Minerals and electrolytes play a big role in our body's proper functioning. Our bones, muscles, heart, and brain rely on minerals to work properly.
The terms mineral and electrolyte have been used in sport science for decades and are heavily researched for their necessity in optimal health, performance, and recovery. We know we need them but do we truly understand why?
What role do essential minerals play?
Essential minerals touch every aspect of who we are and how well we function as human beings, athlete or not. Essential minerals are one of, if not, the most vital nutrient class our bodies need to thrive. From fluid balance to hormone health, this article will break down the roles these ionic powerhouses play and why we may need to pay more attention then we have in the past.
Regulation on body fluids and hydration
To maintain your health, the body must contain the right amount of water; either too much or too little can have adverse effects on the body's ability to function optimally. The most important minerals in helping regulate water balance are sodium, potassium and chloride. Sodium and chloride help retain fluid, while potassium acts as a balancing agent. Through this mechanism, minerals regulate blood pressure and blood volume while also regulating osmotic pressure. Having a higher blood volume means less strain on your cardiovascular system when it works to deliver oxygen to your muscles and dissipate heat to cool you down when you're working hard. In addition, muscle cell hydration has a direct relationship to total strength and force production in athletes.
Digestion and nutrient absorption
As one of the largest organ systems in the body, your digestive tract plays a vital role in survival. The digestive tract's connection with food is key to understanding how it works. Several minerals work together to keep your digestive system performing as it should. Minerals are required by the digestive tract to produce an environment of optimal acidity for the breakdown of food, support healthy muscle function within the stomach and intestines, and provide an absorption pathway for nutrients. Without these systems functioning in sync, the food we eat would be useless to us.
Similar to essential minerals themselves, hormones impact every aspect of our body and lives. Mineral imbalances can cause changes to hormone balance, which, in turn, can lead to other health and wellness issues. Mood, stress, and weight gain are just a few of the areas impacted by a mineral imbalance. There is no singular mineral that ‘balances’ hormones, however zinc, magnesium and sodium have been found to have significant connection to major hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen.
Minerals are also essential in maintaining the optimal functioning of the immune system. Minerals help with the proper functioning of both innate and adaptive immune defenses, which work to protect against pathogens as well as regulating the body's response to inflammation; both pro- and anti-inflammatory factors must be kept in balance for optimal immune system function. A lack of minerals can increase susceptibility to infection and also negatively impact chronic disease development. For athletes, an optimal supply of minerals will also combat the common immunity dip that often follows strenuous exercise.
Facilitate nerve impulses and muscle contraction
The most notable involvement of minerals in the body is within the muscles themselves. Every muscle in the human body relies on sodium and potassium to contract. Although called the “Sodium-potassium pump”, there are other essential minerals involved in this process: magnesium and calcium. Taking this one step further, nerve signals that inform muscles to contract (along with every other function of nerve signals) utilize minerals as well. The reason we can think and move is due largely to our body's mineral content.
In conclusionMinerals are as essential as they get. They touch every aspect of our health and play significant roles in our hormones, muscle function, immunity, digestion, and almost everything else that defines us as humans. Essential minerals should be held in high regard on the nutritional totem pole and given their due respect when talking about performance, recovery, and general health.