Earlier this year, the big guy dropped his 8 Rules for Success in 2021. Making the list at #4, was Testing to Identify Problems. You might be thinking, “but I’m a bad test taker!” So you’re a good student, but you struggle with that part where we find out what you know? Getting bloodwork done consistently will allow you to make decisions about YOUR nutrition and supplementation, based on YOUR status, with potential impacts on athletic performance and more importantly, long-term health.
Recent advances in biotechnology have led to a dramatic increase in the number of substances in the body we can measure, as well as the number of companies willing to sell you a lab test to measure those substances and tell you what the results mean. Much of their sales pitch is marketing, rather than science. In a previous blog we presented a basic panel of tests to consider on a regular basis. Here, we’ll focus on the insights gained through just one group of these tests: micronutrients.
What Exactly Are Micronutrients
We’ve covered micronutrients in some detail before. In short, micronutrients are substances that the body needs in small amounts to function, like vitamins (which are organic compounds) and minerals (which are inorganic compounds). Micronutrients are used to process macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) as a part of your metabolism, and in the manufacture of important biomolecules. For example, vitamin C functions in the immune system, and in the synthesis of connective tissue. Zinc (a mineral) plays a role in the function of hundreds of enzymes, regulating gene function, hormone production, and nerve signaling.
Given the important roles micronutrients play in the body, inadequate intake could be detrimental to health. The consequences of clinical deficiencies are well-known. Too little vitamin A? Good luck finding a seat in a movie theater after the show has started (night blindness). Not enough vitamin C? Be prepared for some loose teeth and achy bones (scurvy).
With adequate access to food of a sufficient variety (the fortunate reality of most reading this blog), severe micronutrient deficiencies are rare. Unfortunately, mounting evidence suggests that subclinical, chronic micronutrient deficiencies have been linked to many diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer1,2,3,4,5
Beyond implications for long-term health, inadequate micronutrient status has also been shown to impact athletic performance. Marginal deficiencies of folate, magnesium, and vitamin B12 reduce endurance work performance. Iron deficiency can impair muscle function and limit work capacity6.
To guide dietary recommendations the National Academy of Sciences publishes Dietary Reference Intakes for most vitamins and minerals. A Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA, is the most common. This number is based on studies establishing the average requirement for health, then setting the RDA two standard deviations from the mean. In other words, the RDA is based on the intake that keeps about 95% of the population from suffering clinical deficiency. If an RDA cannot be established, an Adequate Intake (AI) is used as an estimate, using observations of the intakes of healthy people. In other words, we’re advised to consume an amount of each vitamin and mineral that would keep most of us from getting sick. These numbers can be difficult to determine, and are a subject of much debate.
Keeping these guidelines in mind, athletes may have a higher requirement for some micronutrients than the general population7. Analyses of the dietary intake of several athlete populations have indicated intakes of several micronutrients below general population recommendations, including vitamins A, C, and D, several of the B vitamins, and selenium8.
Absent supplementation, our micronutrient intake comes in the form of food. In addition to vitamins and minerals, real food (particularly fruits and vegetables) contains fiber, and a variety of bioactive compounds (pigments and other phytochemicals) whose importance in the diet we are only beginning to understand. Thus, our general recommendation is to get your micronutrients as part of a whole food diet. To help meet this goal, get your protein first, then look towards a colorful variety of plant-based foods to round out your diet, often referred to as “eating the rainbow”9.
Micronutrients For Athletes
Even with this approach, some have argued that meeting the micronutrient requirements of athletes on a whole-food diet can be a challenge10, particularly when under a caloric restriction, or if the athlete chooses to eliminate entire food groups from their diet (vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.). However, supplementing YOUR diet based on the deficiencies of OTHERS is not the best approach.
If efforts are made to ensure adequate micronutrient intake, what is the value of testing? Why not just supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals based on population-level studies of athletes? For example, if MOST athletes appear to be deficient in vitamin D, the natural assumption is that ALL athletes should supplement.
Intake is only one part of the equation when considering YOUR micronutrient status. Identical foods may contain vastly different quantities of micronutrients depending on growing conditions, storage, and preparation. Once consumed, micronutrients in foods must be broken down and made bioavailable, then absorbed in the gut. Absorption is dependent on your gut health, as well as your genetics. Once in the bloodstream, micronutrients must be absorbed by your cells, and utilized. Utilization rates depend on your individual metabolism, which is a function of your environment, activity, and genetics.
