sports performance

woman running through a field with a stormy sky in the background

Whether you’re running marathons, lifting weights, or participating in team sports, your bones bear the brunt of your intense physical activity and constant training regime. While we all know the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health, we often forget the roll magnesium has in bone health.

The Magnesium-Bone Connection

Research suggests 20% of individuals constantly consume lower quantities of magnesium than recommended.  So why is magnesium so essential for athletes? The answer lies in the intricate relationship between magnesium and various bone-related processes:

  • Mineralisation: Magnesium is a cofactor for the enzymes responsible for bone mineralisation. It helps convert vitamin D into its active form, which is crucial for calcium absorption, the primary mineral in bones. Lower levels of magnesium are related to osteoporosis in menopausal women. One study, suggested 30–40% of women are deficient in magnesium.
  • Bone Density: Athletes often put their bones under repetitive stress. Magnesium plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bone density and structural integrity. Low levels can decrease bone density, making athletes more susceptible to fractures.
  • Bone Turnover: Magnesium helps regulate the balance between bone formation and bone resorption. This is crucial for athletes as it ensures their bones adapt to training demands without becoming brittle or porous.

For Athletes

Apart from its direct impact on bone health, magnesium offers several other benefits for athletes:

  • Muscle Function: Adequate levels are essential for proper muscle function. It helps muscles contract and relax, preventing cramps and promoting efficient performance.
  • Energy Metabolism: Magnesium is a co-factor for enzymes involved in ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, the primary energy source for athletes during exercise.
  • Immune Support: Intense physical activity can temporarily weaken the immune system. Magnesium aids immune function, helping athletes recover from workouts and training stress.
  • Recovery and tightness: Magnesium helps with restless legs, tight muscles, headaches and insomnia.
  • Hormonal Balance: Magnesium helps reduce fluid retention, menstrual cramps, anxiety, mood swings and cravings related to the menstrual cycle

Meeting Your Needs

As an athlete, meeting your nutrition requirements to ensure optimal bone health and overall performance is crucial. Here are some dietary sources of magnesium to consider:

  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds are excellent.
  • Dark Leafy Greens: Spinach and kale are a rich source to add to your diet.
  • Whole Grains: Choose whole grain options like brown rice and sourdough bread.
  • Legumes: Beans and lentils are magnesium-packed additions to your diet.
  • Cocoa and brewer’s yeast also contain magnesium.

Supplements can be considered in cases where dietary intake may fall short, but it’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or sports nutritionist before taking any supplements.

Magnesium is an essential yet often overlooked mineral for bone health in athletes. From mineralisation to bone density and regulating bone turnover, magnesium is pivotal in maintaining strong, resilient bones, making it a crucial element in an athlete’s nutrition regimen. So, next time you plan your meal, don’t forget to include magnesium-rich foods to keep your bones strong and support your overall athletic performance.

Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you increase your bone health, well-being, and performance.


Health Direct (2023).

Orchard TS, Larson JC, Alghothani N, Bout-Tabaku S, Cauley JA, Chen Z, LaCroix AZ, Wactawski-Wende J, Jackson RD.(2014). Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. American Journal Clinical Nutrition. 2014 Apr;99(4):926-33

Rondanelli, M., Faliva, M. A., Tartara, A., Gasparri, C., Perna, S., Infantino, V., & Peroni, G. (2021). An update on magnesium and bone health. Biometals, 34(4), 715-736.


About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She founded the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate thirsts for knowledge and has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. 

Photo from above a selection of medicinal mushrooms on a wooden table.

Medicinal mushrooms have gained popularity in recent years for their potential health benefits, including those that can be advantageous for athletes.

Mushrooms are a great inclusion in your diet as they have many health and nutritional benefits. Mushrooms contain several B vitamins, including niacin, folate, biotin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. Mushrooms also provide antioxidants and essential minerals (selenium, copper and phosphorous), are easy to cook and are low in fat sodium, and kilojoules. When exposed to light they also contain vitamin D which is important for bone health, hormones and immunity.

Here we are exploring mycotherapy – the use of mushroom compounds for health. Medicinal mushrooms are included in many health and sports products.   Here we explore five medicinal mushrooms and their potential health benefits for athletes:

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)Energy and stamina

Cordyceps have been shown to enhance cellular oxygenation to improve lung capacity and endurance and reduce fatigue during exercise.  You will find this medicinal mushroom in several sports products as it contains cordycepin, a compound that increases energy through ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. For the same reason, it may also help relieve chronic fatigue.  

