Micro Needs of A Runner

May 18, 2023

Micro Needs of a Runner

Micronutrients play an important role in Running performance….but how many of us consider what vitamins and minerals we require for our training? We tend to focus on our macronutrient needs…esp the need for protein and carbohydrates

BUT, did you know….we need the micronutrients for the metabolism of the macronutrients….as well as for much much more!!

So, if you are a runner who tends to neglect your micronutrient intake then read on for some enlightening and useful information

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Micro Needs of a Runner


Defining what micronutrients are and why they are important for general health but also for run training.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals found in a variety of different foods and needed by the body in very small amounts. BUT…although needed in small amounts, their impact on the body’s health is critical, and deficiency in any of them could cause illness and acute or chronic health conditions.

Although a true micronutrient DEFICIENCY could cause visible and potentially critical health conditions, micronutrient INSUFFICIENCY may lead to less clinically notable but still debilitating symptoms including:

  • Low energy
  • Lethargy
  • Poor mental clarity

WHY is an optimal intake of micronutrients so important to a runner? There are several reasons including:

  • The metabolism of the macronutrients: Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates
  • The muscle contraction cycle
  • Oxygen transport

ALSO, during exercise there is an INCREASED DEMAND for micronutrients due to:

  • Increased energy demands
  • An increased demand for micros from exercising tissue, in other words, the working muscles
  • A loss of micronutrients through sweat, urine and faeces


Outlining situations when a runner may require micronutrient supplementation including when they:

  1. Restrict energy intake
  2. Remove food groups from the diet. For example: vegans, vegetarians and runners following a raw diet or a keto/paleo style diet
  3. Consume a high carbohydrate diet without consideration for other important nutrients

NOTE: it is not EVERY runner that would be at risk of a micronutrient insufficiency/deficiency. Beginner runners and runners completing short distances only are at much less risk of developing a micronutrient insufficiency or deficiency as long as they are following a healthy and balanced diet including lots of vegetables and some fruits.

It is the endurance runners (and cyclists and triathletes) that are most at risk and this is thought to be due to various reasons including:

  • Low energy intake (be it consciously or unconsciously)
  • Longer exercise duration
  • Increased sweat rate



See below


Highlighting some micronutrients that are important for a runner including:

  • Calcium and Magnesium – needed in the muscle contraction cycle
  • The B-vitamin complex, Vitamin C and iron (also magnesium) – required in the metabolism of the macronutrients to produce energy
  • Iron – required for the transport of oxygen to the cells for energy production

Calcium and Magnesium:

The muscle contraction cycle (or sliding filament theory as it is also known by) is triggered by Calcium, but also requires ATP (adenosine triphosphate – our energy currency within cells). Once contraction occurs, it will continue for as long as Calcium and ATP are available. If, however Calcium (or ATP) availability is insufficient then the contraction cycle slows and muscle becomes fatigued…really quickly!!

Magnesium on the other hand is required for muscle relaxation. It works by blocking calcium therefore stopping muscle contraction. If, however Magnesium availability is insufficient or deficient then muscles may contract too much, which is known to cause symptoms including: cramping, muscle spasms and also restless legs.

Restless legs tend to occur at night, however muscle cramping and spasms may occur DURING exercise and this could impact on performance.


B Vitamin Complex:

All the B vitamins work in synergy and many are involved in the energy production cycle. But the ones that have been researched for their importance in athletic performance include: Folate (B9), B6 and B12

Folate functions as a coenzyme (or cofactor) in reactions of red blood cell synthesis and amino acid metabolism

B6 (in its active form) activates the rate-limiting step of glycogen breakdown. So, because it is rate-limiting, if there is low B6 availability then low energy availability will pursue.

Additionally, B6 serves as a cofactor in the metabolism of protein and its building blocks; Amino Acids.

Vitamin B12, like Folate, is involved in the production of red blood cells. BUT, it is also really important in the recycling of folate. So, if there is low B12, then it could result in reduced functions linked to folate; including red blood cell production.

So, potentially, both a folate and B12 deficiency could lead to the development of anaemia.

