Runners Nutrition Part 4: Minerals

The first step to “Good” Nutrition is focusing on what foods you need for optimal performance, instead of focusing on what foods to avoid.

To learn what an endurance athlete needs to eat in order to maximize performance we will focus on two primary objectives:

  • What am I consuming?
  • Why should I consume it?

What am I consuming?  NUTRIENTS

There are six classes of nutrients: water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and proteins.


1. What am I consuming? Minerals
Minerals are the chemical elements other than carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with the structure of the body. There are many minerals the body needs but calcium, iron, and sodium seem to be the most relevant in terms of deficiencies and toxicity. Like vitamins some minerals taken in excess can be toxic (iron, zinc).

Calcium-(Ca++) and phosphorus combine with organic molecules to form the teeth and bones. The bones are a “store” of calcium that helps to  maintain the plasma Ca++ concentration when dietary intake is inadequate. Bone is constantly turning over its calcium and phosphorus, so diet must replace what is lost. If the diet is deficient in calcium for a long period of time, loss of bone, osteoporosis or stress fracture can occur.

2. Why should I consume it?  Minerals
This answer is a bit technical. Feel free to comment if you have questions. Iron, of all substances in metabolism, contributes to the beneficial adaptations seen with endurance training. A powerful case could be made for iron as the most critical for at least four reasons:

1. Hemoglobin fills about one third the volume of each red blood cell, so an increase in red cell mass results in an increased total hemoglobin.

2. Without iron, hemoglobin cannot be manufactured.  An increase in cell mass means that the rate of production of red blood cells must be stepped up in endurance-trained athletes.  In untrained people, typical dynamics of the red blood cell synthesis-breakdown continuum are such that about 233million cells are released from the bone marrow into the blood stream each second, with an equal number destroyed (Cronkite 1973).  This number is larger in trained athletes because of an increased production of cells to meet the increased destruction of cells.

3. A red blood cell has no nucleus and thus divides no further, but all its precursor cells do and this cellular division requires DNA synthesis, which is impossible without iron.

4. Endurance training is characterized among other things by an increased myoglobin content in skeletal muscle.  Myoglobin contains iron. Limitations in iron supply should reduce its availability as an oxygen storage reservoir in skeletal muscle. Krebs cycle enzymes, more than half of which contain iron, which allow eventual interaction of 02 and H+ to form H20, completing the large-scale energy release to form FUEL BREAKDOWN (eg energy)(“Better Training For Distance Runners”, Martin and Coe).

Are you getting enough iron? Whether you understand the four reasons or not, the take home message is, iron is very important.


Thanks David Martin for your insight on endurance athlete nutrition and letting us use your research. He told us we could glean and share his information, as we’re working to help you guys run faster.

Better Training for Distance Runners by David Martin

 Exercise Physiology by Powers and Howley 331


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