Category Archives: Micronutrients

YCN - Recording Your Intake

Tracking Your Intake

Category:fuel,macronutrients,Micronutrients,nutrition tracking

The following questions are ones we (as dietitians) often are asked when it comes to tracking intake. We want to emphasize that while tracking can be a very useful tool, it is not the only method for improving nutrition habits and can be more damaging than helpful to some, depending on personal food-related behaviors and tendencies. If you are unsure whether or not this would be an effective starting place for you to address your nutrition goals, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

1. How can using a food journal be effective in monitoring your intake?

Nutritional awareness is often the first step in dialing in your nutrition. If we don’t know what our typical eating patterns and food choices look like, we can’t expect to take steps toward improving them. Monitoring intake by keeping a food journal or using an online tracker can be extremely helpful, not only for creating a sense of awareness, but also for learning more about our food and their nutritional components. Food trackers are a great way to learn which foods are high in protein, versus fat, versus carbohydrates, as well as their calorie, sugar, fiber, vitamin and mineral content. Tracking intake can also help maintain nutritional consistency from day to day and avoid sporadic eating patterns.

2. In general, can you explain a good rule of thumb to track macros for beginners? How can they simply be aware that they are eating enough/proper ratios of carbs/proteins/fats if they want to keep an eye on their nutrition? 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate guidelines offer a really great visual aid in creating a healthy plate at each meal. This includes 1/4 of your plate lean protein, 1/4 whole grains, and 1/2 fruits and veggies. Your hands can also be great tools for measuring and portion control. Use the size of your palm as a serving of protein, your fist for veggies, the size of your entire thumb for fats, and a cupped handful for carbs. Start with at least one serving of each at meals. Depending on your size, activity level, health and performance goals, you may need to adjust the number of servings at each meal. Working with a registered dietitian can be helpful for determining serving sizes and overall caloric needs.

3. Why is it important to track your nutrition, even (or especially!) as a beginner? How can it help you improve your workouts and performance?

Sometimes our intake is WAY off from where we think it is, so tracking your nutrition can be a particularly useful tool to ensure you are consuming an appropriate amount of food to meet your daily needs. Most often, we tend to associate tracking food intake with weight loss, but it can also be a way to ensure that an individual is eating enough food to support his/her needs. Monitoring food intake during periods of training and/or competition when physical demands on the body are increased can be extremely effective for improving performance outcomes when following proper nutrition protocol.

4. How can using a nutrition app be really effective? 

Most nutrition apps get easier the more you use it. Once you’ve tracked for a few days and all of your most common foods have been logged once, you no longer have to go through the search of finding the exact item you’re looking for. MyFitnessPal, for example, has a huge food database, is free, and has the option for friend requests and diary sharing, which can be helpful between coach and clients for direct feedback. While calorie/macro tracking isn’t for everyone, it can be a great way to monitor progress over time and implement changes to better support your health and fitness goals.

5. How can tracking intake and getting on a schedule actually improve your nutritional awareness and food intake over time? 

I always recommend that clients create and adhere to a consistent meal schedule in order to take the guesswork out of one’s day when it comes to food intake. If you have specific calorie and/or macronutrient targets, knowing the amount of meals and snacks you plan to consume over the course of the day will give you a better sense of how to spread out those nutrients in a manner that supports your lifestyle. Of course, life throws us many curveballs, so you might have to adjust this schedule on the fly, but going in with a game plan will serve you better than making it up as you go.

6. In what instances can nutrition tracking be harmful or act as a disservice to an individual?

Although there are certainly many benefits to tracking, sometimes having such specific information about our food can trigger obsessive behaviors that do more harm than good. This mostly refers to tracking on a nutrition app where calories and other numerical data is offered regarding one’s intake. Even in the absence of a true eating disorder (ED), individuals can still experience “disordered eating” behaviors such as anxiety around food, frequent dieting, food restriction, skipping meals, binging and purging. If this type of tracking puts you in a bad head space, there are other ways to ensure adequate food intake such as recording in a notebook, following the MyPlate guidelines and using the hand-eye method among others. Talk to a dietitian to find the right method for you and your unique needs. 

Corinna Coffin, YCN Dietitian and OCR Athlete

Micronutrient Needs for Athletes


In our previous blog post, we discussed the increased macronutrient needs of athletes and active individuals and why these are so important – from increased performance outcomes to injury prevention and recovery among many others. The macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) often take the spotlight when it comes to nutrition; after all, they are required by the body in the largest amount. However, of equal (if not more) importance are the micronutrients provided by the various protein, fat and carbohydrate options we have to choose from on a daily basis.

Micronutrients are the nutrients the body requires in relatively small (“micro”) amounts which include vitamins and minerals. They play an essential role in the body, particularly when it comes to regulating processes such as energy production and the manufacturing of new cells and proteins (Maughan, et al., 2018). Micronutrient deficiencies can impair sports performance (and overall health) in a variety of ways, such as increasing an individual’s risk of illness or injury, or impacting his or her ability to train effectively. The metabolic and biochemical adaptations which occur during exercise, as well as increased nutrient turnover and/or loss, increase the need for certain nutrients in active individuals and athletes. Micronutrients of frequent sub-optimal consumption and therefore of key interest to athletes and active individuals include iron, vitamin D, calcium and antioxidants (Maughan, et al., 2018).

