Vitamin 101 for Runners

Considering your vitamin and mineral needs can turn into a headache-inducing numbers game.

But it's importantessential, that women get an ample dose of over 25 nutrients daily. Without proper nutrition, your body cannot perform basic functions, and it certainly cannot run.

If you're an active woman, adequate mineral and vitamin consumption is especially crucial, and there are a handful of heavy-hitters that should be on your nutrition short list.

Here's a how-to guide to some of the most important nutrientswhat they do and where to find themso you can be sure that you're getting enough to keep your body moving.

Vitamin B6

What it Does: Vitamin B6 helps to make red blood cells and normalize brain function. B6 also assists the body in breaking down protein, while playing a role in fatty acid metabolism.

Should You Be Worried? Maybe. Because it's found in many common foods, vitamin B6 deficiency is fairly rare. However, women runners who take birth control pills may be at risk, as the contraceptive depletes this vitamin.

Where to Find It: It's best to get B6 from your diet, as over-supplementing can lead to nerve damage. Baked potatoes, bananas, chicken, tuna, salmon and fortified cereals are particularly good sources.

Vitamin D

What it Does: Healthy bones depend on vitamin D, which aids in the body's absorption of calcium. For runners, low levels of this vitamin may impair performance by increasing the risk of stress fractures and upper respiratory infections, as well as leading to elevated inflammation associated with over-training.

Should You Be Worried? Definitely. If you live in the Northern United States or other cloudy climates, have dark-colored skin, are advanced in age or often wear protective clothing, there is a good chance you are lacking in vitamin D.

Where to Find It: Our body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun, so many runners can meet their needs by exercising outdoors. Vitamin D is also available in fatty fish, irradiated mushrooms and some fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice and cereal. Since its difficult to get enough from food alone, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of a supplement.

Vitamin C

What it Does: A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C fights free radical damage. It may help to reduce upper respiratory tract infections, which can occur in athletes following extended endurance exercise.

Should You Be Worried? Maybe. If you're frequently knocked out with a cold after tackling a marathon, try taking a supplement for two weeks prior to and after competition.

Where to Find It: Deeply colored fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, papayas, mangos, oranges and strawberries.

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