By Megan Reece Thomas
Despite the health problems we have in our country, in America we still have access to the safest and most varied food supply in the world. If you eat a balanced diet, you are properly feeding your body for optimal health and well-being.
That being said, who out there eats their 5 to 9 servings of vegetables a day? Three servings of high calcium foods? Three servings of lean protein? Whole grains? Just because we have access to the food doesn’t mean we always take advantage of it. Fried goodies, ice cream, candy and pastries all too often take the place of legumes, nuts, apples, berries, carrots and spinach.
For the athletes out there, good nutrition is as important as regular training. Your body cannot go for very long on inadequate fuel. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says that if athletes eat well-balanced diets, they won’t need extra vitamins or supplements.
So, say you want to start eating better for your active body. The whole idea of starting a balanced diet when you know you don’t eat healthfully can be daunting. So start by focusing on either one food group or a particular vitamin or mineral. Lucky for you, many foods rich in one type of micronutrient are often rich in others, so by focusing on only one, you will probably be covering more ground than you think.
Try starting by focusing on zinc. Zinc is especially important for athletes because it helps with growth and repair of muscle tissue, energy production and immunity, according to the ADA. Zinc also helps regulate thyroid hormone levels, metabolic rates and protein use. As you probably know, the right amount of protein is helpful for an athlete to build and repair damaged muscle tissues, so zinc and protein work in tandem very nicely.
Get your zinc from food, as supplements of zinc tend to lower your good HDL cholesterol and interfere with the absorption of other important nutrients like iron and copper, according to the ADA. So, where to get zinc? That’s a question that a lot of Americans should be asking because a large number of us are deficient in this mineral.
Zinc and protein work together as you now know, but they’re also found in many of the same places. The best sources of zinc come from darker meats such as chicken thighs, lean beef and lean pork. Zinc is also abundant in oysters. The leaner here the better, as fat tends to displace the space that protein and zinc would normally take up. By focusing on lean healthful sources of protein, you will be taking in more zinc to improve your performance. Aim for two servings of these foods a day.
Zinc is also found in many vegetables and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds,) but there’s a caveat to that. Zinc absorption is hampered by fiber — specifically phytates — a type of fiber often found in, you guessed it, vegetables and seeds. The fiber binds to zinc, and instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream it’s flushed out of your body.
Put a little bit of zinc into your daily diet and you might be surprised at the results you get.
Find your zinc
Men should aim for 11 milligrams of zinc a day and women should aim for 8. That number goes up if a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding. Here are some of the best sources of zinc.
- Oysters (6 medium): 76.7 mg
- Beef shanks (3 oz): 8.9 mg
- King crab (3 oz): 6.5
- Pork shoulder (3 oz): 4.2
- Chicken leg: 2.7
- Pork tenderloin (3oz): 2.5