Iron is an important component of red blood cells and is necessary to transport oxygen to our muscles. Iron deficiency can negatively impact physical and mental performance, as well as overall health (Volpe, et al., 2015) . Limited iron intake, poor bioavailability and/or inadequate energy intake are all risk factors for iron deficiency. Athletes who experience menstrual blood loss, foot-strike hemolysis (the rupture of red blood cells due to repetitive pounding on hard surfaces), excess losses in sweat, urine or feces and/or train at high altitude often have increased iron needs (Cowell et al., 2003). Female distance runners and vegetarians who may not be getting sufficient amounts of iron (particularly heme iron from animal sources) through their diet are at greatest risk for iron deficiency (Cowell et al., 2003). Oral supplementation can certainly be an effective solution for those with iron deficiency anemia; however, athletes and individuals concerned about iron status can adopt eating strategies to help ensure sufficient levels, such as consuming red meat, poultry, shellfish and organ meats. For athletes who abstain from meat consumption, vitamin C should be paired with plant-based iron sources such as beans/legumes, spinach and quinoa, as it aids in the absorption process (Thomas et al., 2016). At-risk athletes for iron deficiency should be regularly screened and aim for a daily iron intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 18mg for women, 8mg for men (Cowell et al., 2003). 

Vitamin D is an essential micronutrient for athletes in particular due to its important role in maintaining bone health and regulating the minerals calcium and phosphorus. Sufficient vitamin D status has been linked to decreased risk of stress fractures, acute respiratory illness and inflammation among others (Pojednic & Ceglia, 2014). Individuals who get plenty of sunshine and train mostly outdoors are at lower risk for vitamin D insufficiency compared to those with limited sun exposure; however, other factors such as skin tone, fat mass, training time, and clothing/equipment interfering with UVB exposure can alter risk for deficiency (Cannell et al., 2009). Dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, some fortified dairy and cereal products, and mushrooms; however, as a fat soluble vitamin, a fat source is required for optimal absorption. Unfortunately, dietary interventions alone have shown to be unreliable in resolving insufficiencies. Therefore, responsible UVB exposure and supplementation may be necessary to maintain sufficient status. Active individuals prone to stress fractures and other bone/joint injuries or with signs of overtraining, muscle pain or weakness and low sun exposure may require professional assessment to determine if vitamin D supplementation is necessary (Moran et al., 2013).

Calcium plays an integral role in the growth, maintenance and repair of bone tissue, as well as muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and blood clotting. Individuals more susceptible to suboptimal calcium status tend to be those who restrict energy intake, display patterns of disordered eating, and/or avoid dairy products, putting them at greater risk for deficiency (Thomas et al., 2016). Foods high in calcium include dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as non-dairy options such as beans and lentils, almonds, dark leafy greens and figs. It’s important to note that even with sufficient calcium intake, vitamin D is essential for its absorption within the body, emphasizing the need for both nutrients.

Even though physical activity is considered a key component of stress management and stress relief, exercise still creates internal stress within our bodies. When we engage in aerobic (requiring oxygen) exercise, our oxygen consumption increases significantly compared to rest. As a byproduct of this aerobic metabolism, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced. In relatively low amounts, such as with acute exercise and low-grade stress, ROS are beneficial to our health and play an essential role in the development and optimal functioning of every cell in our body (Thomas et al., 2016). Chronic stress (including chronic exercise-induced stress), however, can cause elevated intracellular levels of ROS and lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is a shift in the balance between oxidants and antioxidants in the favor of oxidants (Peternelj, et al., 2011). Antioxidants have the ability to attenuate the damaging effects of ROS. Our bodies generate their own antioxidant defenses; however, antioxidants are also found in food, especially fruits, vegetables and other plant-based whole foods. The safest and most effective strategy to increase antioxidant levels in the body is to consume a varied diet high in antioxidant-rich plant foods, such as berries, dark chocolate, green tea, kale, spinach, beans and nuts (Peternelj, et al., 2011). Individuals at greatest risk for low antioxidant intakes are those who restrict energy intake, follow a chronically low-fat diet, or limit intake of carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains (Thomas et al., 2016). Current research does not support the use of antioxidant supplementation as a means of combating exercise-induced oxidative stress, as high antioxidant doses have been shown to interfere with the positive effects of exercise and training-induced adaptations (Peternelj, et al., 2011).

It’s important to note that while these micronutrient considerations provide a fundamental framework for athletes, nutrition needs vary based on the individual. Additionally, individuals with dietary limitations and/or avoidances may have increased micronutrient concerns. We recommend consulting with a registered dietitian to ensure adequate nutrient needs are being met in support of the demands of training and competition.

Cannell, J.J., Hollis, B.W., Sorenson, M.B., Taft, T.N., & Anderson, J.J. (2009). Athletic performance and vitamin D. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,41(5), 1102-1110.
Cowell, B.S., Rosenbloom, C.A., Skinner, R., Summers, S.H. (2003). Policies on screening female athletes for iron deficiency in NCAA division I-A institutions. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,13(3), 277-285.
Maughan, R. J., Burke, L. M., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D. E., Peeling, P., Phillips, S. M., Engebretsen, L. (2018). IOC Consensus statement: Dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), 104-125.
Moran, D. S., McClung, J. P., Kohen, T., Lieberman, H. R. (2013). Vitamin D and physical performance. Sports Medicine, 43(7), 601-611.
Peternelj, T. T., Coombes, J.S. (2011). Antioxidant supplementation during exercise training: Beneficial or detrimental? Sports Medicine, 41(12), 1043-1069.
Pojednic, R. M., Ceglia, L. (2014). The emerging biomolecular role of vitamin D in skeletal muscle. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews. 42(2), 76-81.
Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics,16, 501-528.
Volpe, S. L., Bland, E. (2012). Vitamins, minerals, and exercise. In Rosenbloom, C. A. & Coleman, E. J. (Eds.). Sports nutrition: A practice manual for professionals (5th ed.), (pp. 75-105). Chicago, Illinois: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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