The Mighty & Misunderstood Minerals - Essential to Fitness

Minerals and Bodybuilding

Never Neglect the Importance of Supplementation

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Looking over the supplement lists of many athletes around the world, without exception, they are lacking minerals. Some include potassium or calcium and a few, iron, but that's about it. This constitutes a major flaw in their programs because minerals are essential to optimum health and without good health there is no progress in the weight room.

In order to build muscle and gain strength, you must take in all the needed minerals and not just those that receive media attention, such as calcium and iron. I suspect that one of the reasons why minerals are not nearly as popular as vitamins or the more trendy products on the market is because they are relatively inexpensive. A bottle of mixed minerals costs a third of an equal number of creatine tablets. Because the profit margin is much lower for minerals than other supplements, they are not as forcefully advertised or promoted in articles. Minerals are the ignored stepchildren in sports nutrition.

I became a devout fan of mineral supple-mentation out of necessity. I've always been a cramper, even before I began lifting weights seriously. Once I began to train hard and compete, the problem escalated.

I had to find a remedy for my problem since it was affecting my progress and my performance at contests. I learned enough to help with cramping, but it wasn't until I was writing the nutritional section of my book and was forced to dig deep into research that I really came to appreciate just how important minerals are for health and longevity.

Whenever I relate to someone that he is lacking minerals, he invariably replies that he is getting plenty of minerals in his One-A-Day Multiple Vitamin. Or he counters that he eats lots of bananas and yogurt and drinks large quantities of milk. And, he adds, there must be minerals in his food. So why does he need mineral supplements?

There are many reasons. Foods such as bananas, yogurt and milk certainly help, but there are not enough minerals in these foods for anyone who is as physically active as serious bodybuilders and strength athletes. These athletes have a much higher demand for minerals than the individual who plays racquetball a couple of times a week or hits the links on weekends. When bodybuilders and strength athletes finish a session, they have spent many of the nutrients in their bodies - the most notable being the water-soluble vitamins and minerals, which have been washed out in sweat. These have to be replenished or the body will not function properly. In cases of severe depletion, some systems, such as the muscular system, cease to function altogether.

In discussing the value of high-mineral foods, we must also consider the quality of the soil. In her best-selling books on nutrition, Lets Get Well and Let's Eat Right To Keep Fit, written in the '60s, Adelle Davis pointed out that modern farming methods have destroyed the minerals in the soil, primarily through the widespread use of pesticides. Since President Clinton signed into law The Food Quality Protection Act in August of 1996, some farmland is being fertilized with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) but this is a mere drop in the bucket. Without question, these three minerals are extremely important, but there should be 60 minerals in healthy soil, not just three.

In 1992, some alarming facts were revealed in studies reported at the Earth Summit in Rio. These studies compared the mineral content of soils with the content from 100 years earlier. Africa, Asia, Europe and South America had each lost around 70 percent of the previous mineral content, but the biggest losers were the United States and Canada. Their soils showed an 85 percent loss in minerals over the previous 100 years.

As far back as 1936, the US Senate published Document 264. This stated that lab-oratory tests proved the fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs, and milk were not what they had been a few generations before in terms of mineral content. The report went on to state, "It is bad news that 99 percent of the American people are deficient in these minerals, and that a marked deficiency in any one of the more important [minerals] actually results in disease." That was in 1936. Just think about how our soils have been depleted since then, and I'm sure you will come to the same conclusion I have: It's impossible to obtain an adequate supply of minerals from the foods we eat.

The document concluded: "Our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon minerals we take in our systems than upon calories, or vitamins, or upon the precise proportion of starch, protein, or carbohydrates we consume." That's heady stuff. I've always believed minerals to be important, as important as protein and vitamins E and C, but perhaps they should be given even more significance.

Consider the fact that there are over 600 trillion cells in our body and every one of them needs a wide range of minerals to function properly. Minerals perform many useful tasks in our body, including acting as part of the metabolic processes from which energy is created. Scientists agree that without minerals no life could develop.

What I am presenting in this article is an overview of some of the more important minerals and their functions. This will help you get an idea of the value of the various minerals, and hopefully it will whet your interest enough that you will want to learn more. There are numerous books on minerals at libraries and in health food stores.

