The Limiting Factor: Nutrient Density

September 24, 2016


In my very first marathon, on mile 18, I tanked. Legs tightened up, muscles started cramping, and my vision became blurry. I hadn’t done my research to know that what we happening was a bad case of “hitting the wall” or as some call it “bonking”. What I discovered about this terrible experience after the race was that I could have prevented the pain by paying closer attention to my nutrient intake!


Olympic athletes (or even those just simply wanting a good workout in the gym) are as strong as their limiting nutrient. What do I mean by this? Well in the case of running a marathon, when someone runs out of glucose and the mineral potassium, their body will be unable to perform. Potassium plays a major role in muscle contraction, so it makes sense that as soon as it’s all used up, the runner’s legs will stop functioning.


Some other vitamins and minerals to keep a close eye on, especially if you are striving to improve your athleticism or physical fitness, include:


  1. Magnesium. Studies show that this nutrient helps to turn the carbs and fat we eat into energy. Recommended daily allowance (RDA): 300mg a day for men; 270mg a day for women.

  2. Copper. One of the primary roles of copper is to assist in producing collagen. What is collagen? Collagen is a component of connective tissue. Strong connective tissue keeps your joints healthy. Do you experience achy knees or hips? Lack of copper might be a contributing factor. Recommended daily allowance (RDA): 1.2mg copper a day.

  3. Calcium and Vitamin D. A strong kinetic chain and postural build come about from having strong bones. Both these nutrients work hand in hand to prevent the likelihood of stress fractures and other bone incidents that can occur. Recommended daily allowance for Calcium: 700mg a day. Best way for get all the Vitamin D you need? Balanced diet and plenty of sunshine!


So what foods contain all these important nutrients (magnesium, potassium, copper, etc…)? ALL these vitamins and minerals can be found from natural sources and in natural foods. The best way to make sure you aren’t cutting yourself short with vitamins and minerals is to EAT THE RAINBOW (if a Skittles candy commercial just came to mind, you’re not alone… BUT NO that is not what I am talking about… haha) Eat every COLOR of the rainbow. Different colored fruits and vegetables typically contain different vitamins and minerals. Veritize your diet (Did I just invent that word? Haha you get the gist…) Lots of different colors, lots of different foods! Win, win!!


On a serious note, there are many vitamin and mineral deficiencies in society today. Some can cause intense and severe side effects, such as rickets which causes deformed limbs due to a lack of calcium and Vitamin D. Some can be hardly noticeable. Perhaps you find yourself tired throughout the day and unable to have the energy you want to do a full-day’s work. You might just think you need more sleep when in reality you simply need more Vitamin B-12. A simple fix if you know which foods are high in B-12. Again, EAT THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW because almost all vitamins and minerals can be found in the combination of different fruits and vegetables.


How can I make absolutely sure I am getting enough vitamins and minerals in my diet?


I personally use an app and website called MyFitnessPal ( After using the app to track my food intake throughout the day I can review how much of each vitamin and mineral I had (with a graph indicating whether or not I got the recommended amount of each). Typically, a balanced diet makes supplementation completely unnecessary.


Paying close attention to nutrient density can prevent injury, give you energy during the day, and even help you cross the marathon finish line still smiling!

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