9 Vitamins and Minerals That Aid Sports Recovery

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A nutritionally sound diet and proper hydration are essential to perform at your best and one way to make that happen is to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals to aid in your recovery. These micronutrients play crucial roles in enhancing the repair and recovery of your muscles and bodily systems. They also are necessary for recovery from training, along with the macronutrients carbs, proteins, and fats.

Additionally, they all play different roles in your recovery. Some vitamins and minerals help reduce pain and inflammation; others promote healing and may reduce the risk of injuries. Here we discuss how vitamins and minerals play a role in sports recovery and how to make sure you are getting enough.

What Is Sports Recovery?

During exercise, your body works hard to keep up with demands. It needs to draw on energy from the macronutrients and requires micronutrients to use those macronutrients in order to power you through your activity and post-recovery. Several bodily processes involved in exercise performance and recovery require vitamins and minerals.

Recovering from exercise involves several factors, including rest, and proper nutrition. The vitamins and minerals that have been depleted during training need to be replenished so that you can train again at optimal levels. Sports recovery aims to get you back to your baseline and ready to take on another training session, whether that is cardiovascular exercise, endurance training, or weight training.

How Vitamins and Minerals Help With Sports Recovery

During physical activity, your body consumes more oxygen and this leads to oxidative stress, which produces reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (otherwise known as free radicals) and oxidized molecules in muscle and other bodily tissues. This process can lead to inflammation during the recovery process that can be mitigated by proper recovery nutrition.

When performing strength training—if challenging enough—your muscles will experience micro-tears. These micro-tears will repair and recover to create adapted muscle tissue that is larger and potentially stronger than before training. However, this can only occur if you have the proper recovery nutrition in place, including macro and micronutrients.

During cardiovascular or endurance exercise, certain vitamins and minerals are depleted, especially through sweat. These micronutrients need to be replaced for recovery to occur.

9 Vitamins and Minerals Needed for Recovery

Vitamins and minerals play a wide variety of roles in the recovery process. Here are several of the most critical vitamins and minerals that are needed for recovery.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are known for their part in converting proteins and carbohydrates for energy as well as for cellular repair, inflammation reduction, energy storage, brain health, and cell production. They may be of particular significance to athletes because studies suggest active people are more at risk of low or deficient levels.

Research indicates that those who exercise frequently or at higher intensities may require more vitamin B2 (riboflavin) due to metabolic stress and, to a lesser extent, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), because of its role in protein metabolism. In athletes, there is typically a higher protein requirement than in the general population.

Research also indicates that not consuming enough essential B vitamins can interfere with physical performance and concentration and increase fatigue and injury. This is especially true for females or sports that require a person to have a thin physique. There may not be enough energy consumption to offset what's being exerted.

Folate and vitamin B12 play a role in synthesizing red blood cells and repairing muscle cell damage that occurs from activity. 

It is vital that female athletes eat enough foods, especially nutrient-dense foods, to obtain a wide array of B vitamins.

Women tend to eat less than men, and as such, have been shown more likely to not obtain enough nutrients more often than men. This is likely due to external societal pressures to be thin or lose weight, leading to long-term under eating. Speak to a dietitian or healthcare provider for more help with getting enough nutrients for your lifestyle.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays a vital role in the growth and maintenance of your bodily tissues, including the important connective tissue collagen which aids in your body's healing process. Vitamin C also contributes to protein metabolism, which is essential for rebuilding tissues in your body such as muscle after a tough workout. Finally, vitamin C helps with your immune system to prevent illness, which can delay peak performance.

Research on vitamin C has demonstrated a pain-reducing effect and lowered inflammation post-workout. However, a meta-analysis of several such studies indicates that there may not be as much of an effect as previously thought. More research may be needed to say for certain whether vitamin C has any noticeable effects on pain and inflammation management post-workout.

The National Institutes of Health recommends 90 milligrams daily of vitamin C for men and 75 milligrams per day for women. Higher doses are recommended for those who are pregnant or lactating.

Vitamin A and Carotenoids

Vitamin A supports immune function, cellular communications, and growth and development. Meanwhile, carotenoids are antioxidants that may help reduce levels of inflammation post-workout.

Research on the carotenoid astaxanthin shows that these powerhouses can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the muscles. It may also prevent muscle loss and deterioration. However, this research is very preliminary and warrants further investigation to conclude its health benefits.

Potassium

Potassium is an essential mineral that you need to consume through diet or supplements as your body does not make it. It is required for almost every physical function, such as kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission.

What's more, potassium is a nutrient that creates public health concerns based on the dietary guidelines. In fact, the average consumption is less than 3,000 milligrams per day while the daily value set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recommends consuming 4,700 milligrams per day.

For athletes, it is particularly important because potassium is an electrolyte that can be lost through sweat and is vital to replace if you lose a lot of sweat or participate in endurance activities. Potassium also is vital in muscle cell, cardiovascular, and respiratory function.

A process called hyperaemia—increasing blood flow to the muscles—occurs post-exercise and potassium plays an essential role in this process. This exercise assists in delivering metabolic substrates such as amino acids and glucose to recovering muscle tissues, which aids in the healing process.