A 2022 study demonstrated supplementation with 2 grams of cordyceps per day improves the aerobic performance of amateur marathoners over 12 weeks. We are hopeful that further research will also show this benefit for well-trained and elite athletes.

Cordyceps is antiviral, immune-modulatory, antioxidant and effective in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure.

Tip: Add cordyceps to a customised herbal elixir for an all-around boost of energy.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)Stress buster  

Reishi is referred to as the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms” because of its ability to support multiple systems in the body. Reishi is soothing for the nervous system and helps the body adapt to stress. It lowers the stress hormone cortisol and helps to stabilise insulin. This makes Reishi useful for low mood, sleep issues, anxiety and recovery from physical and mental stress. With over 400 active compounds its benefits are extensive. Reishi strengthens the immune system by boosting white blood cells and the natural killer cells in your body. It is also useful for liver function, and libido in both sexes.

Tip: Add powdered reishi to your post-workout smoothie or snacks to help with recovery and sleep. We also encourage athletes and performers to focus on Reishi as part of their pre-race preparation to avoid illness impacting their performance.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): Brain function

Lion’s Mane enhances cognitive function and memory, which can be beneficial for athletes’ mental sharpness and focus. Study’s show Lion’s Mane’s active compounds hericenone and erinacine, reduce memory loss and therefore of interest for use in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

This fluffy white mushroom even looks like the nerves it helps to regenerate in the gut-brain axis. By doing so it helps regulate the nervous system and heal the gut making it useful for leaky gut and IBS.

Tip: Include Lion’s main powder or liquid tonic for mental clarity and digestive issues.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Injuries and inflammation

Chaga has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness. It’s rich in antioxidants, which can aid in overall health and recovery.

Tip: Changa powder tastes nutty and can be a great additive to coffee or broth.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes): Immunity

Shiitake mushrooms are known for their immune-boosting properties. For athletes, a robust immune system is crucial for staying healthy and avoiding training interruptions due to illness.  If you struggle with ongoing infections, explore suggestions on building a robust immune system.  Shiitake is also used to enhance lung function, gut health and as an antioxidant.

Tip: Alongside reishi, we encourage athletes to use a medicinal mushroom blend with high quality shitake as part of pre and post-event preparation and for ongoing colds and infections.  Shitake mushrooms can be found in most supermarkets and are great in stir-fried vegetable dishes and stews.


It’s important to note that while these medicinal mushrooms offer potential health benefits for athletes, individual responses may vary. Athletes should consult with their naturopath before incorporating these mushrooms into their diet or supplement regimen, especially if they have underlying health conditions, allergies or are taking medications. Additionally, athletes should use these mushrooms as part of a well-balanced diet and training program to maximise their benefits.


Chiou, W. F., Chang, P. C., Chou, C. J., & Chen, C. F. (2000). Protein constituent contributes to the hypotensive and vasorelaxant activities of Cordyceps sinensis. Life Sciences66(14), 1369-1376.

Phan, C. W., David, P., & Sabaratnam, V. (2017). Edible and medicinal mushrooms: emerging brain food for the mitigation of neurodegenerative diseases. Journal of medicinal food20(1), 1-10.

Savioli, F. P., Zogaib, P., Franco, E., de Salles, F. C. A., Giorelli, G. V., & Andreoli, C. V. (2022). Effects of cordyceps sinensis supplementation during 12 weeks in amateur marathoners: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Herbal Medicine34, 100570.

Zhu XL, Chen AF, Lin ZB. Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides enhance the function of immunological effector cells in immunosuppressed mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 May 4;111(2):219-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2006.11.013. Epub 2006 Nov 21.  

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you to increase health, wellbeing and performance.


About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit

Photo of Kate Smyth naturopath, performing an examination on a patient.

Sports naturopathy, also known as sports focussed naturopathic medicine, uses natural healing approaches and offers many potential benefits for athletes.

Naturopathic practitioners (Naturopaths) aim to maintain optimal health through a balanced and yet comprehensive approach. Naturopathy complements other conventional medical and allied health practices.

Potential benefits of sports naturopathy for athletes include:

Holistic Approach: Sports naturopathy takes a holistic approach to health, considering the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of an individual. A naturopath is trained in nutritional medicine, biochemistry, herbal medicine, pharmacology and pathology. A scientific medicine and a complex holistic approach can be particularly beneficial for athletes as it addresses the whole person, rather than just isolated symptoms.

