5 Symptoms of Nutrient Deficiency in Runners

So, you’ve been doing everything right. Your training plan is on point, you’ve been sleeping enough, you think you’re eating plenty so you should have energy, but you just don’t feel good.

So, you’ve been doing everything right. Your training plan is on point, you’ve been sleeping enough, you think you’re eating plenty so you should have energy, but you just don’t feel good. So, you say to yourself or you say to me, Jesse, I’m doing all the things that you say here on this channel. And if you haven’t been on the channel before, hit that subscribe button to stick around. But you think you’re doing it all right, but you may be missing a particular key nutrient that is leaving you feeling depressed or lethargic. We’re going to go over the signs and symptoms of five different nutrient deficiencies today, and easy ways to remedy them.

Before we get going, if you haven’t been with me here on the channel before, I’m Jesse Funk, founder of Solpri and the host of this show, Runner’s High. Generally speaking, whenever you’re taking nutritional information from somebody, you should know, do they have any credentials? What’s their background? What are their qualifications to give me this advice? And my qualification is not a whole lot. That does come with a caveat, though that I do regularly speak with registered dieticians on the Smart Athlete Podcast, another show here on this channel. And we’ve had recipes created for the company to share with you for free to help you as a runner get all of the whole foods that you need so you are not nutrient deficient.

If you’re looking for snacks, something you can just pick up and go and eat in between meals, we have a guide to 10 snacks for runners made by a registered dietitian who’s also a long time competitive runner. Check out the link in the description below to get that. And if you want to listen to my interview with her go back to Episode Two of the Smart Athlete Podcast. We’ll link to it here at the end of this episode. But on to actually talking about nutrient deficiencies.

So, when you’re doing everything right, you’re getting plenty of rest or what you think is plenty of rest. You’re eating what you think are enough calories, which is only one dimension of food. Your training schedule is not too fast, you’re not building too many mileage, you’re not doing too much intensity. But you’re still just not -- You’re not all there, something’s just off. And you don’t have any other stressors in life because sometimes life crops up and that makes things not go well in running. One thing to look at is your nutrition. Are you missing a key nutrient that is causing you problem?

One of the more common nutrient deficiencies in runners, especially women, is a deficiency in iron. Now, iron could present as tiredness, fatigue, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, a number of things. And the way to diagnose this is through a blood test. But the short way to do your kind of own self-diagnosis is simply to take in more iron. And our kind of built in way, at least in our household to doing that is using a cast iron pan. This does have the subsequent issue of if you use a cast iron pan all the time, sometimes you can take in too much iron. But you will get trace amounts of iron in your food even if your food isn’t rich in iron by using a cast iron pan.

That is especially an issue if you’re vegetarian, because meat typically is rich in iron, red meats particularly. So, if you’re not eating those things, then it can be an issue or more of a larger tendency for somebody in that dietary group to be missing out on that particular nutrient. So, if you think that is an issue, those are two short ways to diagnose or self-diagnose, I guess, the issue without getting a blood test. But always doing that blood test with a doctor is going to be the most effective way to actually diagnose this is my issue and then form a plan to say, hey, let’s talk to a registered dietician, figure out these are the particular foods that I like, and help me with these issues. But that’s the first one.

We’ll go on to the next one, which actually is a little more complicated than some of the others. And this one is vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency, you wouldn’t think would strike many runners. We get outside, we go and run, but some of us live in climates where we’re indoors a lot, especially during the winter. And this is also consequently why some people end up having seasonal affective disorder because they don’t get the sunshine, they don’t get the vitamin D, and then they feel depressed because of it. Now vitamin D is kind of a weird vitamin in that we don’t necessarily take it in so much as we synthesize it because of our reaction to UV radiation from the sun. So, it’s almost like magic. If you think about it, like, we prosper by being in the sun, and that’s something we do normally as runners. But when we don’t do that, then it can result in problems.

And the downstream problem here is that vitamin D actually helps us absorb calcium. So, one symptom of vitamin D deficiency, aside from seasonal affective disorder, or being a little bit depressed or down in the wintertime is you’re going to be more prone to stress fractures. This is something I talked to about with Alex Coates on the Smart Athlete Podcast. She’s a former professional triathlete from Canada. So, this actually would really probably be up her alley because Canada has terrible winter weather. And a lot of people probably stay inside to run when things are snow packed. But we talked about this and she mentioned how, if you’re getting stress fractures, no, we’re not talking about stress fractures in very vulnerable areas, like your metatarsals in your feet, those tiny bones in your feet, that could possibly not be an issue.

But if it’s larger bones, then something is typically going to be an issue with your nutrition, because you’re more likely to be injured muscularly than you are skeletally. And if there’s a weakness in your skeletal system, with a deficiency in calcium, then you can end up with stress fractures is this whole chain where if you’re short on the calcium in your body, your body wants to use it, it can begin to leech it from your bones making your bones weaker. And then you can end up with stress fractures because of all of the time that you spend running and pounding on your skeletal system.

So, vitamin D has this weird chain of if you can get outside enough, your body synthesizes vitamin D, absorbs calcium, keeps your bones strong, and then prevents you from getting stress fractures. And if not, then that weird kind of whole cycle can get broken and you can end up with issues. So, this one isn’t so much consumed things as it is try to get outside, regardless of how bad it is. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run outside. Say, you know there’s a foot of snow outside, well, you can get your yaktrax or whatever, put on your shoes to run in the snow. Or you can get your workout inside and then go outside, go sledding, do something outside that isn’t necessarily that workout so you can get both of those amounts of time in.

