, here’s a quick note on recommended amounts. The recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals change with age and are different for different sexes. Pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding may also need a dose of minerals that is higher or lower than average. Talk to your doctor before creating a balanced diet that focuses on mineral consumption.
There are a handful of minerals that are essential to our diet. You may have heard these referenced before, but let’s break down exactly what makes these minerals important for different bodily functions.
Essential minerals for the body & what they do for us
Iron is found in different proteins that transport oxygen throughout our body with our blood. Without a healthy amount of iron, our oxygen can’t supply our muscles or tissues. A low-iron diet is directly related to fatigue, and this risk is especially high after a workout. Adults should consume between 8-18 milligrams of iron each day. Iron can be found in red meat, chicken and spinach.
Iron can’t be processed without copper. Copper makes the red blood cells that contain iron and transport oxygen throughout the body. Adults should consume around 900 micrograms of copper a day. Copper can be found in leafy greens, nuts and legumes.
Magnesium is essential for the transport of many minerals throughout the body for different functions. This mineral aids with everything from protein synthesis to enzyme function to regulating blood pressure. Adults should consume between 300-400 milligrams of magnesium each day. Magnesium can be found in whole grains, nuts and avocados.
Potassium balances water and other fluids throughout the muscles and nervous system. If you’re dehydrating yourself during a workout, your potassium levels will drop significantly. This mineral also helps to balance blood pressure. Adults should have up to 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day. Potassium can be found in bananas, potatoes and milk.
Sodium is an electrolyte (like potassium, calcium and magnesium) that also balances fluid and controls blood pressure throughout the body. Sodium and potassium are both lost when you sweat, so it’s especially important to replenish them after a tough workout. Adults should consume around 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Sodium can be found in salt, leafy greens and milk.
This is the most abundant mineral in your body. You may already know that calcium is essential for healthy bone growth; this is the job of 99% of your body’s calcium. The rest aids in muscle contraction and releasing hormones throughout the body. Adults should consume between 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium each day. Calcium can be found in dairy, certain dairy alternatives and kale.
If you’re not getting the right amount of each mineral from your diet, you may want to consider adding dietary supplements to your diet.
There are limits, however, to how many minerals you should consume in a day. Minerals do not break down in the body. Health problems may arise if you try to consume a week’s worth of certain minerals in a day, so make sure you are not taking more than the recommended amount of each mineral. A balanced, conscious diet is the most important way to maintain proper health and be able to replenish the body after a workout.