Vitamin C:

Vitamin C is important in the metabolism of the macronutrients to produce energy. BUT Vitamin C has other functions in supporting running performance, both indirect and direct functions. For example:

Vitamin C has an important role within the immune system – Vitamin C is required for the production and modulation of immune cells that help protect the body from invading pathogens. It also helps to prevent the development of chronic diseases and supports the immune system in responding quickly to acute illnesses and infections

Vitamin C supports collagen formation – Vitamin C is a building block nutrient for the formation of collagen. Collagen is a protein which is a vital structural component of skin, bones, cartilage, and connective tissue as well as other parts of the body

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant –it is able to mop up free radicals, which cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Our natural bodily processes of metabolism, energy production and detoxification lead to oxidative stress and to the production of molecules called free radicals. Our bodies need to neutralise free radicals to prevent them causing damage within cells


Food recommendations containing the key micronutrients discussed:

Foods containing both Magnesium and Calcium:

  • Leafy vegetables e.g. broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, rocket
  • Nuts and seeds – especially sesame seeds and almonds
  • Fortified foods

For additional calcium include: legumes: beans, peas, pulses, dairy

For additional Mg you include – wholegrains for example: oats and buckwheat. Also, a little dark chocolate

B Vitamin Complex:

  • Fish, meat, poultry, organ meats – especially for Vit B12 and B6
  • Leafy vegetables – high in folate
  • Legumes
  • Dairy and Eggs – good sources if B12 if you are vegetarian
  • Shellfish
  • Fortified foods (generally fortified with Vit B12 and/or folate) – important for vegans, although vegan runners may require a nutritional supplement

Vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits: Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, lime
  • Berries: Black Currant, Strawberries
  • Tropical Fruits: Kiwifruit, Papaya, pineapple, Mango, Guava, cantaloupe melon
  • Green leafy/Cruciferous vegetables; Broccoli, kale, parsley, brussels sprouts, spinach, watercress
  • Red and green peppers, tomatoes
  • Offal – liver

NOTE: Fruits and Vegetables are best eaten raw to maximise their nutrient value because preparation, cooking and exposure to oxygen can reduce the vitamin C content by about 25%.


Providing some hints and tips and ACTION POINTS to ensure a sufficient intake of micronutrients on a regular basis:

Keep your diet varied – many runners tend to have a repetitive diet ”because it works!!” – but it could mean you are missing out on some important nutrients

“Eat outside the box” – in other words, feel free to introduce key foods into ANY meal. For example having vegetables at breakfast time or having oats in the middle of the day, or as an afternoon snack. Certain foods tend to be reserved for certain meal times…but WHY?? If it works for you and helps you increase your intake of nutrients then go for it!!

Use recipe books or “Google” to find easy recipes using some of these key foods to ensure you are incorporating them into your diet regularly

Female Factors

Micro Needs of a Runner

  1. Older athletes (both male and female) are more likely to take micronutrient supplements than their younger counterparts due to the various challenges that occur with ageing and recovery
  2. The prevalence of supplement use among female athletes tends to be similar to males, however their reasons for supplementing tend to be differ
  3. Females tend to introduce supplementation to support bone health and increase energy (no data on the reasons why males may supplement)


Micro Needs of a Runner

  1. Micronutrients play an important role general health but also in running performance, however their intake is often neglected by runners…and athletes generally
  2. In sports performance their roles include:
  • The muscle contraction cycle
  • Oxygen transport
  • The metabolism of macronutrients (Protein/Fat/Carbohydrate)
  1. Although a FOOD FIRST approach is recommended, certain individuals may require nutritional supplementation. For example if they:
  • Restrict their energy intake
  • Remove food groups from their diet. For example: vegans and vegetarians
  • Consume a high carb diet without consideration for other important nutrients
  1. ALL micronutrients are essential for sports performance whether it be a direct or indirect role they play. However, some have been the focus of much research including:
  • Magnesium and Calcium
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Vitamin C
  1. This list is by no means exhaustive, but all are important for:
  • The muscle contraction cycle
  • Oxygen transport
  • The metabolism of macronutrients (Protein/Fat/Carbohydrate)
  1. Finally, to ensure you are consuming ALL of these micronutrients in your food plan regularly….keep your diet varied!! It is a simple concept, but runners  tend to be repetitive in their food choices

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The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

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