Now, the next most common nutrient deficiency in runners is going to be magnesium. You’re going to lose this through your sweat. It’s one of the electrolytes you lose in your sweat when you work out. So, if you’re taking a sports drink of some kind, then likely you’re replacing some of that magnesium and you’re probably not going to be subject to this situation. However, it is possible that this portion you have doesn’t have magnesium in it. I’ve seen that happen sometimes. Or if you’re not taking a sports drink at all, then you’re losing all these things, and you maybe are not replenishing it through the food that you’re consuming. That’s why in part with the upcoming sports drink that we are bringing out, we’re going to be matching the profile of the electrolytes you lose in your sweat to the drink so you’re getting the same ratio.

As of right now we’re still several months out, but maybe it’s out by the time you’re watching this video. So, Solpri.com/shop you can check out and see if it’s there yet. But if you’re not getting enough magnesium, some of the typical things which you would associate with electrolyte loss will happen; muscle cramps, muscle spasms. And then sometimes it can lead to anxiety too, which is a weird, like roundabout thing. We don’t necessarily think about, hey, these nutrients, if I don’t get enough of this certain nutrient then it can lead to issues in my mental state. But all of it’s tied together; your nutrition, your mental state, your mental state, how your body performs. There are no causal chains between the two.

So, easy things to eat to replace magnesium, I got a look at my list because it gets a little bit long, leafy vegetables, brown rice, nuts, fish, meat, dairy foods, bread, whole grain bread in particular. There’s lots of sources of magnesium. So, if that applies to you, you’re getting those muscle cramps, the easiest way is simply get a sports drink. Check out ours because it can match to your particular sweat profile and your particular genetic makeup. Again, we’re still months out when I’m shooting this, but hopefully, by the time you’re washing it, it’ll be out. Solpri.com/shop. But this is a pretty simple one to fix if it’s your issues.

So, let’s get on to the next one. And that is vitamin B12. This is actually quoted by a lot of people. But in addition to B12, the other B vitamins, B3, B6, play a role that’s important for us. Each of them kind of has their own little role doing various things, but is a particular concern to us is they help metabolize various sources of fuel for us to use as energy, that protein and sugars, each doing different rules. So, if you’re deficient in one of these, then you’re going to suffer because you can’t produce as much energy to go run as fast as you want to run. It’s also why in the aforementioned sports drink, we’re including B vitamins. It doesn’t boost your performance. You know, sometimes you want to take a sports drink, and they’re like, oh, it’s going to make you so much better and it’s -- That’s marketing, it will make you better in the sense that it’s not holding you back.

So, B vitamins are kind of like insurance in that if you’re deficient in them, you won’t be able to perform to your peak. So, if you take them, then you make sure that you’re not deficient in them, allowing you to be at peak levels. It’s this weird kind of work around where if you say that to most people, it doesn’t necessarily inspire them to buy things. So, marketers kind of come at it in a different way to try to say this is going to boost your performance.

And it’s like, well, yes, it will, if you were already deficient. So, if you’re deficient, of course, you can take B vitamins as a supplement. You can get them in that sports drink that we’re making, as mentioned, but there are other sources. Again, meat. Meat has lots of good things in it for you. So, if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you definitely can get all of your nutrients, it’s just going to take a little bit more research because we’re such a meat centric society, at least here in North America. Milk, cheese, eggs, and then sometimes they take breakfast cereal and fortify it with vitamins. But generally speaking, the recommendations I hear from registered dieticians is eat whole foods, get your nutrients from whole foods before going to foods that are, what I’ll refer to as modified, the fortified cereals where it wouldn’t naturally be occurring.

But let’s get on to our last one. And our last one, appropriately, starting with a Z because we’re here at the end, just like the end of the alphabet is zinc. And signs of zinc deficiency can range from hair loss, loss of appetite, or a compromised immune system. So, zinc actually helps support our immune system, when we work out our immune system is suppressed. And if you have a zinc deficiency, if I can talk, then it’s only going to push that suppression down further because it’s not being supported by the nutrients that you need. I wish that I could say my hair loss is attributed to zinc, but unfortunately, mine is genetic. So, if you’ve been with me for a while, you can see my hairline kind of receded from the beginning of the series to now. And that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with. I don’t have a zinc deficiency. But if that is not prominent in your family, or most women don’t have hair loss, and you’re running a lot, and you’re starting to lose your hair, that’s certainly something to look at.

Like many other things, dairy products, meat, again, all going to be things that can help you get enough zinc in your diet and help support your immune system. All of these nutrients are typically not going to be a problem for you, or you’re not going to be deficient in them if you eat a well rounded diet of lots of different foods. What does that mean? You see that everywhere. What does that actually mean? It’s instead of like Skittles, tastes the rainbow.

It’s like, eat the rainbow, eat a variety of colors, eat a variety of types of foods. And when you do that, then typically you’re going to get nutrients that you need for your body to function from a variety of sources. When you only stick with this is the only thing I eat at this time and this is the only thing I eat at this time, and your diet is very narrow, then it becomes more likely that you become deficient in a particular nutrient because you don’t have a source to take it in.

You can supplement it, but it’s generally agreed upon that you’re not going to get the same absorption, the same effect as if you take it from whole foods. So, supplements have their place, especially for people working at higher loads, higher mileage, who simply can’t take in enough food and need those supplements. But it is in the name. It is a supplement, not the main course. So, here on the screen soon, I’m going to link you to that interview that I did with Gloria who did that snack recipe guide.

Again, if you want that, down in the description below, there’ll be a link. I’m also going to link you to the interview I did with Alex Coates who is not a dietitian. But we talk about REDS, which is Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome, and the various things that can come up when you are training from a place of overtraining and the various symptoms and issues you run into that. So, hopefully, you enjoy those interviews with both those ladies. They are both great people to talk to. And I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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