ZINC – THE POWERHOUSE THAT SUPPORTS PERFORMANCE
How being deficient in Zinc can affect your progress.
The high demands of sports make the elite athlete more vulnerable to illness, meaning over 65% of athletes experience regular colds and infections. 1
It can be so frustrating to put in many months of hard training only to be sidelined during a taper or on race day by heaving lungs, debilitating fatigue, and a pounding headache. Sports performance is materialised through consistency, akin to writing a book, one page at a time. Forced breaks from training due to illness detract from progress and drains confidence. Not all athletes rest when unwell and opt to “push through” the illness only to experience prolonged symptoms and more disruption to competition.
Building a robust immunity is all part of a holistic approach to coaching and training. So how do you minimise your risk of getting sick?
There are many nutrients that contribute to a healthy immune system as discussed in our previous blog here.
Athletes may be more susceptible to being deficient in zinc because exercise, particularly strenuous and endurance exercise, increases zinc requirements, encourages zinc loss through sweating, and changes zinc transportation and metabolism.2, 3
In our opinion zinc plays the most critical role in supporting athletes and immunity.
ZINC SUPPORTS IMMUNITY AND SO MUCH MORE
Zinc regulates several crucial processes in both your innate and adaptive immune system.3 Being deficient in zinc can lead to athletes becoming more susceptible to respiratory illness, particularly in the colder months.
Apart from zinc’s well-established role in immunity, this mineral, contributes to protein structure, regulates gene expression, metabolism and is the second most abundant trace element in the body after iron.4 Zinc deficiency can impact an athlete through hormone dysregulation (testosterone, thyroid, and growth hormones to name a few) and may affect erectile function and fertility.5
Zinc is essential to maintaining optimum performance due to its function in metabolism and healthy cell division – essential in repairing damaged tissues after you exercise.
Studies show being deficient in zinc can lead to a reduction in the number of fast-twitch muscle fibres and muscle mass and performance decline. For Masters Athletes this is of particular relevance as aging is also associated with sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass, muscle strength, and physical performance.
Zinc also helps maintain blood sugar control and assists with muscle contraction during exercise, glucose metabolism, and glycogen storage.6
Zinc also plays an essential role in antioxidant production by increasing antioxidant activity and inhibiting free radical production that may damage tissues, impact liver function, and prevent muscle exhaustion.3
SIGNS OF ZINC DEFICIENCY
Apart from recurrent colds and other infections, zinc deficiency can present through a range of symptoms.
WHERE TO FIND ZINC
The most concentrated sources of zinc are contained in animal products, particularly meat, seafood and dairy. Vegan and plant-based athletes may be more susceptible to zinc deficiency due to reduced dietary intake, lowered gastric acid (which is zinc dependant) and higher phytate consumption. Phytates found in plant-based zinc rich foods such as legumes can inhibit zinc absorption.
Soaking nuts and seeds and legumes prior to cooking is a great way to minimise this issue and allow for greater micronutrient absorption.
SUPER CHARGE ABSORPTION
The gastrointestinal tract plays an important role in maintaining total body zinc homeostasis by regulating zinc absorption and excretion.7 In order to boost your absorption, the addition of a probiotic may be beneficial. Choosing the best probiotic can be confusing. Read on for further information.
In certain situations, zinc supplementation may be recommended. The amount ingested, supplement form, and the timing of zinc matters. Speak to a naturopath or nutritionist with an interest in sport before self-prescribing. You’ll definitely want to avoid zinc toxicity. High zinc levels can have a detrimental impact on your performance through anaemia, copper and iron deficiency and unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects.
TESTING FOR ZINC
Serum blood testing is used by some conventional practitioners to determine zinc levels in the body. Keep in mind 60% of zinc is stored in muscle and 30% in bone therefore serum may not be the best measure of zinc homeostasis. A mineral test can be another alternative method of assessing zinc levels and is available through our clinic as explained here.
If you need help building a robust immune system, book an appointment with our degree-qualified naturopath today.
- N. Walsh. Nutrition and Athlete Immune Health: New Perspectives on an Old Paradigm.
2019 Nov 6. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01160-3.
- A. Venderley, W.Campbell. Vegetarian diets : nutritional considerations for athletes.
2006;36(4):293-305. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200636040-00002.
- J.Hernández-Camacho, C. Vicente-García, D. Parsons, I. Navas-Enamorado. Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteostasis.
2020, 101529, ISSN 2213-2317. doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2020.101529.
- P. Trumbo, A. Yates, S. Schlicker, M. Poos. Dietary reference intakes: vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc.
2010 March.101(3):294-301. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(01)00078-5.
- A. Baltaci, R. Mogulkoc, S. Baltaci. Review: The role of zinc in the endocrine system.
2019 Jan;32(1):231-239. PMID: 30772815.
- P.Ranasinghe, S. Pigera, P. Galappatthy, G. Katulanda, & R. Constantine. Zinc and diabetes mellitus: understanding molecular mechanisms and clinical implications.
23(1), 44. doi.org/10.1186/s40199-015-0127-4
- M. Hambidge, N. Krebs. Zinc metabolism and requirements.
2001;22(2):126-132 doi: 10.1177/156482650102200202