alive logo

Getting Enough Minerals?


"Athletes and active people have higher metabolic needs." The most famous example of the importance of minerals for athletes is basketball player Bill Walton.

The most famous example of the importance of minerals for athletes is basketball player Bill Walton. His promising career with the Portland Trailblazers was sidelined during the '70s because he kept getting stress fractures in his ankles. After doctors failed to get results, a mineral analysis showed he was deficient in copper and manganese. After supplementing with these minerals, he made a complete recovery and was back on the court.

Athletes and active people have higher metabolic needs. In my clinic, I see two types of patients who need extra mineral nutrition. Some want to start exercising but are having difficulty because mineral deficiencies are causing poor muscle cell function (poor recovery, aching, weakness and cramping). Others are seasoned athletes with the same complaints who are concerned about their waning performance.

The human body is composed of 22 known essential mineral elements, all of which must be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. These minerals have a wide variety of functions: providing the body with structure (calcium and phosphorus) and involvement with enzyme reactions (zinc and magnesium), oxygen transport (iron), water and acid/alkaline balance (sodium and potassium), and proper bone growth and formation of cartilage (manganese).

Key Sports Minerals

Calcium is critical for athletes. Heart and skeletal muscles require calcium for contraction. Also, calcium works with neurotransmitters in the brain at synaptic junctions, which may reduce anxiety, insomnia and other stress conditions. 

Selenium is a co-factor in the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Evidence suggests that it decreases the intensity of oxidative stress in athletes. Selenium deficiency can also affect the metabolism of thyroid hormones. Taking 400 micrograms per day is a good nutritional dose for those on heavy exercise programs. 

Zinc influences more than 70 different enzymes in the body, so daily supplementation is important. Dietary deficiency of zinc is very common. Zinc is important in the production of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I). In chronic zinc deficiency, reduced IGF-I is responsible for impaired physical growth. Supplementing zinc in teenage athletes is there- fore critical.

Magnesium deficiency could result in reduced physical output. I have found that this is the most common deficiency in athletes. One study showed that athletes involved in extended and intense training had increased magnesium excretion in the urine. In another study, oxygen consumption caused by magnesium deficiency increased 15 per cent during exercise. Heart rate throughout the deficient period was about nine beats faster per minute.

Magnesium can actually relieve the body of physiological stress. Athletes supplemented with magnesium orotate (bound with orotic acid, or vitamin B13, for better absorption) showed improved training times, decreased white blood cell counts, lower serum cortisol and overall decreased physiological stress.

Diagnosing Deficiency

The simplest way to test for mineral deficiency is to do a hair analysis, but the most accurate is to measure mineral levels in the blood. Some US labs offer this type of testing. Ask a doctor trained in nutritional medicine to source this test. I've found this useful in some of the highly competitive athletes I have treated.

Mineral Absorption

Some minerals require adequate hydrochloric acid in the stomach for proper absorption. The presence of chemical compounds such as phytates and oxalates, which are found in grains and vegetables, will bind the minerals and also decrease absorption of some or all minerals. Drugs such as thiazide diuretics will leach minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium from the body. Stress, gastrointestinal transit time and a high-fat diet will also affect absorption. Malabsorption from food allergies or intestinal inflammation can also decrease mineral absorption.

Chelated Minerals

Nature has the ability to bind (chelate) minerals together. When a mineral is added to another salt or ion that has a higher bioavailability, this is called chelating the mineral, or putting it in a form that is more absorbable by the body. Mineral picolinates, aspartates and citrates are being used with most minerals. Some of these mineral chelates, such as picolinates, have shown a clearly superior absorption over other chelates. For example, zinc picolinate is a more absorbable form of zinc when compared to citrate or gluconate. pH-adjusted calcium citrate appears to be the best form for calcium supplementation because it is easily absorbed even in individuals with low stomach pH. Citrates appear to be an effective chelator because citric acid naturally occurs in the body and many minerals can bind to it.

For peak athletic performance, or simply to keep your body strong, consider your intake of minerals. They may be the missing element that will bring your body fully into balance.

What Mineral Formula Should You Take?

It is fairly easy to get all the necessary minerals from a good daily multiple vitamin that contains calcium and magnesium. I recommend a formula that contains:

  • calcium citrate: 300 mg

  • magnesium citrate: 300 mg

  • potassium: 50 mg

  • zinc citrate: 15 mg

  • manganese citrate: 15 mg

  • chromium citrate: 0.15 mg

  • selenium citrate: 0.1 mg

Quick Mineral Review

Calcium: used for leg cramps, bone and muscle strength. Ninety-nine percent of our calcium is stored in the bones.

Magnesium: 50 percent is stored in bone and the rest is in the cells of the body involved in enzymatic reactions and cell membrane transport.

Sodium: lost during strenuous exertion. Thirty to 50 percent is stored in bone. Regulates cellular fluid volume through osmosis and is involved with pH.

Potassium: important in nerve and muscle function.

Iron: 70 percent is found in hemoglobin used for carrying oxygen in the bloodto increase energy.

Copper: a component of superoxide dismutase, which is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Manganese: also a component of superoxide dismutase.

Selenium: used by the body to destroy free radicals.

Chromium: helps to stabilize blood sugar.

Boron: used in the treatment of exercise-induced osteoporosis (not allowed in Canada as a single supplement).



No Proof

No Proof

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD