Top 10 Minerals For Bodybuilders
bodybuilder should know
You know all those monsters you see in the magazines month after month, the
ones you’ve been working your butt off to look like? Well, take heart. The fact
is, they don’t train much differently than any of us mortals do.
Ok, sure, they probably work out with heavier weights and more likely than not
are genetically gifted for bodybuilding, but if you get a chance to hang around
the greatest athletes in the sport, you come to realize that it’s their concern
for the little things, like dietary and training details, that separates them
from the average Joe in the gym.
These details include really warming up before a workout, actually weighing
food, planning the day’s meal in advance and so on. From studying many of these
athletes, it’s easy to conclude that this attention to seemingly insignificant
minutiae is what makes great bodybuilders stand out from the rest.
instance, when was the last time you gave any thought to your dietary mineral
intake? No, I don’t mean popping a few supplements occasionally, I mean really
taking a good look at the level of minerals in your diet. If it’s been a while,
you’re not alone.
Many bodybuilders give little thought to those elements in their diets that don’t
provide calories. That’s a big mistake, because your diet contains plenty of
vital components that do more than just provide energy, like supporting muscle
tissue, enhancing growth, etc. In fact, these nutrients, called micronutrients,
may be more important for bodybuilders than calorie producing nutrients
precisely because of these other physiological functions.
The purpose of this article is to review the top 10 dietary minerals from a
bodybuilding perspective. Will it really make a difference for you to become
familiar with this stuff? Not if you’re as muscular as you want to be. After
all, these are just the little things.
When considering how important a dietary mineral is in bodybuilding, we can
look at the sport’s nutrition research to answer at least one of four
Is the mineral directly involved in muscle action, protein synthesis, or the
integrity of the muscle cell.
Does exercise result in an increased requirement of that nutrient for an
Do athletes typically have suboptimal intakes of that mineral?
Does dietary supplementation with that mineral improve performance and growth?
With these questions in mind, we can now review the minerals that best promote
increases in strength and growth. Here is our list, in reverse order.
This mineral is an important electrolyte found within muscle cells and works
closely with sodium to regulate body water levels. As well, Potassium plays a
critical role in facilitating the electrical potentials across nerve and muscle
cells that result in muscle contraction. Potassium is even involved in glycogen
storage (for high intensity muscular energy). A poor potassium / sodium balance
can lead to improper fluid levels, dehydration, muscle cramps and weakness.
Fortunately, dietary intake of potassium is generally not a problem for most
people, but bodybuilders should become familiar with its role and the foods
where it can be found.
The trace mineral Copper may soon prove more vital to bodybuilders than was
previously thought. It’s included in this list not because of its involvement
in oxygen transport and utilization (as well as many enzymatic reactions, not
the least of which is helping in the production of noradrenaline) but because
Copper has been shown to increase in the bloodstream during intense exercise.
This fact leads to the conclusion that copper plays a direct role in high
intensity muscular work such as bodybuilding, and that there may be conditions
under which some bodybuilders ingest suboptimal amounts. Although most folks
probably do take in enough copper, it’s a good idea to monitor your copper
intake. You’ll likely hear more about this mineral in the future.
This is a nonelectrolyte mineral that has received much recent attention in the
bodybuilding community due to the perceived effects of one of its salt forms,
vanadyl sulfate. Vanadium is to sea creature what iron is to humans; it makes a
jellyfish’s blood green like iron makes our blood red. Although the vast
majority of research on Vanadium supplementation has been carried out on
diabetic rats, the published results tend to show a promising glycogen storing
effect on muscle tissue. This may explain the subjective analysis of some
bodybuilders who swear the feel ‘harder’ after taking vanadyl sulfate. Problem
is, we really don’t know much yet about vanadyl sulfate’s effects on athletic
performance. Nor do we know much about the long term effects of supplementation
with vanadium salt, but there is a theoretical mechanism of action and at least
You may be aware that the mineral Iron is a constituent of hemoglobin and is
responsible for oxygen transport and, indirectly, subsequent oxidative energy
production. What does this have to do with bodybuilding? Well, your ability to
recover between sets is related to the efficiency of your aerobics system. The
more oxygen you can supply to your working muscles, the quicker your muscles
can recover in time for another hard set.
Moreover, Iron is particularly critical for female bodybuilders. Women lose
some Iron in their menstrual flow every month. As well, female weight trainers,
who typically don’t consume much red meat, which is high in iron, may not
readily replace vulnerable iron stores. Therefore, female bodybuilders run the
risk of anemia if they’re not careful about iron intake.
