The Importance Of Minerals To Athletic Performance

Why Electrolytes Are Important During Exercise

What are electrolytes? Electrolytes, are electrically charged ions necessary for all muscle, brain, and bodily functions. Athletes, particularly endurance athletes, can starve the body of these minerals as they are lost during exercise in the form of sweat.

Most hydration products only contain sodium and potassium and lack vital minerals for exercise

Approximately 4% of the body is composed of 21 minerals essential for life. When mineral levels are insufficient during physical activity, the result will most likely be a substandard level of performance. For endurance athletes, this increases the risk of serious injury and reduces the recovery rate after strenuous work or exercise. 

NOT Just Sodium and Potassium, Athletes Need A Broad Selection Of Vital Trace Minerals

What you will find if you read the label of most electrolyte replacement products are mostly just sodium and potassium. While athletes need to replace these two minerals during exercise, there are critical minerals often overlooked which are necessary for the entire body and brain to function properly. These should include the trace-minerals such as: copper, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, and iodine and others.

Here are some vital minerals and the role they serve in the body:

  • Boron. Boron is a mineral that aids in the retention of calcium and magnesium in the bones. Studies indicate that boron improves the production of antibodies that help fight infection and markedly decreases peak secretion of insulin from the pancreas. 
  • Chromium. Chromium is an essential nutrient required for normal sugar and fat metabolism. As an aid to glucose metabolism, chromium is essential to the regulation of blood sugar and fat metabolism. It protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and helps decrease body weight. Supplementation is essential if you eat white flour, milk and sugar as those foods steal chromium from the body an excrete it unused.
  • Cobalt. As the key mineral in the vitamin B12 molecule, it is essential for proper nerve function and red blood cell formation.
  • Copper. Copper is required for the absorption and utilization of iron and the regeneration of blood. Copper and zinc together are crucial to the formation of collagen, connective tissues, and the protein fibers found in bone, cartilage, ligaments, dental tissues, and skin. Deficiency symptoms are similar to iron deficiency anemia, cardiac abnormalities, and elevated levels of serum cholesterol. Copper is utilized by most cells through enzymes involved in energy production, strengthening of connective tissue, and in brain neurotransmitters.
  • Iodine. The thyroid gland needs this mineral to support metabolism, nerve and muscle function, physical and mental development. Deficiencies can lead to reduced brain function, growth stunting, apathy, impaired movement, speech, or hearing. Since soybeans, peanuts, cabbage, and turnips can block utilization of iodine, supplementation may be necessary in people who eat these foods.
  • Magnesium. Not only does magnesium facilitate 300 fundamental enzymatic reactions, it also functions in the activation of amino acids and plays a key role in nerve transmissions and immune system operation. Numerous ATP-dependent reactions use magnesium as a cofactor.10 This essential mineral enjoys a reciprocal relationship with calcium. In our muscles, calcium stimulates muscle fibers to tense up and contract whereas magnesium encourages the muscle fibers to loosen up and relax. Stored in the bones (60%) and muscles (40%), magnesium is called upon during exercise. Since bones do not release magnesium easily, the muscles are the target. The result may be cramps, irritability, or twitching.
  • Manganese. An essential element concentrated primarily in the bone, liver, pancreas, and brain. Mangnese factors into cholesterol metabolism, normal skeletal growth and development. Manganese is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses to the muscles and for metabolism and RDA and DNA production. It is an important cofactor in the key enzymes of glucose metabolism. 
  • Potassium. Potassium performs countless vital functions in the body supporting the nervous system, aiding in digestion, and providing the electrolyte charge to the cells. Most of the total body potassium is found in muscle tissue. Because of its link with the metabolizing, oxygen-consuming part of the body, a decline in total body potassium is usually interpreted as a loss of muscle mass.  
  • Selenium. Shown to have a role in the detoxification of heavy metals, such as mercury, selenium plays a role in the production of antibodies in the immune system and may help prevent cancer and other degenerative diseases. Selenium protects cell membranes, cell nuclei and chromosomes from environmental damage.
  • Sodium. Sodium acts together with potassium to maintain proper body water distribution and blood pressure, therefore being a primary ingredient necessary for rehydration. It is also important in maintaining the proper pH balance and to facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses. People with pronounced losses of sodium through heavy perspiration or diarrhea may experience decreased blood volume and a fall in blood pressure that could result in shock. The Estimated Minimum Requirement of Health Persons from the National Academy of Sciences for adults is 500 milligrams per day.
  • Zinc. Zinc is vital to the function of 90 enzymes that regulate dozens of bodily processes. It supports the immune system and fights infection, assists in chelating heavy metals from the body, improves vision, sexual potency and enhances the senses. Zinc also aids in cell respiration, bone development and growth, wound healing, and the regulation of heart rate and blood pressure. The average American diet is low in zinc; therefore zinc rich foods should be included in our menus.

Why Most Sports Drinks And Hydration Products Fail

While most hydration products address sodium and potassium replacement, very few include the ionic minerals highlighted above that serve critical functions in the body and brain during exercise. Deficiencies can impact how the body functions and performs during exercise. This is especially true during warmer weather events where athletes sweat more and regulating body temperature is difficult. 

During this years U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, California, over 300 professional male and female athletes raced for a chance to qualify for the Rio Olympics.  The temperature topped out at a record 73 degrees, causing many of the athletes to overheat and become dehydrated, resulting in slower times and even some withdrawing from the event.

The most notable competitor to be affected by the heat and dehydration was female pro, Shalane Flanagan.  Who was seen struggling the last few miles just to finish the race and collapsing into her teammate Amy Cragg's arms as she crossed the finish line.  After the race Shalane spoke about how she's never competed in a marathon in these conditions and will consult an expert to figure out a better hydration solution for Rio.  

Josh Eberly running w/ EnduroPacks electrolyte spray (photo: RunMichigan.com)

EnduroPacks offers a clean, effective hydration option, that contains 13 ionic minerals, no sugar, or artificial ingredients and is convenient to carry, even during races.  Professional runner, Josh Eberly carried a bottle of EnduroPacks electrolyte replacement during the race and found it helped keep him hydrated throughout the Olympic Marathon Trials. 

To read more on the importance of mineral replacement, read a free publication titled, "Runners Guide To Electrolytes".