Individualised Treatment: Naturopaths create personalised treatment plans for athletes based on their specific nutritional needs, sporting goals, and health conditions. This facilitates targeted and effective interventions.

Nutrition and Dietary Guidance: Proper nutrition can enhance energy levels, prevent illness and nutrient deficiency, and overall sports performance. A food first approach focusses on using food as medicine. A naturopath will also provide balanced and nutritious guidelines to meet an athlete’s nutritional requirements.

Natural Solutions:  Heavily researched and synergistic natural solutions such as vitamins, minerals, and herbal medicines are used to support athlete’s health and performance. These supplements are chosen based on scientific evidence and matched to the individual’s needs. We draw on the vast number of published research papers on global medical databases and carefully assess the integrity quality and validity of papers and underlying research projects.

Stress Management: Athletes can experience high levels of physical and emotional stress as part of living a very full life.. Adaptogens are a category of natural medicines that modify stress hormones such as cortisol and support calming neurotransmitters like GABA. Adapatogens better equip the athlete to consistently perform well under pressure by adjusting the nervous system’s response to stress.

Injury Prevention and Repair: Naturopathic treatments promote healing of bone fractures, muscle, tendon and ligament damage and underlying inflammation. Naturopathic anti-inflammatory medications and nutrition have been shown to have similar effects as non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications with limited side effects.

Detoxification: Where appropriate gentle detoxification approaches can help athletes maintain optimal organ function and overall health.

Pain Management: Sports naturopathy offers various natural solutions that ease pain as part of injury management, neurological issues, painful periods and headaches. These approaches may help athletes manage pain without relying solely on pharmaceutical medications.

Enhance Recovery: Poor recovery can be a sign of underlying health imbalances. Minerals and herbal medicines promote muscle relaxation and reduce inflammation. Sports naturopathy complements other recovery techniques such as water running, anti gravity, Normatec recovery systems, cold water and sauna therapy. A naturopath may also refer to massage, kinesiology, bowen, osteopathy and myopathy.

Optimise Immune Function: Immune support is crucial for athletes who are prone to overexertion and increased susceptibility to illness. So often athletes get run down and sick right before competition and in the weeks following. A preventative approach including key immune boosting nutrients, wholefood medicines and herbs can be beneficial and well tolerated during times of high stress.

Digestive Health: Proper digestion and absorption of nutrients is key foundation in sports naturopathy. Naturopaths work to resolve digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and urgency are common issues.

Long-Term Wellness:. By addressing the root causes of health issues and providing preventive strategies, athletes can aim for sustained peak performance over time and minimise health issues.

It’s important to remember that while sports naturopathy can offer these potential benefits, as with all medical interventions, individual responses may vary. Athletes should consult with a qualified sports focussed naturopath to create a comprehensive and well-rounded approach to their health and performance.

Tart cherries

Tart cherries have been used for decades to treat gout and osteoarthritis, but they also contain phytochemicals which stimulate melatonin, enhance sleep, recovery and sports performance and reduce inflammation.

Tart cherries contain the phytochemicals anthocyanins, flavonoids, flavanols and phenolic acids. Tart Cherries have a higher content of anthocyanins than sweet cherries and contain potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamins A, C, B6, E, and folic acid. Some sources suggest cherries have 19 times as much vitamin A & beta carotene as strawberries and blueberries!!

Evidence supports tart cherries

A 2016 study involving soccer players found tart cherry juice is efficacious in accelerating recovery following prolonged, repeat sprint activity, movement patterns often seen in soccer, AFL and rugby. The study also supports evidence that polyphenol-rich foods such as tart cherry juice are effective in accelerating recovery following various types of strenuous exercise.

A 2010 study involving recreational male and female runners competing in the London marathon, who  supplemented tart cherry juice twice daily for 5 days prior and 2 days after the marathon showed improvements in muscle strength recovery, reduction of inflammatory markers and uric acid. The athlete’s total antioxidant status was 10% greater, while oxidative stress was lower in comparison to placebo.

Studies involving trained cyclists have also shown significant benefits when using Montmorency tart cherry concentrate on reduced oxidative stress, inflammation and muscle damage across 3 days of 109 minutes of road cycling racing when used twice daily for seven consecutive days.  They concluded tart cherry juice has direct application for athletes competing in scenario’s where back-to-back performances are required.

How tart cherries help

Tart cherry juice may reduce pain and accelerate recovery after exercise and decreases blood markers of inflammation/oxidative stress in both strength and endurance exercise.