A mineral that is present in the body in large amounts, phosphorus is directly
linked to exercise metabolism since it produces high energy molecules such as
Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and Creatine Phosphate. Phosphorus works in
conjunction with Calcium, so it’s important to keep phosphorus and calcium
intakes close to a 1:1 ration; an imbalance creates a potential nutrition
problem. Of further interest, phosphorus supplementation has been shown to
decrease blood lactic acid levels during exercise.
As most bodybuilders know, Sodium is an electrolyte that plays a vital role in
the regulation of body fluids. The level of sodium in the body determines the
amount of water the body will ‘hold’, and high intakes can cause body tissues
to swell. (It is not uncommon to look like ‘Quasibloato’ and be up to two
pounds heavier the morning after scarfing down a Big Mac and large fries.)
Although a normal diet usually contains a reasonable amount of sodium, be
careful not to limit sodium intake too much at contest time to get an ultra
shredded look. An excessively low sodium intake turns on protective mechanisms
within the body that cause sodium and water retention. Finally, keep in mind that
sodium plays a major role in resistance training; its function in nerve impulse
transmission and muscular contraction is critical to bodybuilders. Dietary
sodium isn’t all that bad, it’s having the right amount that’s important.
The trace element Chromium is the key part of glucose tolerance factor, a
substance that help insulin bind to its receptors on tissues. In other words,
Chromium help insulin do its job of transporting glucose, amino acids and fatty
acids into cells. Athletes probably need more Chromium than nonathletes, but
whether chromium is truly anabolic is a bone of contention among scientists.
The fact is that chromium appears to help glucose metabolism and probably helps
in lipid metabolism but has not yet been clearly established to increase lean
body mass. Claims of ripped, freakish physiques from chromium supplementation
are premature, to say the least. However, this mineral weighs in at number four
because athletes must become more familiar with its role in physiology.
Think Zinc for growth. That’s right, the mineral zinc is involved in virtually
all phases of growth. Even more critical for bodybuilders, studies have shown
that high intensity exercise stimulates excessive zinc loss. Further, diets of
some athletes have been found to be low in zinc. This potential double edged
sword, excess loss coupled with possible low intakes, moves zinc into our
number three position. If you’re not mindful of your zinc intake, your growth
may be stymied.
The most abundant mineral in the body, Calcium is the second most important
mineral for bodybuilders. There are several reasons for this.
Bodybuilders may have difficulty maintaining the needed 1:1 calcium to
phosphorus ratio. First, many lifters try to avoid dairy products (containing
calcium) because of a relatively unfounded fear that they will ‘smooth them
out’. Second, a typical bodybuilding diet is high in protein, meaning that it’s
also high in phosphorus (further throwing off this ratio) and causes excess amounts
of calcium to be excreted in urine.
Calcium is the primary mineral involved in muscular contraction (ever head of
calcium ions in the ‘sliding filament theory of muscular contraction’?)
The structural stress from weight training requires a steady supply of calcium
to maintain high bone density.
Female athletes need to be especially careful of their dietary calcium intake,
as low estrogen levels can contribute to decreased calcium absorption and
increased calcium loss. Also, keep in mind that Vitamin D help with calcium
absorption, making vitamin D fortified dairy products a good source of this
Magnesium takes the number one spot not only because it has a theoretical
mechanism of action (a plausible way it can help bodybuilders) but also due to
recent studies identifying the performance enhancing benefits of magnesium
Magnesium’s role in bodybuilding revolves around energy production and protein
synthesis. Studies on many different types of athletes have revealed excessive
magnesium losses in sweat. Unfortunately, bodybuilders probably don’t make up
for these losses in their diets, as many food high in magnesium (nuts, legumes,
etc) do not typically top a bodybuilder’s grocery list.
Brilla and Haley from Western Washington University in Bellingham recently
published the results of a research study in which magnesium supplemented
lifters exerted greater quadriceps force that unsupplemented lifters.
Considering magnesium’s role in bodybuilding, factors leading to a possible
suboptimal magnesium status in athletes and results of research such as this,
it’s not hard to see why so many sports nutrition specialists working with
strength / power athletes are excited about magnesium’s potential.
One word of caution. Minerals are critical for peak performance. However,
overdosing on one or all of these elements can spell disaster. Too much of one
mineral can cause a functional imbalance of another mineral or cause negative
side effects without the original benefits. Too much zinc, for example, can
lead to problems with lowered HDL levels (the ‘good’ cholesterol). The bottom
line is to make sure you get what you need and not to megadose.
Remember, minerals may be more important for athletes than many of the nutrients
that provide calories precisely because of their often unique physiological
functions. In particular, these 10 minerals may prove especially critical for
bodybuilders because of their nutritional status for athletes and their roles
in growth, energy production and muscular contraction. Don’t brush off these
critical dietary components. After all, it’s the little things that count.