If you’re into fitness, you’ve probably heard it all — focus on your calories and “macro” ratio. “Macro,” short for “macronutrients,” is a term used for protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These three are the basic components of any diet, and counting macros can result in a much more effective diet than mere caloric restriction. After all, it is possible for you to lose weight on ice cream cake, as long as you eat fewer calories than you burn. But who’s ever heard of eating cake for optimal health?
Fitness nerds probably have the macro ratios down to a scientific formula. But macros aren’t the only nutrients you need for a well-balanced diet. Focus too much on counting macros, and you just might end up with hair loss (as if male pattern baldness wasn’t enough of an issue), brittle nails, lower sex drive, poor immune system, and mood swings.
So what can you do? Thankfully, there are micronutrients, 30-40 essential vitamins and minerals that play vital roles in keeping your body healthy. You only need small amounts of them, but your needs can be very different from your best buddy’s — just like men and women need different micronutrients, if you are younger or more active than your friends, than your needs are likely different from theirs as well. Here are several micronutrients that you should consider for your health:
Also, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is well known for its essential role in calcium absorption and proper bone growth. However, not many people know that vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to several types of cancers including breast and prostate cancers, heart disease, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and weight gain.
Want to keep your pearly whites as long as possible? Then you’d want to make sure you’re getting enough of this important vitamin, since a deficiency can lead to gaps in the dentin, the yellowish tissue that make up 85% of a tooth’s structure.
If you love orange juice, you’re in luck. Participants of a 16-week study found that those who drank vitamin D-fortified orange juice experienced significant reduction in abdominal fat compared to those who didn’t. It can also help you keep those luscious locks longer by creating more hair follicles.
Vitamin D deficiencies are common — especially for those of you who live far away from the equator — but it’s easy to get your daily dosage of 4000 IU per day from food. Some sources of vitamin D include: egg yolks, orange juice, dairy, and oily fish like sardines and salmon. Be sure not to overdose on this vitamin! If you feel nausea, vomiting, weakness, poor appetite, or frequent urination, stop taking any vitamin D and calcium supplements, and talk to your doctor about being monitored for vitamin D toxicity.
Your college days are probably far behind you, but you might still be able to remember the sleepless nights of chugging one carbonated energy drink after another to cram for an exam; the times when coffee was pretty much the same thing as water; the frat parties where you probably had more shots than you can remember; and eating donuts for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late-night snack.
Those days might have been fun, but if you suffered any muscle spasms, irritability, migraines, or sleep difficulties, you probably had magnesium deficiency. This micronutrient is particularly important for several bodily functions like electrolyte balance, oxygen uptake, maintenance of heart and muscle health, and energy production. Magnesium is also an essential cofactor for enzymes, and has been extensively studied for its protective mechanism during DNA repair.
If those aren’t enough reasons, pay attention — magnesium affects your testosterone level. It is known as an anti-aging nutrient for men due to its ability to help keep men’s sex drive and stamina high, so if you haven’t been feeling like yourself in the bedroom lately, adding magnesium to your diet might help. The daily recommended dose is 400-420 mg per day, which can be obtained from leafy greens, peanuts, almonds, whole grains, and tofu.
Like magnesium, this micronutrient is also critical for enzyme function as well as wound healing and protein synthesis. Zinc is considered an essential nutrient for aging men due to scientists’ belief that a high concentration of zinc in the prostate gland is linked to the maintenance of good prostate health. It is also involved in spermatogenesis, and without it, you could end up becoming impotent.
It is recommended that you take 11 mg of zinc per day, which can be found in red meat, poultry, yogurt, almonds, beans, cashews, and chickpeas. Don’t forget oysters — there’s a reason why they call it an aphrodisiac!
Aging is inevitable. And for men, it means declining testosterone levels, which in turn leads to increased risk of osteoporosis or loss of bone mass and density. While you can’t reverse the aging process, you can take your mother’s advice to heart and drink your milk. Calcium isn’t just for your bones though; it protects your teeth, regulates your blood pressure, keeps you mentally sharp, and ensures that your body has a healthy circulation of nutrients, oxygen, and energy. It is also needed for the production of enzymes and hormones.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can get your 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day through dark, leafy greens, whole grains, seeds, almonds, and fish like sardines and salmon.
Selenium tops off this list of the fabulous five micronutrients. This micronutrient is a powerhouse defender against cancer due to its role in working with enzymes and vitamin E to eliminate free radicals. It is essential for a healthy immune system; supplementation with selenium has been shown to benefit HIV patients, many of whom severely lack this mineral.
Selenium also works to repair DNA damage, which can prevent the formation and/or growth of tumor cells. In particular interest to men, selenium has shown to increase sperm motility and prevent hypertension, which can cause erectile dysfunction.
The recommended dosage for selenium is 55 micrograms per day. However, studies have indicated that dosages of 100-300 micrograms per day were necessary for its protective benefits against cancer. Over-supplementation with selenium can be dangerous, so it’s best to get it from food sources. These include: Brazil nuts, eggs, tuna, sunflower seeds, cereals, grains, chicken breast, mushrooms, and salmon.
A good diet consists of more than just protein, fat, and carbs. Micronutrients are “superfoods” that are vital for proper bodily functions. Without them, your “macro” ratio will cease to matter. As with any supplement or vitamin, talk to your doctor before adding these micronutrients to your diet. If your doctor agrees with an increase in your intake of these vitamins and/or minerals, it’s best to do so through whole food sources instead of isolated supplements unless you have a severe deficiency.