1. Reduces creatine kinase (CK) a pathology marker for muscle damage and breakdown

2. Reduces inflammation -shown in studies by reductions in interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interleukin-8 (IL-8), interleukin-1-beta (IL-1-β) and C-reactive protein (CRP),

3. Reduces oxidative stress- it’s ORAC rating of 12,800 is one of the highest in the world.

4. Increases tryptophan, melatonin levels and improves sleep quality.

How to use Tart Cherry Juice for recovery and sleep

Tart cherry juice is unlikely to have beneficial effects during the adaptation/build stage of training, but when there is competition or intense training or multiday tournaments it may improve recovery.  Examples of such competitions include: a rugby or AFL tournament, a marathon, a multiday cycling event, triathlon or an ultramarathon.

It is unlikely to be beneficial for consistent use where adaptation to the training stimulus is the athletes’ priority.

General recommendations found in the literature suggest having 30ml of tart cherry juice concentrate in 100ml of water twice daily. This equates to 60-90 cherries per serving.

Tart Cherry juice represents a more convenient way to ingest a large quantity of these polyphenolic compounds without associated side effects such as stomach pain or diarrhoea.

Take the 30ml in water first thing in the morning and in the evening. The evening dose is typically suggested one hour before bed to help facilitate quality sleep, which is of course an athlete’s primary innate recovery tool.

This protocol is suggested for 2-3 days post an event or strenuous training session.

We still need further research and larger studies involving athletes to substantiate claims that a preloading phase of 4-5 days prior to competition is required. It is unlikely that the compounds responsible for its benefits stay in your body long enough to accumulate over many days.  Therefore, it remains questionable as to whether the loading phase is really necessary.

What to look out for and where to purchase?

There are many brands of tart cherry juice available online, in health food shops and in supermarkets.

Montmorency and Balaton TC varieties have both been studied; however, most researchers have used Montmorency brands (more predominant and widely available commercially to athletes).

Check the label on the bottle states the juice specifically contains either of these varieties.

The beneficial compounds (anthocyanins) in tart cherries are reduced with heat. Therefore it is important to source tart cherry products that are cold pressed if you wish to maximise the anthocyanin levels and possible benefits. There are a few companies who do this, so check before you purchase.

As a general rule most juices contain around 25 grams of sugar per 250mls but just remember you should only be having 30mls at a time. Low sugar options are available that contain stevia or vanilla extract but generally speaking the sugar content (3 grams per serve) is not an issue for most athletes.

You can expect to pay around $26-28 Aus for organic start cherry juice (450-950ml). The cheaper juices found in chemists or supermarkets are less likely to be cold-pressed.

We hope this information may inspire you to try something new that you may not have otherwise considered. As with all things, moderation and targeted use is more likely to yield desired benefits than overconsumption.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


Bell, P.G.; Walshe, I.H.; Davison, G.W.; Stevenson, E.; Howatson, G. (2014).Montmorency Cherries Reduce the Oxidative Stress and Inflammatory Responses to Repeated Days High-Intensity Stochastic Cycling. Nutrients, 6, 829-843.

Bell, P. G., Stevenson, E., Davison, G. W., & Howatson, G. (2016). The effects of montmorency tart cherry concentrate supplementation on recovery following prolonged, intermittent exercise. Nutrients, 8(7), 441.

Howatson G, McHugh MP, Hill JA, et al. (2010). Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 20:843–52.

McCormick, R., Peeling, P., Binnie, M., Dawson, B., & Sim, M. (2016). Effect of tart cherry juice on recovery and next day performance in well-trained Water Polo players. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1), 41.

Szalóki-Dorkó, L., Végvári, G., Ladányi, M., Ficzek, G., & Stéger-Máté, M. (2015). Degradation of anthocyanin content in sour cherry juice during heat treatment. Food technology and biotechnology, 53(3), 354-360.

Vitale, K. C., Hueglin, S., & Broad, E. (2017). Tart cherry juice in athletes: a literature review and commentary. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(4), 230-239.

Blood sugar

To keep your energy sustained, it is important to maintain blood sugar control. Natural blood sugar control is possible when done correctly and with professional guidance and supervision. When individuals fail to fuel themselves properly, they may experience reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or dysglycaemia (abnormal blood sugar levels) with an exaggerated insulin response. As a result, there is a subsequent dramatic drop in blood glucose, causing physical and emotional symptoms (see below). When blood glucose levels become unstable we can feel like we are on an energy roller-coaster throughout the day.

