Let’s go back to our nutritional hierarchy pyramid and our analogy to building a house.
The calories were our foundation. We will say macronutrients are the bricks of our house and the frame of the house. Micronutrients are the mortar that holds our bricks together for our house and the nails and screws that hold up our walls. Lastly, meal timing and supplements are analogous to the decorations and furnishings that makes our home unique.
Calories, macros, and micros simply make our nutrition sustainable and livable. It defines how much we eat and the quality of what we eat.
A lot of people neglect micronutrients or simply just forget about them. Why? Because there was a movement a couple years ago that got a little carried away: IIFYM. If It Fits Your Macros. People saw the results they desired simply by making sure they ate within their macro prescription. It didn’t start with the intention of eating junk food. The term was originally created to allow for “flexible dieting” meaning you could occasionally eat that brownie because your macros allowed it and you could enjoy it. Eventually, though, this mentality encouraged people to eat twinkies, donuts, slim jims (which are apparently just called meat stix now), and who knows what else and still look jacked. Great right? Why don’t we all do this???
Well because in just a few years, these same people exhibited poor markers of health. Their sleep was garbage, their glucose levels were through the roof, they had no energy, mental clarity, you name it. Why? Because yes their calories and macros were on point, but they lacked quality in their food choices and therefore became deficient in all of their micronutrients.
Now I could go into the science behind micronutrients… but honestly I may lose most of you guys so I will skip to the good stuff. If you don't care about any of the science, skip to the end!
What does micronutrients even mean? It basically includes all the nutrients we need a little bit of. They don’t make up the bulk of our diet, but a small amount is needed for optimum health and growth. Macro meaning “large” represents the nutrients we need a lot of (protein, fats, and carbs). Micro means “small” and includes our vitamins and minerals. Just because we don’t need as much (in terms of gram amounts) of micros compared to macros doesn’t mean they aren’t just as important!
There are a TON of micronutrients out there (seriously just go look at a periodic table). Some are more important than others, so I will go over the crucial and more important ones for you. If there isn’t a micronutrient I mention and you’re curious, reach out to me and let’s talk about it!
Minerals: We need two types of minerals in our diet: macrominerals (need more of these) and microminerals (need slightly less, trace amounts). The macrominerals include potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Most of these are our electrolytes that we replenish with fluid intake and hydration. We all know what it feels like to be dehydrated! That’s the perfect example for why micronutrients are so important. The microminerals include iron, copper, iodine, selenium, zinc, molybdenum, and cobalt. These aren’t needed in as great of quantities as our macrominerals but still important, none the less. In fact, iodine and selenium deficiencies are fairly common.
There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble (all of our B vitamins and Vitamin C) and fat-soluble (Vitamins A, D, E, and K). This is only important because it states how these vitamins are digested. Water-soluble vitamins are digested and absorbed with the assistance of water and fat-soluble vitamins are digested and absorbed with the assistance of fat. This will come into play when we are talking supplements (next week!).
We should aim to get 80-90% of our micronutrients through food… NOT supplements.
Most people are deficient in micronutrients due to two scenarios that are not separate from each other.
1. You are training hard meaning you’re sweating and peeing out everything (which is healthy don’t worry!)
2. You are eating a very limited diet lacking variety and whole foods.
Fixing micronutrient deficiencies are my favorite because there’s only one non-negotiable solution: ADD FOOD!
There are four keys we want to make sure are in check with every diet: hydration, fruits, vegetables, and whole food intake.
Hydration – Make sure you are drinking 1/2 your bodyweight in ounces of water + 15oz. for every hour you exercise. Note: you may realize you need to decrease your water intake!
Example: I need to drink 150/2+15*5 = 150 oz. water (mine is so high because of the amount of time spent in the hotbox I love so dearly).
Fruit – Eat 1 serving of fruit for every 1,000 calories you eat. If you eat 2,000 calories, then eat 2 servings of fruit/day! (1 serving = 1 handful)
Vegetables – Eat 2+ servings of veggies per 1,000 calories. If you eat 2,000 calories, you’re eating a minimum of 4 servings of vegetables/day. Here’s my rule, eat a variety of vegetables at every meal…no ifs, ands, or buts. Make sure you are salting your food to replenish some of our electrolytes lost during exercise. We need more than just water to rehydrate!
Whole and Processed Foods – Follow the 90/10 or the 80/20 Rule. 80-90% of your food comes from WHOLE foods with no processing whatsoever. This also includes meat!! Did you know that grassfed organic red meat is probably THE best protein source out there for you? It contains the most micronutrients per ounce of meat. Eat your protein folks!!
Here is the real problem as to why we have so many deficiencies in micronutrients. The Western world (aka the United States) eats the Standard American Diet, which is made up mostly by processed garbage. Processed foods do not contain the micronutrients we need. They get lost in the process. If you can eat a diet low in processed food, you will see a lot of results you desire while also feeling really, really good. The processed food we eat actually promotes inflammation leading to a variety of consequences: bloating, “swelling”, dehydration, etc. The more processed food we eat, the more inflammation our body is subjected to and the more susceptible we are to injury, muscle and organ damage, and cancer (shoutout to my old lab with Dr. Findlay and Dr. Turner, MUSC)!
I know I may have overwhelmed you with this one. All you need to really know is to drink roughly 80-100oz water/day and eat 2 servings of fruit and 4+ servings of vegetables each day with almost everything coming from unprocessed whole foods. This will almost guarantee you that you are getting all the minerals and vitamins you need. I don’t recommend Googling each food you eat to see how much Vitamin A it contains or how much magnesium you’re getting. Rotate your grocery list and your meals to include 2 new veggies and fruits each week. This week you had mushrooms and broccoli (honestly should be more but let’s start small). Next week, you will have kale and bell peppers (alllll the colors).
Fill your plate with a rainbow and you will no longer have to worry about micronutrients again! If you are overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to let the job get done for you with individualized nutrition coaching. Take the guessing out and let me do the work for you!