With all of these factors involved, population-level data on intake, or even micronutrient status, would be inadequate for making individual decisions on diet and supplementation. As an example, we might do a random survey of cars in a parking lot, and find that on average, they were about 3 gallons short of a full tank. When you go to fill up that afternoon, would you pump three gallons, or check YOUR gas gauge and pump what YOUR car needs.
Using a nutrition example, most are aware that obesity rates have risen to over 40%. Here in the U.S., average BMI for both males and females is creeping towards 30. On a population level, this is a problem. Does this mean that we ALL need to drop a few pounds? Not at all. Any recommendation to do so would naturally follow an individual assessment of body composition and other markers of health and fitness. If our recommendations of macronutrient intake are based on such assessments, why should micronutrients be any different?
Given that we all make decisions related to our diet and supplementation every day, getting an individualized look at our micronutrient status is important. Micronutrient testing is a relatively inexpensive and convenient way to make data-driven decisions. While testing once will give you a snapshot of your nutritional status, doing so on a regular basis will allow you to see long-term trends and evaluate the effectiveness of any changes you make along the way.
Here at Causenta Wellness, we offer many testing options: from a $220 whole-blood micronutrient test you can complete in your kitchen, to a comprehensive wellness panel measuring thousands of markers of health. As you begin to implement the 8 Rules for Success in 2021, why not start Testing to Identify Problems?
If you are someone who is ready to take their recovery seriously, ready to take back your health, and ready to truly start unlocking your potential, hit us up and we will steer you towards your goals.
PODCAST: PA Radio Episode 441 – John Welbourn’s Rules for Success
BLOG: 8 Rules for Success in 2021 by John Welbourn
BLOG: Functional Medicine Bloodwork – My Top Picks by Leah Kay
BLOG: Lost In The Sauce – Understanding Micronutrients by Ben Skutnik
1. Bruins MJ, Van Dael P, Eggersdorfer M. The Role of Nutrients in Reducing the Risk for Noncommunicable Diseases during Aging. Nutrients. 2019;11(1). doi:10.3390/nu11010085
2. Kamphuis PJGH, Scheltens P. Can Nutrients Prevent or Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease? Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2010;20(3):765-775. doi:10.3233/JAD-2010-091558
3. Witte Klaus K.A., Clark Andrew L., Cleland John G.F. Chronic heart failure and micronutrients. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2001;37(7):1765-1774. doi:10.1016/S0735-1097(01)01227-X
4. Via M. The Malnutrition of Obesity: Micronutrient Deficiencies That Promote Diabetes. ISRN Endocrinology. 2012;2012:1-8. doi:10.5402/2012/103472
5. Ames BN. DNA damage from micronutrient deficiencies is likely to be a major cause of cancer. Mutat Res. 2001;475(1-2):7-20. doi:10.1016/s0027-5107(01)00070-7
6. Lukaski HC. Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition. 2004;20(7):632-644. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.001
7. Volpe SL. Micronutrient requirements for athletes. Clin Sports Med. 2007;26(1):119-130. doi:10.1016/j.csm.2006.11.009
8. Wardenaar F, Brinkmans N, Ceelen I, et al. Micronutrient Intakes in 553 Dutch Elite and Sub-Elite Athletes: Prevalence of Low and High Intakes in Users and Non-Users of Nutritional Supplements. Nutrients. 2017;9(2):142. doi:10.3390/nu9020142
9. Minich DM. A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow.” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2019;2019:e2125070. doi:10.1155/2019/2125070
10. Misner B. Food Alone May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients for Preventing Deficiency. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2006;3(1):1-5. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-3-1-51
MA, MEd, MS, CSCS
Block One Coach Bryce Wolcott wandered back into the weightroom over 15 years ago as he began his career as a high school science teacher and wrestling coach. In addition to promoting scientific literacy in the classroom, he works with Dr. Tom Incledon at Causenta Wellness in Scottsdale, AZ as a strength coach and nutritionist. A lifelong learner, Bryce holds master’s degrees in Biology, Secondary Education, and Medical Nutrition.
Bryce utilizes the Power Athlete Methodology in the gym to optimize the performance and improve the quality of life of the diverse clientele at Causenta: from athletes to cancer patients. He also works with the doctors there to design and implement integrated nutrition and supplement strategies for clients, based on an extensive panel of biomarker tests.
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