Symptoms can mimic other common issues such as anxiety or even menopause.

Symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation:

  • Nausea
  • Seeing flashes of light
  • Moodiness and “hangry” relief after eating
  • Negative attitude/ irritability
  • Exaggeration of relatively minor problems
  • Feeling emotionally flat or depression
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sweating and flushes
  • Sugar cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shakiness
  • Paleness
  • Cold/clammy skin
  • Poor concentration and memory

Thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, or high exercise demands can exaggerate these symptoms, especially with inadequate fueling in between multiple daily training sessions. There are a number of simple steps that may help stabilise blood sugar.

1. Protein is essential to blood sugar stabilisation and should be included in every meal including breakfast. Quality protein can be found in lean animal meats (kangaroo, lamb, beef, chicken) and fish. Vegetarian options include tofu, tempeh, legumes, eggs, dairy, and high-protein grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. Vegans and vegetarians must practice protein source combinations to obtain all the essential amino acids.. For example: consume chickpeas with brown rice.

Athletes should ideally consume 1.2-1.6 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight which equates to 60-80 grams of protein for a 50kg female and 90-128 grams for an 80kg male athlete per day. It is beneficial to have 20 grams of protein with carbohydrates within 30- 60 minutes of completing a training session. A good option is a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder (pea, brown rice or whey if tolerated), a small can of tuna or 2-3 eggs.

2. Carbohydrates
Intake of low GI (Glycemic Index) carbohydrates will help keep blood sugar levels more sustained, and energy levels consistent. A high GI carbohydrate will cause a surge in blood glucose, triggering a response from the pancreas. This can contribute to the symptoms described previously.

Good sources of complex carbohydrates include porridge, Bircher muesli, brown, basmati or wild rice, barley, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, teff, rye, sweet potato, and root vegetables with skins on. Sourdough bread, corn on the cob, bananas, fruit smoothies with protein powder, and homemade muffins using wholemeal flours such as hemp, chia or buckwheat are all good options. Consuming carbohydrates with quality fats and soluble fibre also reduces the GI of foods.

3. Magnesium
Magnesium assists with blood sugar control by supporting healthy insulin secretion.

Magnesium is abundant in amaranth (a grain), pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and raw cocoa, wholemeal bread, quinoa, firm tofu and dark leafy vegetables. It is also found in oat bran, brown rice, cooked spinach, avocado, coconut water, kale, legumes, sesame seeds and cashews.

4. Chromium
Chromium deficiency reduces your body’s ability to use carbohydrates for energy and raises your insulin needs. Chromium may enhance the effects of insulin or support the activity of pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Chromium is found in meats, fish, poultry, wholegrains, dairy, broccoli, cheese, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, apples, bananas, grape juice and potato.

5. Probiotics
Probiotics especially those containing more than one species of beneficial bacteria may help regulate blood sugar by influencing the way the body metabolises carbohydrates by reducing inflammation and preventing the destruction of pancreatic cells that make insulin.

Maintaining energy throughout the day

  • Have regular meals throughout the day eating every 2 hours
  • Consume protein at every meal. Aim to make up at least 1/3 of your meal from protein
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly (2-3 litres per day minimum)
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, stevia, and ginger can all be used instead of sugar to add sweetness to food.
  • Carbohydrates higher in fibre and from unprocessed sources are better
  • Consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes of completing a session
  • Fat reduces gastric emptying time and as a result, slows down the absorption of glucose from the meal. Consume beneficial fats with carbohydrates from raw nuts and seeds, fish, avocado and cold-pressed oils.
  • Increasing the acidity of food or meals will slow gastric emptying time. A simple tip is to add vinegar dressing to salad or vegetables.
  • Short-term supplementation of magnesium, chromium, probiotics or cinnamon, and other blood sugar-stabilising herbs and nutrients may be beneficial for some individuals.

Always seek help from a healthcare practitioner if your symptoms persist.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://

Iodine and thyroid hormones

Iodine and thyroid hormones are essential to sports performance and yet many athletes are iodine deficient.

Thyroid hormones perform many key functions in the human body including regulation of body temperature, metabolism and play an important role in how an athlete creates and uses energy. Thyroid hormones bind to receptors on each cell’s membrane surface and inside the cell at the mitochondria where energy is made. Binding activates the cell’s energy and metabolic functions.