Minerals are classified as either macro or micro. Some writers prefer to use the term "major" instead of "macro," and micro minerals are sometimes referred to as trace elements. The macro minerals are needed in quantities of at least 100 milligrams daily. These include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulfur. The trace minerals are needed in much smaller amounts. The essential micro minerals are chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. However, don't let the words "trace" or "micro" make you think that these minerals are of lesser importance to your overall health than the major elements - they are just as important. Indeed, several authorities argue that our bodies need many more minerals than those I have listed. Dr. Joel Wallach, the "Mineral Doctor," claims that we need all of the 60 or so minerals that are currently known, so it is quite likely that there will be additions made to the essential list in the near future.

While it's critical that you obtain sufficient amounts of the various essential minerals, it's equally important that you take them in a definite proportion to one another. Ratios are important because many of the minerals are closely interrelated. For example, copper, iron, and cobalt must be present in adequate amounts in order to synthesize hemoglobin and form red blood cells. Magnesium and calcium are needed in a certain ratio to one another for certain nerve functions. Body fluid maintenance is dependent upon five minerals: sodium, potassium, chlorine, phosphorus and calcium.

It is important that the ratio between calcium and phosphorus be 2:1. Earlier, I mentioned how difficult it is to get enough minerals from the foods grown on depleted soil, but this is not true for all minerals. Phosphorus is available in abundance. Poultry, eggs, yellow cheeses, beans, nuts, and wheat germ are all good sources. Basically, if a food is high in protein, it's also high in phosphorus. If we only ate fresh, organic foods, the ratio between calcium and phosphorus would be fine, but the American diet supplies much more phosphorus than calcium in the form of processed foods and carbonated drinks. This results in an imbalance.

Calcium is utilized in combination with phosphorus in the building and maintenance of teeth and bones. If a person ingests too much phosphorus without a sufficient supply of calcium, the body is forced to withdraw calcium from the bones to unite with the more abundant phosphorus. If this imbalance continues for a prolonged period of time, the bones and teeth weaken and decay. If you think you are eating a diet extra high in phosphorus, it would be wise to start taking a calcium supplement and adding plenty of milk products such as yogurt and cheese.

Another important mineral balance is potassium to sodium. Most athletes are aware of the usefulness of potassium because of its role in muscle contractions. Actually, it's the activation of certain enzymes that triggers the contractions, but potassium is the catalyst that activates the enzymes.

Besides potassium's role in muscle contraction, it plays a major part in energy production. Adelle Davis explains this process in Lets Eat Right To Keep Fit. "Without potassium, sugar in the form of glucose cannot be changed into energy. When sugar cannot be utilized and glycogen is held in the cells, energy production comes to a standstill. Like a motor out of fuel, the muscles can no longer contract and paralysis, or partial paralysis, results." Potassium needs to be in a 1:1 ratio with sodium. Sodium, in a nutshell, has two indispensable functions: to contribute to the acid-base balance of the body and to be responsible for the total osmotic pressure of the fluids outside the cells. However, an overabundance of sodium in the diet will create a potassium deficiency and disrupt the effectiveness of both minerals. When fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten, the natural balance is achieved. The problem is, most Americans eat canned products. These contain very high amounts of sodium, thus causing an imbalance. In addition, refined foods such as catsup, luncheon meats, butter, frozen meals, breads, cheddar cheese, salted nuts, potato chips and other snack foods - along with the huge selection of colas and sodas - add greatly to the imbalance because they're loaded with sodium. Plus, we love to salt our foods. Eventually the consumption of too much sodium has an adverse affect on our health.

If your diet is high in sodium, you need to reduce your sodium intake and start eating more foods that are high in potassium. It's very easy to consume lots of sodium. What could be more innocent than a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup? We use it in a wide array of dishes or heat it up for a quick snack. But if you check the label, you will find that it contains 870 mg of sodium, over a third of the recommended daily requirement. Start examining the labels of the items you normally purchase and pick those with lower sodium content.

Eating more foods high in potassium will help you maintain the balance between these two minerals. Tropical fruits contain an abundance of potassium: bananas, papayas, mangos, dates and figs. These are not only delicious additions to any meal, they also boost your potassium intake and help you maintain that healthy balance.

Fresh vegetables are excellent sources, but keep in mind that because potassium is water-soluble, any food soaked or cooked in water will lose a good portion of the mineral. Raw vegetables are the way to go. Experts estimate that Americans ingest 20 g of sodium daily and only 4 to 8 g of potassium, which means that most of us need a great deal more potassium. Potassium supplements are available to help you meet your daily requirements.

