The forgotten role of micronutrients in body composition
When it comes to talking about foods and diets in the fitness industry, one term you keep hearing is macronutrients. The less discussed counterpart – micronutrients – is the topic of today’s piece.
Micronutrients are often ignored in the fitness industry, but they are essential for optimal body function and achieving your fitness goals. The goal of body composition.
So if you want to improve your game, expand your knowledge, and improve your health, we have to start with micronutrients. Let’s get into that.
What are micronutrients?
Starting with the basics, the difference between macro and micronutrients is in the name – large and small nutrients. This does not refer to their physical size, but to the amount required by a healthy diet to consume body functions. Macronutrients include the three staple foods: protein, carbohydrates, and fat, which make up the majority of your calories.
Within the three macronutrients, you have micronutrients. Micronutrients refer to vitamins and minerals that are consumed in smaller amounts, and most are in the larger macronutrient group.
For example, avocados contain micronutrients – 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients – and are also a fat within the macronutrient group.
However, some micronutrients are not found in macronutrients. For example, vitamin D is produced directly by exposure to sunlight. When the UVB rays hit the cholesterol in the skin cells, vitamin D synthesis takes place. But as a comprehensive statement: micronutrients are mainly found in food, within the three main macronutrients.
Daily body functions require a number of different vitamins, and each has a unique role and function.
There are 13 essential vitamins, which means they are essential for your body to function optimally. Without these vitamins, negative side effects can occur, ranging from dry hair, acne, increased fat storage, and less favorable side effects.
Vitamins can be divided into two main categories: fat-soluble or water-soluble. There are four fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K, which are easily absorbed when consumed with fat because they are stored in adipose tissue.
Water-soluble vitamins – the remaining nine – are not stored in the body, underscoring the need for a healthy, vitamin-rich diet for optimal function and performance
Some of the functions of vitamins include:
Minerals also help your body function. Some examples of minerals are calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Minerals play an essential role in bone health, growth, the regulation of body fluids, heart health, the transmission of nerve impulses and are precursors to many hormones.
As was shown in a study from 2014, the mineral iodine is found in the thyroid hormone, for example, which, among other things, plays a role in metabolism.
Where are micronutrients found?
As mentioned briefly, micronutrients are mainly found in carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Any whole food – that is, food that has not been processed – is likely to contain a number of different vitamins and minerals. Often times, these micronutrients cause the food to have a specific color known as phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are found in plant-based foods and correlate with certain vitamins and minerals. This is why you are often told to eat the rainbow, with each color offering a unique density of vitamins and minerals.
Here are some sample sources of micronutrients:
- Calcium – milk, yogurt, spinach, kale, sardines
- Vitamin B12 – beef, chicken, fish, cheese, egg
- Potassium – bananas, spinach, potatoes
- Vitamin C – oranges, lemons, strawberries, broccoli
- Vitamin E – vegetable oils like sunflower oil, nuts and seeds, spinach, broccoli
- Vitamin K – kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, fish, beef
As you can see, whole foods and plant foods are high in micronutrients. If you’re wondering if you’re lacking micronutrients, your best bet is to use a whole plant-based diet that includes foods of a range of different colors that have been processed as little as possible.
This is of the utmost importance when your body composition goal is. Let’s explain the reasons for this.
Micronutrients and body composition
Body recomposition is a term used in the fitness industry to describe the process of losing body fat and building muscle mass. More information can be found here.
The way you do this is by increasing your energy expenditure, doing effective and efficient workouts, and implementing progressive overload to strategically increase your strength, build muscle, and ultimately, boost your metabolism. At the same time, it is necessary to closely monitor calories – most recommend taking care of maintenance – in order to lose excess body fat.
How is this related to micronutrients? It depends on the magic word: optimization.
Optimizing body composition
If you want your body to work as efficiently as possible, you need to provide it with the appropriate tools. As much as coaches would like to believe that it is as simple as “calories in vs. calories out”, there is so much more to it.
For example, 100 calories of ice cream is not the same as 100 calories of kale. You can read more about this in this article that I wrote.
Within a calorie you have different macro and micronutrient offerings. If you lack vitamins, you will not optimize your fat loss or muscle gain. In fact, you could be preventing yourself from making any progress.
For example, vitamin D deficiency is linked to fat storage – a study looking at low vitamin D levels in a group of women found that those with the lowest gained more weight over the course of the study, despite their diet not changed at all.
Another example of this are B vitamins. B vitamins are essential for metabolic function. If you are missing or not getting enough of any of the B vitamins, your body is in fat storage mode.
This is because the main function of B vitamins is to metabolize macronutrients. So if you don’t circulate enough, you will store a lot more calories than you could otherwise have burned.
One study found that vitamin B supplementation reduced body weight by increasing metabolism.
When it comes to building muscle and running out of nutrients, you will face similar problems as well. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights free radical damage and helps flush out metabolic wastes.
During exercise, you create oxidative stress. If you don’t have enough circulating vitamin E, you will experience increased delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), poor recovery, and stunted muscle protein synthesis.
Not ideal. A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that vitamin E supplementation improved recovery by reducing markers of muscle damage.
If you are busy counting your macros without thinking too much about your mics, you need to do a remake. Micronutrients help your body work optimally, and without them, negative side effects will occur and your fitness goals will get further out of reach.
As mentioned earlier, a diet high in whole plant foods with a range of colors will meet most of your micronutrient needs.