If you are on a low-carbohydrate diet, you are at a higher risk for potassium loss and deficiency. Potassium is required in high amounts to convert stored glycogen back into glucose for energy. 

Magnesium

Magnesium helps with muscle relaxation post-workout and has a protective effect against muscle damage. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium is under-consumed by approximately 48% of people in the U.S.

Magnesium is an electrolyte, like potassium and sodium, that needs to be replaced after prolonged or strenuous workouts and sweat loss. It is responsible for more than 300 enzyme functions. Some of those functions are involved in exercise recovery, such as muscle and nerve function and protein synthesis.

Magnesium is sought out for its muscle relaxation effects when used in bath soaks as well. Although the research behind this use is limited, a warm bath with Epsom salts or magnesium flakes may help relax you after a workout. But it isn't advised as a treatment to replete magnesium deficiencies or in people who are at risk for magnesium deficiency.

Iron

Iron is often not consumed in high enough quantities, especially for female athletes. But, it is required for athletic performance due to its role in the transportation of oxygen to your cells. This role is also necessary for nutrients traveling through your blood to your muscles and tissues in need of repair after a workout.

A lack of iron can lead to fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and other issues that prevent you from recovering and performing at your best. People on plant-based diets need to be particularly cautious of iron deficiencies because plant-based iron is harder to absorb.

Iron, along with zinc and B vitamins, are nutrients often found lacking in plant-based eaters and athletes. A supplement or foods enriched with these nutrients may help. Discuss options with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has mixed results for exercise-induced muscle damage. Some research supports its influence on inflammation and muscular function post-workout. Currently, it appears 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3, not vitamin D2, may help with muscle damage. But more research is needed.

Some research indicates that supplementing with vitamin D may help speed the recovery of muscle function. It does this by significantly reducing muscle cell damage from eccentric exercise. Furthermore, vitamin D reduces the production of reactive oxygen species, optimizes antioxidant ability, and inhibits oxidative stress—a culprit in muscle damage.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress post-workout. However, supplementing with vitamin E may not be effective—or safe—considering it can be toxic at high levels. Plus, research shows no effects from vitamin E supplementation on workout performance or recovery. It's best to get this vitamin from your diet especially because a vitamin E deficiency isn't common.

Antioxidant supplements such as vitamin E (400 IU per day) and C (1,000 milligrams per day) tend to block muscle-building (anabolic) signaling pathways, impairing adaptations to resistance training. For those hoping to build muscle, you should practice caution when taking these supplements.

Zinc

Zinc plays a role in about 100 enzymes and is involved in immune functions, building proteins including muscles, healing wounds, DNA development, and growth. Oxidative stress that is induced by physical activity may increase the risk of mild zinc deficiency that's been reported in athletes which can lead to serious health and sports performance detriments.

Zinc is also helpful for the immune system, which can be impacted by frequent and prolonged exercise. It also helps promote wound healing and tissue repair, so may aid in the recovery process post-workout.

Additional nutrients facilitate optimal sports recovery as well, including omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce inflammation, amino acids, creatine, and non-vitamin antioxidants like coenzyme Q10, and others.

How to Get the Vitamins and Minerals You Need

The best way to ensure you obtain all of the vitamins and minerals you need is by eating enough food, including a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods of many colors. This includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Creating a healthy grocery list and meal plan that factors in these foods will help ensure you always have them on hand and are consuming them regularly. Getting nutrients from food rather than relying on supplements is the best way to help your body recover from exercise.

If you are concerned you are lacking in certain nutrients and that it might be impacting your sports recovery, talk to a healthcare provider or registered dietitian. They can check your vitamin and mineral levels tested if you are concerned about deficiencies.

A simple blood test can check your levels of important vitamins like vitamin D, the B vitamins, and more.

If you do have trouble meeting your daily intakes for specific nutrients, supplements are an option. But you should only take them under the advice of a healthcare provider. Keep in mind that some supplements are not regulated by the FDA and it's important to look for certifications of proper manufacturing and purity such as USP, NSF, or ConsumerLabs.

A Word From Verywell

Sports nutrition is a vital aspect of any type of training or physical activity, no matter if you are a professional athlete or a casual exerciser. Getting enough vitamins and minerals will help optimize the recovery process after exercise so you can perform again at your best while working toward your goals.

Try to consume a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of variety in order to meet your nutritional needs. But if you are concerned you may be falling short, talk to a healthcare provider to determine if you have any deficiencies. Blood tests can be used to check your levels to see if they are within normal range.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What vitamins aid with muscle recovery?

    Several vitamins aid in muscle recovery. Some of the key vitamins include vitamin D, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Obtain these vitamins by consuming a diet full of nutrient dense, colorful foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains.

  • Should I take vitamins post-workout?

    Taking vitamins post-workout is not necessary. However, if taking your vitamins after a workout helps you create a habit by building on your current routine, it might be a great choice. You can take vitamins at any time, following instructions on your product's label, such as taking fat-soluble vitamins with fat.

  • What nutrients does your body need after a workout?

    Directly after a workout, the most vital nutrients to consume are carbohydrates and protein. Other than these macronutrients, there are no specific requirements. However, to support recovery and optimal health, it's essential to consume a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals and with enough calories to support your training.

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