Earlier, I mentioned the close relationship between magnesium and calcium. I want to expand on that because of their importance to overall health -particularly for hard-training athletes. Magnesium is like calcium in that it functions as part of the nervous system. It acts primarily as an activator of numerous enzymes, in particular those that are a part of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) reactions. ATP is required in muscle contractions, in the synthesis of protein, fats and nucleic acid as well as in the metabolism of glucose. A deficiency of magnesium results in extreme nervousness, apprehensiveness, irritability, and may cause belligerent behavior. A prolonged deficiency can affect the brain, bringing on mental confusion and marked depression.

It has been postulated that roid-rage and the high occurrence of suicide among teen-agers who are taking steroids may be due to the depletion of magnesium and calcium, along with other critical nutrients, caused by use of the drugs.

Calcium receives a lot of well-deserved attention. This mineral serves many useful functions. When your body lacks sufficient calcium, your muscles become irritable and cannot relax properly. Calcium is extremely important for maintaining muscle tone, and the strength of your muscle contraction is directly dependent upon its availability. It plays a major role in influencing the excitability of the motor system. The transportation of nerve impulses relies on this mineral.

In order for the tandem of calcium and magnesium to work properly, they must be ingested in proper proportion: twice as much calcium as magnesium. Green vegetables, milk and milk products, nuts, and legumes are the richest sources of calcium. Magnesium is found in cocoa, cashew nuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, soya flour, lima beans, whole barley, peanuts, whole wheat bread, pecans, oatmeal, hazelnuts, walnuts, corn and brown rice. So nuts of all types, cereals and legumes are good sources.

The majority of us do not include many magnesium-rich foods in our diets, but it's essential that athletes maintain a balance between magnesium and calcium. When an imbalance exists, performance in any athletic activity is severely affected. And remember that a deficiency in these two minerals interferes with protein synthesis, so you can see why any serious athlete must make sure that he or she takes in the required amounts of both.

Luckily, magnesium-calcium tablets can fill the gap and they are not expensive. Before purchasing any product, check to make sure the ratio is correct: 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium. Otherwise, the product will not be as effective. And don't assume that a brand has the correct ratio just because it is popular -not all of them do.

These are also excellent sleeping aids. They are much better than any prescription medications because they're natural. In addition, Mag-Cal tablets are excellent painkillers that I much prefer to any of the over-the-counter drugs. My daughter-in-law, Tina, was visiting and had a splitting headache. She cannot tolerate any product that contains aspirin, codeine, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen and had left her prescription pain pills at home. I gave her three Mag-Cal tablets, which contained 1500 mg of calcium and 750 mg of magnesium. Within half an hour her headache was gone, and 15 minutes later she was fast asleep.

Although the trace minerals are only needed in small amounts, they are as essential to overall health as the macro-minerals. Iron must be present in order for your body to form myoglobin, which stores oxygen released by hemoglobin in the tissues and serves as a reservoir for oxygen. Long-term privation results in anemia, a condition in which your body doesn't produce sufficient red blood corpuscles or hemoglobin.

Zinc helps form hair, skin and nails. It's a component of the eyes and is essential to the synthesis of nucleic acid. Zinc is a catalyst for several enzymes and it speeds up energy production.

Iodine aids in regulating energy production, protein utilization, carbohydrate absorption and blood cholesterol levels.

Copper assists in the manufacturing of red blood cells and is an essential catalyst for the enzymatic processes of tissue building and cell construction.

Manganese is required for the proper absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus and activates several enzymes. It also plays an important part in maintaining normal reproductive functions.

I've emphasized the relationship between the various minerals, but there is also a synergy between minerals and certain vitamins. Cobalt, for example, is a vital for proper utilization of B12. Vitamin A must be present in adequate amounts for zinc to be employed. Selenium enhances the potency of vitamin E. Vitamin B6 cannot be absorbed unless magnesium is available.

So how in the wide, wide world of sports does anyone ensure that he gets enough of these essential minerals? By taking a multiple-mineral tablet. They are convenient and not that costly. Before purchasing a product, check to see if the calcium and magnesium is in a 2:1 ratio. You can check the other ratios, as well.

Because the minerals used by the body are all water-soluble, be aware that any situation in which you lose a high rate of fluids will create a mineral deficiency. For example, if you sweat profusely or if you have an illness that includes diarrhea or vomiting. Also, excessive drinking can deplete your body of the essential minerals because of all those trips to the bathroom.

Start eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and other foods that have a high mineral content. Make an effort to decrease your sodium intake. To ensure that you're getting adequate amounts of all the essential minerals, add multiple minerals and Mag-Cal tablets to your supplement list.

Replacing lost minerals quickly facilitates recovery and recovery is one of the keys to progress in every athletic endeavor.

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