It can feel great when you're on a roll at work, are crushing your runs and rides, or have finally finished that bedeviling basement remodel you've been putting off for years. But sometimes when you go all out for too long, you can crash hard afterward and be left feeling run down and worn out. Sure, getting a few nights of good sleep can help, but even that won't top up the vitamins and minerals you've depleted. Try supporting your comeback by topping up with these four micronutrients.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology, this mighty mineral is essential for over 300 processes in the body, fueling enzyme reactions that are involved in nerve function, blood pressure, muscle contraction and relaxation, energy production, and bone health. When you put yourself under extreme physical, mental, or emotional duress, your regular magnesium intake isn’t going to cut it because your body starts sucking it up like a malfunctioning robot vacuum cleaner. This can leave you with brain fog, mood fluctuations, muscle twitches, lethargy, and other side effects – the exact opposite of what you need when you’re trying to bounce back strong.
A study that a team of French researchers published in the journal Nutrients stated, “stress could increase magnesium loss, causing a deficiency; and in turn, magnesium deficiency could enhance the body's susceptibility to stress, resulting in a magnesium and stress vicious circle.” In a perfect world you’d be able to simply remove the stressors, but that’s not always possible. So instead, you could try just getting extra magnesium for a while. Some of the richest sources include pumpkin and chia seeds, almonds, cashews, and spinach. If you’re going to take a supplement, 300 to 500 milligrams should be enough.
Another mineral that’s considered “essential” because it’s vital for health and your body cannot make its own is zinc. Per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “It is a major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system.” A study of Navy SEALs as they participated in Hell Week found that candidates’ zinc levels dropped by 33 percent in response to the physical and psychological stressors they were exposed to. While you might not be carrying giant logs along a beach or lying in freezing water until you go numb, the point is that if you’re overstressed for any reason, you could well be low in zinc. That’s an issue because it’s involved in regulating the cellular and brain chemical responses to elevated stress, leaving you ill-equipped to get back to an equilibrium.
Zinc depletion can also be troublesome if you’ve just been training hard, according to a meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine, which noted a post exercise drop in zinc levels that could be due to its role in muscle tissue repair. As zinc is involved in immunity, it’s arguable that depleting it when you’re overly stressed could put you at a greater risk of getting sick. You can boost your dietary zinc intake by eating shellfish, lamb, lentils, and hemp seeds, and take an additional 10 to 30 mgs in a supplement if necessary.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C’s most celebrated role is arguably immune function. But what’s not as widely recognized is the part it plays in modulating mood and producing catecholamines (the group of neurotransmitters that responds to stress) like dopamine (aka the feel-good hormone) norepinephrine, and epinephrine. A paper published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease noted that while animals can create extra vitamin C while stressed to stimulate the release of extra cortisol and other hormones that put them in a fight-or-flight survival mode, humans cannot, and so are “at increased risk of adverse outcomes during both psychologic as well as physiologic stress.” As the adrenal glands use more vitamin C when they’re triggered to respond to a threat by the autonomic nervous system, your body’s levels can start running low when you’re on high alert physically or emotionally.
Another study conducted by American and Thai physiologists noted that vitamin C can be used up extra fast when you’re recovering from exercise, as it acts as an antioxidant to clear out free radicals, reactive oxygen species, and other byproducts released during aerobic training that can cause extra tissue damage. So whether you’re working out hard or feeling the heat in your job, you might need more than usual. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, bell peppers, and elderberries. A German study found that taking three 1,000 mg doses of a vitamin C supplement helped participants reduce their blood pressure and subjective perception of stress.
- B Vitamins
OK, this is technically cheating, as it isn’t one single micronutrient but a whole group of them. Yet B vitamins undoubtedly play a vital role in many elements of your health and wellbeing, so bear with us. Their diverse roles in the human body include breaking down fats and carbs, producing blood cells, and repairing DNA.
B vitamins are also crucial to the production of hormones and other chemicals that help your nervous system properly respond to external stimuli and, according to a British study, are “particularly prevalent to numerous aspects of brain function.” Vitamin B5 has earned its reputation as an anti-stress micronutrient because of its role in adrenal gland function along with cholesterol and, as we explored earlier, vitamin C. Vitamin B6 helps regulate the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA, while vitamin B12 is key to the optimal function and communication of brain cells.
Depletion of these and other B vitamins has been linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and age-related cognitive conditions like dementia. One possible cause is chronic stress, which negatively impacts nutrient absorption and can drain your body’s stores of certain vitamins and minerals. Consuming more B5 from meat, milk, and mushrooms, B6 from poultry, fish, and chickpeas, and B12 from eggs, dairy, and beef can help you top your B vitamins back up. If you’re going to supplement too, you might be better off with one that contains all of them rather than cherry-picking a few, as an Australian study found that “vitamin B complex treatment groups reported significantly lower personal strain and a reduction in confusion and depressed/dejected mood after 12 weeks” following extreme work stress.