Best Mineral Supplements For Working Out – Ca, Mg, Fe, K

human flag calisthenics

Posted On December 12, 2020

Table of Contents
1. Introduction to Micronutrients
2. Potassium – Neural Health & Osmolarity
3. Magnesium – The Muscle Relaxant
4. Calcium – Strong Bones & Teeth
5. Iron – Healthy Blood & Energy

Importance of Micro-nutrients

Our focus on macros often gives us tunnel vision; we cannot see passed protein, carbs and fats in our quest to build muscle and lose fat. However, we should not forget vitamins and minerals play quintessential roes in our health and training. Collectively, vitamins and minerals are called micro-nutrients because they need to be consumed in small quantities to retain homeostasis. 

Unlike macronutrients, which are most well known for providing energy and building muscle, micronutrients have much more specific and nuanced roles throughout the body. Each micronutrient can have many diverse roles in the human body – and each must be consumed as part of a balanced diet or supplemented if necessary on a regular basis. 

Vitamins are small organic molecules that come in many different forms. They are all vital, and are exclusively obtained from our diet (our bodies cannot make them). Vitamins have many roles in the body, their function linked to their capacity to act as co-enzymes. Co-enzymes are molecules that enable enzymatic reactions within the body – that is, they are needed in order for various chemical reactions to happen in our bodies.

Different vitamins serve as co-enzymes for different enzymatic processes, hence the differential in their biological effects. Deficiencies in vitamins can cause various pathologies including the infamous Scurvy, a bleeding gum pathology attributed to pirates and early naval explorers that did not have fresh supplies aboard. Scurvy results from a deficiency in vitamin C.


What Are Minerals & Why Are They Important

Minerals are salts and are single charged elements called ions. Minerals are also sometimes called electrolytes because their presence allows the conduction of electricity through fluid. Minerals also have a diverse array of roles in the body, but are generally associated with neural firing and bone maintenance.

Minerals are found in foods, drinking water and are commonly advertised in sports drinks as a quick way to ‘refuel’ in conjunction with sugar.

For the purposes of training and getting the most out of your workouts, we will focus on 4 Key Minerals: Mg, K, Ca and Fe.

This is because these 4 minerals are perhaps the most important ones when it comes to training. They are heavily involved in muscle relaxation, contraction, bone development and oxygen carrying capacity among many other training related roles. A lack of these minerals can significantly effect performance, causing premature fatigue, weaknesses, muscle tension, osteoporosis and other conditions. 

Important Minerals For Optimal Performance

– Potassium (K+) 
– Magnesium (Mg2+) 
– Calcium (Ca2+)
– Iron (Fe2+ / Fe3+)

potassium banana

Potassium – Neural Health & Osmolarity

K is an important mineral that is involved in many processes, including propagating action potentials and resetting membrane charge. Deficiencies in K can lead to a reduced capacity to recruit muscle fibres and premature fatigue.

Fluid movement – Na and K are found predominantly outside and inside the cell respectively. This allows them to manage fluid via osmosis – the process by which water moves from a high concentration to a low concentration of water (i.e. towards a higher concentration of minerals and other dissolved compounds). The ratio of K to Na is therefore important, as a change in this ratio can result in abnormally high fluid moving into cells or vice-versa, both damaging to cells – and potentially skewing blood pressure.

Minerals can dictate blood pressure because they are capable of moving fluid via osmosis. Na+ pushes fluid out of cells and into the extracellular fluid and eventually into the blood, increasing blood pressure. K on the other hand moves fluid into cells from the extracellular fluid and blood, decreasing blood pressure. Therefore Na+ consumption increases blood pressure, and K+ decreases blood pressure.

Roles of Potassium in the Human Body

– Neural firing and action potentials
– Membrane potential and cell charge
– Normal Heart function
– Blood pressure control

Potassium Deficiency

Insufficient potassium is common in western diets that are low in potassium and high in sodium. Potassium deficiency can present itself in many symptoms including: hypertension, kidney stone risk, increased calcium excretion, and sodium sensitivity (sodium intake disproportionately effects blood pressure). 

Severe potassium deficiency can cause hypokalemia, but it is rare among healthy people with normal kidney function. Hypokalemia is characterized by constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness, and in severe cases can affect cardiac contractions.  

Magnesium – The Muscle Relaxant

Magnesium is a fantastic little mineral that is found in our bones and fluids. Magnesium is generally associated with muscle relaxation, theorised to be due to its affinity to Ca binding receptors which are associated with muscle contraction. Mg binding these receptors prevents Ca binding them, and causes muscle relaxation. This relaxation property of Mg helps reduce muscle tension, muscle knots and can help improve sleep quality.

magnesium requirements table
sources of food magnesium (1)
Roles of Magnesium in the Human Body

– Formation of bone and teeth
– Muscle contraction
– Normal functioning of many enzymes
– Blood clotting
– Normal heart rhythm

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is well known to cause muscle tightness and cramps. It has also been linked to mental numbness and lack of emotions, bone weakness and irregular heart beat or arrhythmia.
magnesium-rich-foods-3287FDH (1)

Calcium – Strong Bones & Teeth

We all know Calcium (Ca) from Dairy advertisement, but is it really that important? Indeed Calcium is needed in enzyme function and muscular contraction, including in the heart. It is also a major component of your bones and teeth where it helps strengthen them. As a result most of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth.

Calcium is constantly deposited and resorbed from the bones. In younger people there is more deposition, in adulthood the processes are about equal, whereas in old age, resorption tends to occur predominantly which causes bones to become weaker over time. Calcium intake and weight bearing activities can significantly slow the deterioration of bones in elderly people.   

calcium requirements table (1)
calcium food table
Roles of Calcium in the Human Body

– Formation of bone and teeth
– Muscle contraction
– Normal functioning of many enzymes
– Blood clotting
– Normal heart rhythm

Calcium Deficiency

Calcium deficiency does not make itself apparent in the short term. Calcium is very well regulated in the blood and low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia) typically results from medical intervention such as drugs and surgery. It can lead to numbness, muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythm. 

In the long term, inadequate calcium intake can lead to osteoporosis – increasing the risk of bone fractures. Postmenopausal women, individuals with lactose intolerance or cow’s milk allergy, and vegans are typically higher risk of inadequate calcium intake.

calcium sources

Iron – Healthy Blood & Energy

Fe is a component of haemoglobin and myoglobin – pigments that carry oxygen in the blood and muscles respectively. These pigments transport oxygen from the lungs to the working muscles, which is necessary for energy production through aerobic respiration. They are also the reason why your blood is red in colour – iron bound to oxygen becomes dark red (as in rust and iron rich soil).

Iron is also involved in enzyme function including those necessary for the production of structural proteins and neurotransmitters. It’s also implicated in immune function. Men have more than 3x the stored iron as women, and hence women are more likely to be iron depleted – especially due to iron loss through the normal female reproductive cycle. 

Red meat and oysters are fantastic sources of iron, as well as white beans and lentils. Many foods are also artificially fortified with iron.

iron adequate intake table (1)
iron food table

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency can eventually cause anemia, which can lead to premature exhaustion and low energy levels. Pregnant women, infants and frequent blood donors are also at risk of iron deficiencies and should be monitored.

food with iron

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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