Iodine is a key trace mineral stored primarily in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces the key thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), using iodine and other key nutrients such as selenium and tyrosine.  To further convert thyroid hormones into activated forms the body can use, sufficient levels of magnesium, iron, selenium, vitamin C and zinc are also required.

Key hallmarks of iodine deficiency and low thyroid function in athletes include:

  • Fatigue and low stamina can really cause havoc to an athlete’s training and racing season
  • Lethargy, muscle aches, cramps, pains and weakness
  • Low basal body temperature (temperature first thing in the morning)
  • Intolerance to cold weather
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Slow brain function, poor memory and “foggy” brain
  • Constipation
  • Joint pain
  • Thin, brittle hair or hair loss
  • Dry flaky skin
  • Menstrual disorders and fertility problems
  • Weight gain and slower metabolic rate

Iodine is primarily lost through sweat, although some are also excreted in the urine.  Some studies suggest athletes may lose more iodine through sweat in an hour of vigorous exercise than through their entire daily urine output.  High levels of sweating during exercise can deplete iodine levels and result in dehydration and poor performance.

The recommended iodine intake is 150ug/ day but some studies show on average athletes may lose nearly 50% of this requirement in sweat alone. Athletes living in more humid conditions (even without exercise) can lose a greater amount of sweat than those living in cooler environments.

Athletes performing at high intensity for prolonged periods of time, particularly in a humid environment, have a significantly increased risk of becoming iodine deficient if they don’t pay special attention to replacing this important nutrient.

What else can impact iodine and thyroid function?

It is important to keep in mind there are lots of things that impact the thyroid gland.

Chronic physical or emotional stress and high cortisol will result in elevations of another thyroid hormone called reverse T3 (rT3). Pesky rT3 inhibits our active thyroid hormone T3.

Heavy metals and chemicals, a low carbohydrate diet and fasting and selenium deficiency can also reduce T3 levels.  There are many chemicals and metals in our environment known as “endocrine disruptors” that inhibit healthy thyroid function. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are common in our environment containments (in soil and food grown in that soil including meat, electronics, electrical cables, paints, plastics, furniture ) which can disrupt thyroid hormone signalling at the receptor level.

Perchlorate found in food and water inhibits the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine from the bloodstream while long-term consumption of fluoridated drinking water is associated with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function).

Dioxins, BPA (found in cling wrap, drinking bottles and plastics) or bisphenols in tinned foods and plastic containers and plastic wraps, are also endocrine disruptors.

Non-stick cookware, fragrances, detergents, cosmetics and skincare, foods exposed to pesticides and herbicides, flame retardant material, new carpets, furniture and clothing may also be sources of endocrine disruptors.

When a female athlete has excess oestrogen, it may reduce the efficiency of thyroid hormone by 25%. Female athletes with high testosterone levels or insulin resistance may also have reduced thyroid efficiency due to a reduction in the globulin that carries thyroid hormone around the body (thyroid binding globulin) which means not enough thyroid hormone can circulate. But the hormone dance doesn’t stop there.

Low thyroid function due to low iodine or other nutrients can also cause receptor sensitivity issues with other female hormones such as progesterone causing PMS symptoms, irregular periods and fertility issues.

Cortisol up-regulates estrogen and high oestrogen also up-regulates cortisol which increases the binding of T4 up to 3 times, resulting in lower thyroid hormone activity, lowered metabolism and weight gain.

As thyroid hormones influence the tight junctions in the stomach and small intestine, athletes with low iodine and thyroid can also suffer from digestive complaints such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation and digestive infections.

Approximately 20% of our thyroid hormone T4 is converted to T3 in the gut by bacteria. So if digestion is disrupted and inflammation exists, the conversion will be impacted. Thyroid hormones also influence the tight junctions in the stomach and intestine that prevent large undigested molecules from passing into our bloodstream. Hence why thyroid abnormalities are also associated with leaky gut, food intolerances, constipation, reflux, heartburn, and dysbiosis (gut microbiome imbalance).

Thyroid hormones also influence the foundation of our immune system in the stomach called Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). GALT is made up of several types of lymphoid tissue that store immune cells, such as T and B lymphocytes. The majority of infectious agents invading the human body gain access through the gut and GALT protects us against these pathogens.  Therefore, an athlete can be more susceptible to infections if thyroid hormones are low or iodine deficiency exists. n

Other nutrients have an impact on iodine and thyroid function. Many athletes suffer from anaemia or low iron and believe their fatigue and poor performance may just be iron related. The situation is a double-edged sword as iron deficiency impairs thyroid hormone synthesis and low thyroid function impairs gastric secretions which reduce iron absorption from food.

