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When it comes to talking about food and dieting in fitness circles, one of the terms you keep hearing over and over is macronutrients. Its lesser discussed counterpart, micronutrients, are the topic for today.
While often disregarded in the fitness industry, micronutrients are essential for optimal body function and reaching your fitness goals—namely, the purpose of body recomposition.
So if you’re looking to step up your game, expand your knowledge, and improve your health, micronutrients are where you need to start.
The Difference Between Macro and Micronutrients
Starting with the basics, the difference between macro and micronutrients is in the name—large and small nutrients. This doesn’t refer to their physical size but rather the quantity required in a healthy diet to perform bodily functions.
Macronutrients include the three staples which make up the bulk of your calories:
Within the three macronutrients, you have micronutrients.
Micronutrients refer to the vitamins and minerals consumed in smaller amounts and are mostly found within the larger macronutrient group.
For example, avocados are also a fat within the macronutrient grouping and contain the following micronutrients:
- Twenty vitamins
However, some micronutrients aren’t found in macronutrients.
For example, vitamin D is created directly from sun exposure. When the UVB rays hit the cholesterol in the skin cells, vitamin D synthesis occurs.
But as a general statement, micronutrients are predominantly found within the three main macronutrients of food.
Daily body functions require an array of different vitamins, and each has a unique role and function.
There are 13 essential vitamins, meaning that they are essential for your body to work optimally. You may experience adverse side effects without them, ranging from dry hair, acne, increased fat storage, and more unfavorable side effects.
Vitamins are in two main categories:
There are four fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.
They are easily absorbed when consumed with fat because they are stored in adipose tissue.
Water-soluble vitamins are the remaining nine vitamins that are not stored in the body, consequently highlighting the need to maintain a healthy, vitamin-rich diet for maximum function and performance.
Some of the functions of vitamins include:
- Immune health
- Healthy and hydrated skin and hair
- Strong bones and nails
- Metabolic health and nutrient absorption
- Heart health
- Brain health
- Nervous system regulation
- Hormonal balance and homeostasis
- Fighting free radicals and repairing DNA damage
The Role of Minerals
Minerals also help your body to function.
Some examples of minerals are calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Minerals play an essential role in bone health, growth, regulating fluids in the body, heart health, transmitting nerve impulses, and are precursors to many hormones.
For example, as shown in a 2014 study, the mineral iodine is found in the thyroid hormone, which plays a role in metabolism.
Eat the Rainbow
As briefly touched on, we predominately find micronutrients within carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Each whole food that is not processed is likely to contain several different vitamins and minerals. Often, these micronutrients cause the food to have a specific color, known as phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are found in plant foods and correlate with particular vitamins and minerals, which is why people often tell you to eat the rainbow, with each color providing a unique vitamin and mineral density.
Here are some example sources of micronutrients:
- Calcium: Milk, yogurt, spinach, kale, sardines
- Vitamin B12: Beef, chicken, fish, cheese, eggs
- Potassium: Bananas, spinach, potatoes
- Vitamin C: Oranges, lemons, strawberries, broccoli
- Vitamin E: Vegetable oils like sunflower, nuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli
- Vitamin K: Kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, fish, beef
As you can see, whole foods and plant foods are rich in micronutrients. If you’re wondering whether you lack any micronutrients, the best advice is to adopt a plant-based, whole food diet that includes foods of different colors that have been processed the least.
This is of the utmost importance if your goal is body recomposition.
Lose Body Fat and Gain Muscle Mass
Body recomposition is a term used in the fitness industry to describe the process of losing body fat and gaining muscle mass.
The way you do this is by:
- Increasing your energy expenditure
- Hitting effective and efficient workouts
- Implementing progressive overload to strategically increase your strength, build muscle, and ultimately boost your metabolic rate.
- Simultaneously, calories will need to be closely monitored. Eating around maintenance is most often recommended to lose excess body fat.
So how does this link to micronutrients? It comes down to the magic word: optimization.
Optimize Body Recomposition
If you want your body to work as efficiently as possible, you need to be providing it with the tools to do so. As much as trainers would like to believe it’s as simple as calories in versus calories out, there is so much more to it than that.
For example, 100 calories of ice cream are not the same as 100 calories of kale.
Within a calorie, you have different macro and micronutrient offerings. If you are deficient in any vitamins, you’re not going to optimize your fat loss or muscle gain efforts. You could be preventing yourself from achieving any progress.
For example, vitamin D deficiency is associated with fat storage.
A study that examined low vitamin D levels in a group of women found that those with the lowest levels gained more weight throughout the study, despite not changing their diets.
Another example of this is B vitamins, which are essential for metabolic function.
If you’re deficient or insufficient in any of the B vitamins, your body is going to be in fat storage mode.
This is because B vitamins’ primary function is to metabolize macronutrients. If you don’t have enough circulating in your blood, you will be storing the calories instead of burning them. A study found that vitamin B supplementation was able to reduce body weight by increasing metabolism.
When it comes to building muscle, if you’re deficient in any nutrients, you will also face similar problems.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights free radical damage and helps to flush out metabolic waste.
During exercise, you create oxidative stress. If you don’t have enough circulating vitamin E, you’re going to experience intensified Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), poor recovery, and stunted muscle protein synthesis. Not ideal.
A study published in The International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that vitamin E supplementation improved recovery by reducing muscle damage markers.
If you’re busy counting your macros without much thought for your micros, you need to reprioritize.
Without micronutrients, your body will not perform optimally, you’ll experience adverse side effects, and your fitness goals will move further out of reach.
Adopting a diet rich in whole plant foods with various colors will provide you with most of your micronutrient needs.