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What are minerals & why do we need them

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 22nd of July 2014 Hadyn Luke 22/07/2014

Tags: Nutrition weight management

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What are minerals and why do we need them?

Essential minerals, the subject of this blog, are needed for a wide range of functions within the human body. Personal trainers and fitness instructors may find that clients lacking in certain minerals will not be able to train and exercise to their full potential.

Around 4% of our body mass is made up of minerals.

Major minerals and trace minerals

Within minerals, there are two recognised types: major minerals, also known as macrominerals, and trace minerals, also known as microminerals. While both are essential for health and wellbeing, macrominerals are required in larger amounts (more than 100mg a day) than microminerals (less than 100mg a day).

Major minerals – calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and sulphur.

Trace minerals – copper, chromium, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.

Why do we need essential minerals

In the same way that the body needs macronutrients and micronutrients (see our blog on Do you know your macronutrients?), it also requires a range of macrominerals and microminerals, all of which can be found in different food sources.

Minerals contribute to overall health by helping with the following three aspects of body function:

  1. Bone and teeth formation
  2. Heart rhythm, muscle contraction, nerve transmission and acid-base balance
  3. Cellular metabolism regulation

What are the key macrominerals and microminerals?

It’s helpful for personal trainers and fitness instructors to have a good basic knowledge of the major minerals and minor minerals, what they are used for and where they can be sourced.

Minerals often work together or in tandem with vitamins for healthy bodily function (see our blog on Personal training: Vitamin D – your day in the sun).

Because excessive intake of one mineral can affect how other minerals (and indeed vitamins) work, ie too much iron can cause a zinc deficiency, fitness professionals should be aware of any vitamin and mineral supplements that their clients may be taking.

The seven key macrominerals cover a wide range of activities within the body, as follows:

Sodium

We often read that we eat too much salt in our diets, especially from processed foods and table salt. However, sodium, which is also found in soy sauce and in smaller amounts in bread, milk, vegetables and meat, is essential for the body to keep to its required fluid balance, as well as for muscle contraction and nerve transmission.

Chloride

Found in many of the same sources as sodium, chloride is also needed for fluid balance and to create stomach acid for digesting protein and carbohydrate.

Calcium

Most people know that calcium – which is found in milk as well as foodstuffs such as broccoli, legumes and canned sardines/salmon with bones – is essential for healthy bones and teeth. However, it also helps with the immune system, nerve function, blood clotting and blood pressure regulation.

Potassium

Found in large quantities in bananas and plantain, potassium can also be sourced from other fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat, milk, legumes and wholegrains. Potassium helps with fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve transmission

Magnesium

Required for muscle contraction and nerve transmission, it also helps the immune system to function and to make protein. Good sources include nuts and seeds, seafood, leafy green vegetables, legumes and chocolate.

Phosphorus

Like calcium, phosphorus supports healthy bones and teeth, as well as helping to maintain the body’s acid-base balance and kidney function. It’s absorbed when we eat milk, meat, poultry, fish, nuts and eggs, as well as many processed foods, including carbonated drinks.

Sulphur

Found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, as well as eggs and dairy products, sulphur helps to form cartilage and skin, protects the body from infection and against radiation and pollution.

Of the microminerals, the one that is required in the largest quantities is iron, found in a range of foods from meat and fish to egg yolk and leafy greens, and important for healthy red blood cells and energy metabolism. The other microminerals contribute towards everything from healing wounds and preventing tooth decay to regulating blood sugar levels.

Advice on minerals from personal trainers

The Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification requires personal trainers to have a good level of knowledge about diet and nutrition as well as exercise. 

However, a fitness trainer working with a client who is suffering from unusual fatigue or other health issues that could be related to a lack of minerals, would be well advised to recommend that the client visit their GP for a referral to a specialist, such as a dietician. They will be able to investigate whether that person has any food intolerances or deficiencies that could affect their energy levels, including how they exercise. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, as any good personal trainer will know, the best route to wellbeing is to eat a healthy balanced diet, such as the one followed by the Food Standard Agency’s Eat Well plate, coupled with regular exercise, targeted to the individual’s needs (see our blog on Food labels: Counting calories and hidden fat).

Essential mineral intake is a key part of a healthy approach to nutrition and can make the difference between someone feeling lethargic and suffering from a variety of ailments, or enjoying the energy levels and health expected for their age, lifestyle and overall fitness.

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