As their name suggests, micronutrients represent a tiny proportion of only a certain amount of foods and, compared with macronutrients, the body often requires them in just small amounts. Nevertheless they are of the utmost importance. Microelements are categorized as vitamins, minerals (which include trace elements) and phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants.
Admittedly, micronutrients dont provide energy in the same way as macronutrients carbohydrates, proteins and fats do, but because of the enormous range of functions they perform within the body, we could not survive without them. They are involved in combining, converting, breaking down and absorbing macronutrients; they also form hormones and enzymes and transmit neural stimuli and much more. Indirectly they provide energy for life! Without micronutrients, macronutrients cant nourish the body at all. Imagine a complex system of mechanical gears: if only one gear fails, this can damage the entire machine. Whether your goal is to build muscle, lose fat or increase your performance: without the right micronutrients, its much harder to reach your target!
With a few exceptions, the body cannot synthesize its own micronutrients. For this reason, micronutrients need to be provided through nutrition. Its not unusual for people with sporty, active lifestyles to take vitamin and mineral supplements in order to prevent dietary deficiencies.
However while it is true that sportspeople require two to four times the amount of micronutrients that other people do, the range of foods available today means that no one with a healthy, balanced diet should suffer from a lack of vitamins, minerals or phytochemicals, even when training hard. While vitamins and minerals can be found also in nuts, fish, meat and other animal products, they are found in their highest concentrations (and with the greatest variety) in fresh fruit and vegetables. For this reason, we recommend that you accompany every meal with a large portion of fresh, plant-based produce.
Micronutrients have reciprocal relationships both with each other and with macronutrients. If taken in isolation, micronutrients are absorbed either poorly or not at all: instead, their full power is unleashed only in combination with other nutrients. These combinations are mainly found in fresh fruit and vegetables. Accordingly, if you have a balanced diet of fresh food, theres no need to rely on nutritional supplements.
Micronutrients are sensitive: what to watch out for
While minerals as inorganic substances are not sensitive to heat, most vitamins cant withstand being heated. Vegetables and fruit should therefore only be cooked for a short period of time at a low temperature, if at all. If you want to play it safe, opt for a daily portion of raw food. Nevertheless, some foods require heat to open the cell membrane, so that micronutrients can be released. Its therefore safest to ensure plenty of variety in selection and preparing your food. Most meals simply taste better when the ingredients are fresh and crispy anyway!
You should avoid readymade, off-the-shelf meals altogether as they are heavily processed during production, meaning that almost all vitamins and phytochemicals are destroyed and minerals are washed away.
Long-term storage or transportation over long distances have a similar effect on food. Light, heat, oxygen and humidity break down the vitamins. For this reason, we recommend that when shopping (whether for fruit, vegetables, fish, meat or any other product) you select local, seasonal products wherever possible, in order to avoid food that has been transported or stored for too long.
Any form of root vegetables, all varieties of cabbage and leafy winter salads such as lettuce, chicory or radicchio should be landing on your plate regularly. Winter fruits such as mandarins, pomegranates and year-round varieties such as pears and apples will provide you with an extra portion of vitamins. Even frozen products, if defrosted gently, are relatively rich in micronutrients.