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Nutrients

Some studies are showing that taking vitamin D may help protect athletes against both injury and depression.

Dreamstime

As the warm months of spring and summer begin to roll in, folks start getting more active and athletic. But far too many of these people fail to pay attention to the vital nutrients, both vitamins and minerals, that are used up by all this new activity, sometimes even creating deficiencies.

For example, have you discovered that after a long session of biking or running during the day, painful muscle cramps at night wake you from a blissful sleep? There's often a reason for these cramps: an exercise-induced deficiency of electrolytes. There are two nutrients you can take to help prevent or even stop an attack of nightly leg cramps. One is calcium, and the other is potassium. Both are electrolytes. These are substances that create a kind of electric current when mixed with water.

A story on the popular health and wellness site Livestrong.com quotes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons as saying "a deficiency in electrolytes like potassium can cause muscle cramps, particularly in your legs. This can occur frequently in the summer, when heat causes you to lose salt and other minerals through your sweat."

Other electrolytes include bicarbonate, chloride, magnesium, phosphate and salt. A proper ratio of electrolytes can be found in sports drinks like Gatorade, but many such sports drinks contain a lot of sugar as well as artificial food dyes. The more vibrant the color, the more food dye the drink contains. Some of these colors are actually derived from petroleum. At the same time, sugar, or glycogen, is required to maintain energy

Studies have shown that unless an athlete is exercising hard for over an hour, a sugary electrolyte drink may not be required. The most important thing is just to stay hydrated. This is especially important on a hot summer's day, or while sweating from strenuous exercise. In fact, since electrolytes will only provide their electrical current when combined with water, the smartest thing may be to purchase electrolyte pills and take them with plain water. There are many varieties of electrolyte capsules. But again, never swallow them without water.

Some studies are showing that taking vitamin D may help protect athletes against both injury and depression. This is especially true for those whose skin is not exposed to natural sunlight, or those who chronically can't absorb vitamin D from the sun, including people who are middle-aged and older. Supplementation with a good quality of vitamin D may provide numerous mental and physical benefits.

In addition, don't think about trying to stay active while avoiding carbohydrates and sugar. While carbs may be healthier than a spoonful of sugar, both will be stored as energy in the form of glycogen, which is actually the body's fuel for athletic function. Unfortunately, humans have a limited ability to store glycogen. That ability can be increased by using a specific technique: training or working out harder, with more intensity.

Some elite athletes have a training schedule that calls for one day a week of extreme training, followed by several days off to recuperate. If good hydration is the top secret to never hitting the wall, then recuperation (or recovery) from a hard effort is a close second.

Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.

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