Southern men have a lot going on and it’s easy to skip on key nutrients that provide energy we need to work, family and social obligations. Here is some useful insight on how to get the key micronutrients our active bodies and minds need.
If you’re like most people eager to shed some fat or pack on some muscle, you’ve been relentlessly coached to focus on your calorie intake, and in particular your ratio of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat). I’m sure you’ve heard it said that, if you want to lose weight, you can only eat Oreos and drink soda and still achieve weight loss nirvana. Or, if you’re looking to beef up, it’s all calories and protein, bro!
And, hey, as far as fitness advice goes, this isn’t entirely wrong. You really can lose weight by eating only junk food, provided you consume fewer calories than you burn each day, and you really can gain some muscle by eating at a caloric surplus and making sure you get enough protein.
Sound horrific? Well, these are just a few of the potential consequences of neglecting one of the most important aspects of your diet: micronutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body requires to function properly, and even though you only need them in extremely small amounts — typically milligrams per day — they perform a vital role in keeping your body healthy. What’s more, your daily requirements vary. Men have different micronutrient needs than women; active people (runners, weight lifters and athletes) have different needs than sedentary people; the elderly will want to focus on certain vitamins and minerals more than the young.
Here are just a handful of the most important micronutrients, and what bodily functions they help support:
Calcium — One of the wonderful benefits of weight lifting is that it promotes bone density, which might not seem like such a big deal now, but trust me: you’ll be grateful for your dense bones when age catches up to you. Osteoporosis is no joke! Add to that the fact that calcium will help protect your teeth from decay, regulate blood pressure and prevent kidney stones, and it’s time to up your calcium intake.
Zinc — Found in large quantities in oysters, beef, lamb, some nuts and eggs, zinc actually isn’t very easy to get in your diet, but it’s so important that it’s often included in vitamin supplements. As an antioxidant, it helps with protein synthesis, which means a zinc deficiency will impair your body’s ability to build and repair muscle. As a nutrient, it’s vital in men’s sexual health (it’s a vital nutrient in the formation of sperm, for example), and helps us stave off colds and infections by boosting our white blood cells. Finally, it’s been shown to play a role in collagen synthesis, so if you value healthy, blemish-free skin, you’d better make sure your zinc intake is on point.
Vitamin D — Most people absorb enough vitamin D from sun exposure (just 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per week is enough), but if you live far from the equator, where winter reigns supreme, you’re probably flirting with a vitamin D deficiency. And this is bad news, because a vitamin D deficit has been associated with everything from depression and calcium malabsorption to cancer growth and immune system malfunction.
Magnesium — Here is the profile of someone likely to be suffering from a magnesium deficiency: they drink too much alcohol, consume too many sugary foods, rely too heavily on coffee and don’t get enough sleep. Does that sound like, well, every college student and young professional in the world today? Symptoms range from muscle spasms and sleep difficulties to anxiety, irritability and heart arrhythmia.
Are you properly convinced of the importance of micronutrients yet?
Now that you’re aware that a good diet consists of more than just the right ratio of carbs, proteins and fats, it’s time to rethink your approach to food. Chicken, rice and protein shakes might help you hit your macros, but they won’t help you reach your micronutrient goals. For that, you’re going to need to focus on the nutrient-dense “superfoods” (largely, but not exclusively, the dreaded fruits and vegetables).
Luckily for you, there’s one simple trick you can use to knock off a huge portion of your body’s daily micronutrient needs: a healthy smoothie.
Most people’s objection to eating more fruits and vegetables is two-fold: either they find the taste off-putting (poor broccoli gets a bad rap), or they aren’t big on food preparation and find keeping up with a fridge full of soon-to-be-rotting fruit and vegetables a big stress.
Owning a good blender and teaching yourself a handful of smoothie recipes is the solution to all your woes.
First off, a smoothie blends multiple servings of fruits and vegetables, and it’s easy to combine them in such a way that the taste of a food you enjoy (say, strawberries) masks the taste of a food you don’t enjoy, but know you should be eating (say, kale). Problem solved.
As for the overwhelming stresses of a fridge filled with fruit and vegetables: making a smoothie allows you to use multiple servings at once, which seriously cuts down on the time any one vegetable or fruit has to spend in your fridge. Even better, you can use frozen fruits (frozen strawberries, blueberries and blackberries taste great in smoothies), which are cheaper and easier to store, and retain all of their nutrient benefits.
Here’s a sample smoothie, and the micronutrients it contains:
- 8 ounces of skim milk
- 1 serving of kale
- 1 serving of frozen strawberries
- 1 serving of frozen blueberries
- 1 scoop of your preferred protein powder
This simple and delicious smoothie will take you under 5 minutes to make, and it will knock off all or most of your daily vitamin C, K and A requirements, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and manganese. We’ve compiled a big list of healthy smoothies for men, all of which help make consuming your micronutrient needs that much easier.
This column originally appeared at askmen.com.