Another tricky synergy exists between zinc, copper and thyroid function. Zinc is required for T4 and T3 production and therefore zinc deficiency may lead to low gastric secretions and low iron. Zinc and copper also antagonise each other so low zinc may lead to high copper.  Excess copper slows thyroid function and depletes zinc.

Iodine concentration in foods is variable depending on soil concentrations and the amount of fertilizer used with farming methods. Therefore, our food iodine content also varies greatly in grains, meats and vegetables. Although the daily recommended iodine intake is 150ug, it can still be tricky even when eating iodine food sources due to such variability.

Metabolic acidosis is a condition when the body’s pH is too acidic (pH of 7.35 or lower). This may occur in athletes from prolonged exercise at high intensity leading to lactic acid build-up. Chronic metabolic acidosis may decrease T4 and T3 and increase TSH concentrations and may lead to subclinical hypothyroid states.

  1. Tracking athletes’ basal (morning) body temperature can assist with identifying issues with thyroid function. Anything less than 36.4c suggests your thyroid may need some attention.
  2. Athletes should not rely on blood tests to confirm thyroid function status. Under activity of the thyroid gland results in low basal temperatures and symptoms of low thyroid function are not detectable by the standard laboratory tests-thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), T4 and T3.
  3. Athletes should consume sufficient sources of iodine on a regular basis. Good food sources include seafood (wild sea fish contain more iodine than freshwater fish), kelp and other seaweeds (wakame, Kombu, Nori), kelp noodles, Sushi are a rich source of iodine. Other reasonable sources include milk and yogurt, navy beans, eggs, cranberries, strawberries and some meats.
  4. Since 2009 all packaged bread has added iodine in Australia although freshly baked bread may not disclose the amount added. Iodized salt is also available but keep in mind too much salt is not great for blood pressure and even sea salt and Himalayan salt contains 90% sodium chloride which is not desirable as chloride inhibits iodine absorption.
  5. Be mindful of high intake of goitrogenic vegetables. The cabbage family including cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radishes, turnips, watercress, spinach contain isothiocyanates (goitrogens) which may block the uptake and utilisation of iodine in the thyroid gland. Cooking these vegetables reduces the goitrogens and the likelihood of their impact.
  6. Although controversial, some evidence suggests soy supplements such as soy protein powders should be avoided if you have been diagnosed with low thyroid function as they may also reduce the genetic expression of the enzymes needed to produce thyroid hormones.
  7. Get your vitamin D levels checked. Vitamin D deficiency is common in Australia and in athletes with low body fat this issue can be even more prevalent as Vitamin D is stored in fat cells. Vitamin D is associated with hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmune conditions while studies show serum vitamin D > 125 is associated with a 30% reduced risk of hypothyroidism.
  8. Get your hormones, cortisol, iron, zinc, copper and iodine levels checked.
  9. Improve your gastric acid secretions by consuming bitter foods (endive, rocket, radicchio, chicory, dark chocolate) on a regular basis or sip lemon in water or apple cider vinegar before meals.
  10. Reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors by drinking filtered water, installing filters on shower heads, choosing natural water sources to swim in rather than chlorinated pools, eating pesticide-free or ideally organic foods, choosing organic personal care products, cosmetics and detergents, avoiding storage of food in plastics and instead use wax wraps and choose low emitting products when renovating or building your home.

If you suspect you may be suffering from iodine deficiency or reduced thyroid function, consider making an appointment with the Athlete Sanctuary to help navigate your recovery process.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


Caffeine is now the world’s most popular stimulant ingested by over 90% of people including athletes because it can make them feel “damn good”.

But is it really that good for you? This article explores a balanced perspective on caffeine use for sports performance.

Caffeine has been used for decades as a way of buffering fatigue, prolonging endurance and enhancing concentration in many team and individual sports.  Sure, it gives you a “pick me up” but at what expense?

While some athletes will get the beneficial effects of enhanced focussed and reduced fatigue, others can get so fired up, they get the shakes, diarrhoea and their “rev” is excessive so they make poor tactical decisions during events. Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist affecting dopamine transmission and altering neurotransmitter function.

With long-term and high-volume caffeine intake, an increased risk of overstimulating the nervous system occurs. For some individuals, this looks and feels like anxiety, headaches, migraines, poor sleep, depression, angina, nutrient depletion, elevated blood pressure, addictive habits towards caffeine and severe fatigue.

