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  • Dr. Allison Wills

Common Mineral Deficiencies in Athletes

Athletes need to pay special attention to their health needs to perform and recover at their best. The more intense the exercise or sport, the greater demand for specific nutrients. Despite taking a multivitamin, many athletes are nutrient deficient due to higher utilization of nutrients during exercise plus the net loss of minerals in sweat.

CALCIUM is needed for muscle contraction and energy production. As blood levels decrease with exercise, working muscles may draw on bone reserves (where 99% of calcium is stored) increasing the risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis. (1,2)

Calcium deficiency: Frequent stress fractures, especially in female athletes, fatigue, irritability, paresthesia, muscle twitches, and difficulty losing weight.

MAGNESIUM is involved in other 300 enzymatic reactions, including muscle contraction and relaxation, oxygen delivery and protein synthesis. In addition to being depletes during periods of high stress, athletes lose magnesium through sweat and urine. (3)

Magnesium deficiency: Increased fatigue, anxiety, muscular weakness, headaches or migranes, muscle cramps and tightness.

IRON is key in oxygen utilization during aerobic exercise. Athletes use iron stores more quickly than nonathletes. On top of that, runners may experience more hemolysis (due to foot impact), putting them at an increased need for iron. Adequate iron is necessary to maximize oxygen utilization, but too much iron can lead to chronic diseases so it is crucial to check your levels regularly and stay within range. (4)

Iron deficiency: Anemia, early fatigue, dizziness, general lethargy, pale skin, hair loss and frequent infections.

ZINC is necessary for post-exertion tissue repair and in converting food to energy. Male and female athletes have been found to have lower zinc levels when compared to sedentary individuals. Athletes training without off-days lose zinc at a much faster rate - decreased zinc intake impairs oxygen uptake in endurance athletes, leading them to fatigue more quickly. (5)

Zinc deficiency: Mood imbalances, acne and rashes, decreased immune function, and intestinal permeability. White spots on the nails are often indicative of zinc deficiency.

Proper nutrition can result in better performance and accelerated recovery. Every sport and individual require a unique balance of nutrients to optimize physiology. Consider running a micronutrient panel for more insight to asses your individual deficiencies and physiologic needs.

  1. Williams MH. Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Minerals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2005;2(1):43-49. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-2-1-43

  2. Voss LA, et al. Exercise-induced loss of bone density in athletes. J Am Acad Orthop Surg 1998 Nov-Dec;6(6):349-57.

  3. Altura BM, et al. Magnesium depletion impairs myocardial carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and cardiac bioenergetics and raises myocardial calcium content in-vivo: relationship to etiology of cardiac diseases. Biochem Mol Biol Int 1996 Dec;40(6):1183-90

  4. Weaver CM, et al. Exercise and iron status. J Nutr 1992 Mar;122(3 Suppl):782-7.

  5. Cordova A, et al. Effect of training on zinc metabolism: changes in serum and sweat zinc concentrations in sportsmen. Ann Nutr Metab 1998;42(5):274-82.

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