Micronutrients or micros are on the third level of importance in our diet set up right after calories and macronutrients. Just to remind ourselves – caloric balance dictates whether we lose or gain weight and macronutrient composition affects if we lose (gain) more fat or muscle.
In this micronutrients how to guide I will try to clarify what are micronutrients, how much do we need, where to find them and give some recommendations on how to get enough micros into our diet to cover basic needs.
What Are Micronutrients
“Micro” means we need these nutrients in small amounts – from micrograms up to a few grams per day. These doses are really small when compared to macronutrients, but they have a big impact on our health, hunger levels, and mental well-being. The deficit in micronutrients will also hamper our ability to lose fat, build muscle and affect our gym performance.
There are two categories of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals.
There are two types of vitamins – water soluble and fat soluble. This is important for the process of their absorption.
Water-soluble vitamins are all B vitamins and vitamin C. They are easily lost from our bodies because there is a large turnover of water (we drink and urinate a lot), so we need to replenish them daily. Thanks to this it is harder to overdose on water-soluble vitamins since the excess will be simply removed in the urine. But it is also easier to be deficient in this type of vitamins.
Fat-soluble are vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins stay in our body longer and it is also harder for our bodies to remove them from the system. This means that it is easier to overdose on them and it is more unlikely that we will be deficient unless our intake is consistently too low.
Minerals also have two types – macrominerals and microminerals. Similarly to macro and micronutrients, we need macrominerals in larger amounts than microminerals.
- macrominerals examples – calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, sulfur and chlorine
- microminerals examples – iron, copper, iodine, zinc, fluoride, cobalt, molybdenum and selenium
With the basic theory out of the way, we can concentrate on more practical information such as what are the good sources of vitamins and mineral and some simple consumption recommendations.
Almost every food contains some amount of minerals and vitamins, some of them contain a lot of micronutrients and some only tiny amounts. Here I’ve tried to create an example list of foods that are the richest with the particular vitamin or mineral:
- B group vitamins – avocado, leafy vegetables, potatoes, whole grains, liver, meat, eggs, fish, dairy products
- vitamin C – citrus fruits (especially kiwi), non-citrus fruits, peppers, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
- vitamin A – orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs (yolk)
- vitamin D – dairy products, cod liver oil, mushroom, fatty fish (trout, salmon, mackerel, sardine…), tofu, direct sun exposure
- vitamin E – dark leafy vegetables, nuts (especially almonds), avocado, sunflower seeds, fish
- vitamin K – fermented soybeans products (natto), legumes and nuts, fruits (apples, grapes, plums), green leafy vegetables, olive oil, soybean oil, eggs (yolk)
- calcium – dairy products, dark leafy vegetables, kale, almonds, broccoli, sardines with bones
- magnesium – green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes and beans, meat, fish, bananas, dark chocolate
- zinc – oysters, beef, lamb, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, legumes, fish, cocoa
- iron – seeds, chicken liver, seafood (oysters, clams), nuts (cashew, hazelnut, peanut), red meat, dark leafy vegetables
The good rule of thumb is to eat 1 serving of fruit and 1 serving of vegetables per 1000 calories. Taking myself as an example – my caloric intake during a diet is 1500 – 1600 kcal which means I should eat 2 serving of both fruits and vegetables. During muscle building phase I should eat around 2300 – 2400 kcal which means 3 serving of both fruits and vegetables.
When we are dieting we are at a larger risk of being deficient in micronutrients since we need to have a lower caloric intake. The most common deficiencies are:
- vitamin D
- vitamin K
Vegetables shouldn’t be a problem during dieting phase since they are generally low in calories, especially green leafy kind. As you can see from my list they are packed with micronutrients and on top of that they are rich in fiber which helps to keep us full. The problem could be with fruit, which has more calories. Sometimes it can be hard to squeeze recommended fruit servings into our low caloric intake so we should make the right choices and look for low calorie, low carb fruits like berries, watermelon, peaches and cantaloupe instead of bananas or apples.
When in gaining phase the risk of deficiency is a lot lower but could still occur. When in this phase we need to eat above maintenance which results in lower hunger. So eating a lot of fibrous vegetables and fruits could be challenging but we should still be conscious about our food choices and try to achieve the recommended portion of 1 serving of fruit and 1 serving of vegetables per 1000 calories.
Next step in the nutritional set-up is meal timing and meal frequency.
I hope you have found this post helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions or just want to share your experience with the topic you’re more than welcome to leave a comment:)