Caffeine also contains a diterpene known as cafestol which has been shown to increase serum LDL cholesterol, increase aortic stiffness, blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction and homocysteine all of which contribute to heart disease- Yikes!

The other “doozy” with caffeine is that even if you are currently enjoying just one cuppa a day you most likely already have caffeine tolerance. As time goes on you’ll need to have more and more caffeine to feel any benefits.

So at this point, if you are sitting back saying “ I am good I don’t drink coffee” just take a breath. Just because you don’t drink coffee, doesn’t mean you aren’t consuming an excessive load of caffeine. Caffeine is found in many commonly consumed drinks and foods. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:

Food/ Beverage Size Caffeine in milligrams
Short black/ expresso coffee (1 cup) 100-200mg
Instant coffee (1 cup) 60-170mg
Decaffeinated coffee (1 cup) 2-4mg
Green tea (1 cup) 20mg
Tea (black) (1 cup) 30-100mg
NO Doz (1 tablet) 100mg
Revvies (1 strip) 40g
Sports gels (1 gel) 25mg-100mg
Coke and V energy drink (1 can) 50mg
Hot cocoa ( 1 mug) 60-120mg
Chocolate (60g) 10-50mg

So what to do?

The good news is that recent studies suggest the performance benefits of caffeine can be felt at low doses (1-3mg/kg) which are less likely to impact your health in other ways.  So theoretically speaking effects may be felt by athletes using the following amounts:

  • 50kg athlete    50-150mg;      ( 1 coffee)
  • 60kg athletes 60-180mg;
  • 70kg athlete    210mg;
  • 80kg athlete    80-240mg
  • 90kg athlete    90-270mg      ( 2 coffees)

Top tips for caffeine use for sports performance:

  1. If you are using caffeine for the first time try small amounts initially and infrequently so you don’t develop resistance. Attempt any trialling caffeine as part of your race day nutrition and hydration plan during training several times prior to race day, in similar conditions first to avoid unsavoury surprises.
  2. Caffeine may make you temporarily feel good it can also cause adverse performance effects. Caffeine displaces vitamins and minerals essential for athletic performance such as magnesium, zinc and B vitamins. Caffeine can irritate the kidneys and is a diuretic increasing the risk of dehydration in hot weather so you may need to increase your fluid intake. The most common issue with caffeine is diarrhoea. Taking caffeinated foods or drinks with food may help mitigate this problem.
  3. Avoid caffeine after lunchtime to avoid sleeping difficulties.
  4. High caffeine intake is inflammatory and prolonged use can contribute to systemic inflammation which underpins nearly all chronic conditions. Our suggestion is to enjoy caffeine in moderation and use a targeted approach in regard to sports performance.
  5. Smart considered and moderate use of caffeine may provide a performance edge but it will not suddenly turn you into some kind of superhero breaking world records. You still have to invest in sound balanced nutrition and hydration strategies, train smart, rest well and allow the natural adaptation of the human body to occur!
  6. As with all products, always remember to check each ingredient on the packaging of any sports product because some substances that may appear relatively benign may be banned under the Australian (ASADA) and World Drug Agency Association (WADA) guidelines. Rule of thumb- always do your own thorough research before using any supplement despite its popularity!
  7. If you are currently a heavy coffee drinker, wean yourself off coffee gently so you don’t go into an unprovoked tirade at your family or work colleagues as you deal with the headaches associated with detoxification. By reducing your intake gradually by ½ a cup a day, you are also more likely to allow your tolerance to reduce so when you settle for smart and more moderate use, you can obtain benefits at a lower dose. In some individuals’ withdrawal may be more comfortably achieved with the use of herbal adaptogens, liver support, activated vitamins and dietary intake of brassica family vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower) to ease the transition.
  8. If you are looking for coffee substitutes or reduced caffeine products you may like to try roasted dandelion tea, ginseng, high-quality green leaf tea, chai tea or Rooibos tea.
  9. Try different forms of caffeine in sports products rather than just coffee. Caffeinated sports products come in powders, gels, strips and tablets and all will be digested/ metabolised slightly differently in the body. Some athletes experience digestive issues with coffee but not strips, while others have issues with caffeinated gels but not powdered versions.
  10. Limit decaffeinated coffee. It may have reduced caffeine but many of the extraction methods still use chemical solvents that may be toxic.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://