Micronutrients (micro = small) are substances required in trace amounts to support normal physiological function and health. However, while deficiencies in micronutrients can impair health and performance, excess amounts of some micronutrients can also have a harmful effect. Micronutrients divide into 2 categories - Vitamins and Minerals. There are 13 different vitamins and 16 different minerals that serve unique purposes within the body. Physical activity may increase your micronutrient requirements; however, there is little evidence into the potential benefits of supplementing most vitamins and minerals to improve performance.
For a compound to be classified as a vitamin, it must be clear that insufficient amounts will be detrimental to health and that the restoration of the missing compound will prevent or cure symptoms. Vitamins divide into 2 categories, Water-Soluble and Fat-Soluble - based upon how each vitamin behaves within the body. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed in fat globules called Chylomicrons which travel around the body until used, or are stored in body fat for later use. Because these vitamins are stored in body fat, it is possible to have dangerous levels of these vitamins within the body called hypervitaminosis. Water-soluble vitamins are absorbed in water and unused water-soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine. However, it is still possible to consume excess amounts of water-soluble vitamins, although this is much more difficult when getting your vitamins from natural sources and not high-dose supplements.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Found in the body as free absorbable Thiamine or as the molecules Thiamine Monophosphate (TMP), Thiamine Triphosphate (TTP), and Thiamine Pyrophosphate (TPP). Of the Thiamine in the body 10% is TMP, 80% is TPP, and 10% is TTP. Thiamine is involved in muscle contraction, the sending of nerve signals, and the conversion of carbohydrates into energy. Deficiencies in Thiamine can lead to Beriberi or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Thiamine is 1.2 mg/day (men), or 1.1 mg/day (women).
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin forms an essential part of two Coenzymes (compounds that aid in biochemical reactions). These two coenzymes are Flavin Mononucleotide (FMN) and Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide (FAD). Riboflavins are needed for the metabolism of macronutrients and are involved in growth and red blood cell production. Deficiencies in Riboflavin can lead to sore throats, cracks and sores on the lips and mouth, and redness and swelling of the mouth and throat. The RDA for Riboflavin is 1.3 mg/day (men), or 1.1 mg/day (women).
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Within the body, Niacin is utilised in four different forms: Nicotinic Acid, Nicotinamide, Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD), and Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate (NADP). NAD and NADP are coenzymes required by around 200 different enzymes, needed for the breakdown of all macronutrients as well as the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol. Niacin also helps the digestive system, nerves, and skin to function properly. Niacin can be synthesised within the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan. However, Niacin is classified as a vitamin due to deficiencies in Niacin leading to Pellagra, or in minor cases irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue, and depression. The RDA for Niacin is 16 mg/day (men), or 14 mg/day (women).
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Primarily serves as a component of Coenzyme A (CoA), which is vital to several biochemical reactions including the production of the energy molecule Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from macronutrients. Pantothenic Acid also aids in the production of hormones and cholesterol. Deficiencies in Pantothenic Acid can cause fatigue, insomnia, depression, irritability, burning feet, and chest infections. The RDA for Pantothenic Acid is 5 mg/day (men & women).
Minerals are inorganic substances (i.e. not from living organisms), and are involved in several functions within the body. Some minerals are needed in larger amounts (Macrominerals) and some in smaller amounts (Trace Minerals). However, despite some minerals being needed in smaller amounts than others, all minerals are essential for healthy development and performance. Minerals are absorbed a lot more efficiently from the diet than from supplements. A person deficient in one mineral or vitamin may often be deficient in multiple minerals of vitamins. When this happens, analysing the diet is vital, as changes to your diet will be more effective at correcting deficiencies than supplementation alone.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with 99% of Calcium within the body stored in the bones and teeth. Calcium is needed for the contraction and dilation of the blood vessels, hormonal secretion, muscle function, and sending signals around the body (e.g. when a nerve impulse tells a muscle to contract). Calcium is also extremely important to maintain bone strength. Without sufficient amounts of Calcium, there is a significant increase in the risk of developing Osteoporosis (a condition characterised by low bone density and increased fracture risk). As the bones are under constant reconstruction, a constant supply of dietary Calcium is needed to ensure that the amount of Calcium available to support new building by the Osteoblasts is greater than the amount broken down by the Osteoclasts. Vitamin D is vital to the absorption of Calcium and therefore several high Calcium food sources are often fortified with Vitamin D to support Calcium bioavailability (more on this later). The RDA for Calcium is 1,000 mg/day (men & women). Calcium requirements increase a little with age with men >70 years old and women >50 years old requiring 1,200 mg/day.
Chloride is needed for fluid regulation, particularly by balancing electrolytes (more on this later). Chloride interacts with several other minerals within the body namely Sodium and Potassium and is important in regulating the pH of the stomach acid. Deficiencies in Chloride can cause sweating, diarrhoea, and vomiting, whereas excess Chloride can cause increases in blood pressure and can cause complications for patients with congestive heart failure. The RDA for Chloride is 2.3 g/day (men & women), decreasing to 2.0 g/day for men & women over 50 years old.
Magnesium is needed by over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and helps to maintain normal muscle and nerve function, supports the immune system, helps regulate heart rate, maintains bone strength, helps regulate blood glucose levels and assists in energy production and protein synthesis. Deficiencies in magnesium can cause muscle weakness, sleepiness, irregular heart rhythms, and/or hyperexcitability. However, severe deficiencies in magnesium are rare. Excess magnesium can cause diarrhoea where the body attempts to eliminate the build-up. The RDA for Magnesium is 420 mg/day (men), or 320 mg/day (women).
This is just a short excerpt from my latest book. If you would like to learn about micronutrients and hydration including how to practically apply this info to help you reach your goals, please check out my book Eat Move Perform: Volume 1 - Nutrition & Supplements, which is available for pre-order from Waterstones now (see link below).