In a quest for ‘nutrients to build muscle’, we often think first of muscle building vitamins. Maybe it’s because vitamins are organic substances while minerals are essentially inorganic, solid, crystalline structures that collectively make up rocks in the earth. Whatever the reason, essential minerals are often the forgotten nutritional key to good health and optimal muscle-building. In this article, we’ll cover the importance of certain dietary minerals while highlighting their role in health, peak performance, and as ‘nutrients to build muscle.’
Besides being inorganic, a major difference in minerals as compared to vitamins lies in the way they function as nutrients. Whereas vitamins are catalyzers of bodily chemical reactions without becoming byproducts of those reactions, some minerals get more “intimately involved”; they become part of the body’s chemicals and structure. Minerals also interact with vitamins, each affecting how the other is absorbed. And since they’re of similar molecular weight, some minerals compete with other minerals for bodily absorption. These are things to consider when looking at minerals as important maintainers of health and as vital ‘nutrients to build muscle.’
‘Nutrients to Build Muscle’: The 7 Major Minerals
There are seven major minerals that are essential for life. These are needed by the body in amounts over 100 milligrams per day. Obviously, this makes them of utmost importance as ‘nutrients to build muscle’, since muscle is a seriously metabolically active tissue. The seven major minerals are as follows:
Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Chloride
Of these seven essential minerals, five really stand out as having the most effect on muscle function. Among the many things they do (the list being too extensive for this article), helping with muscle contraction is one:
- Used in building bones and teeth
- Helps in muscle contraction
- Helps nerves to transmit impulses
- Helps in the secretion of certain hormones
- Electrolyte that helps maintain water balance
- Assists in muscle contraction
- Helps maintain normal blood pressure
- Helps in the sending of nerve impulses
- Works with calcium in formation of bones and teeth
- Assists in the contraction of muscles
- Assists in nerve conduction
- Helps in the metabolic release of energy from protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fat
- Serves as an electrolyte (along with potassium and chloride) to balance body’s water and acid-base balance.
- Needed for muscle contraction
- Helps with transmission of nerve impulses
- Helps regulate fluid exchange (along with potassium) within the body’s compartments
- Helps with energy metabolism
- Plays a role in muscle contraction
- Needed for bone mineralization
- Is needed for calcium to function in the body
The final two on the list of seven essential minerals, sulfur and chloride, are more general in their bodily functions and tend to be more plentiful in the body than other minerals. Sulfur is needed for collagen formation and is found in skin, hair, and nails. However, since most sulfur is nutritionally derived from protein foods, a deficiency is unlikely unless protein intake is woefully inadequate.
Chloride is an electrolyte that functions along with sodium and potassium in maintaining bodily water balance and transport. It’s normally derived in the diet through sodium intake by way of sodium chloride (table salt). Thus, chloride deficiency isn’t usually an issue except in cases of chronic malnutrition or acute cases of vomiting and/or diarrhea.
So what are the recommended daily intakes of these mineral ‘nutrients to build muscle?’ Let’s look at the minimum requirements and upper limits for each:
Calcium: 1,000 mg. to 1,200 mg. daily with 2,500 mg. being the absolute upper limit.
Potassium: Minimum of about 4,700 mg. daily with no upper limit established.
Phosphorus: Recommendation of about 700 mg. per day for adults. No upper limit established. Readily available in food so deficiency is rare and unlikely.
Sodium: At least 500 mg. per day with 2,300 mg. being the recommended upper daily limit.
Magnesium: About 420 mg. daily for men and 320 mg. daily for women. The only upper limit is suggested when taking magnesium supplements: No more than 350 mg. daily from supplements.
Some good food sources of these major minerals are as follows:
Calcium: Non-fat milk, plain yogurt, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, spinach, broccoli, fortified cereals, canned sardines, tofu, and salmon canned with the bones.
Potassium: Potatoes (with skins), sweet potatoes, bananas, plain nonfat yogurt, yellow fin tuna, halibut, lima beans, milk, pork chops (center loin), dried peaches, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon.
Phosphorus: Eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and legumes (fruits and vegetables are generally low in phosphorus).
Sodium: Cottage cheese, sauerkraut, soy sauce, sardines, sliced ham, sliced bologna, potato chips (Note: Most of the U.S. population is rarely deficient in sodium).
Magnesium: Milk, Yogurt, baked potato, brown rice, whole wheat bread, halibut, cashew nuts, spinach, and oat bran muffins.
‘Nutrients to Build Muscle’: Special Focus on Sodium and Potassium
Personally, as a bodybuilder, I’m interested in continuing to work my body with sufficient intensity to make muscle and strength gains. As a middle-aged guy, I need to make sure my body – particularly, my cardiovascular system – can handle this intensity without wrenching my ‘ticker’ and dropping me on the gym floor. This requires that I keep a close eye on my overall health with specific attention on my cardiovascular health; monitoring my blood pressure and cholesterol levels/ratios.
The balance between sodium and potassium levels in the body plays a role in this. Generally speaking, too much sodium tends to raise the risk of high blood pressure while higher potassium levels tend to blunt this effect of sodium. It’s important to me, and you as well (especially if you’re past age 35), to keep sodium levels reasonably low while getting potassium up to its effective counterbalancing level.
A corollary to this is the fact that regular physical exercise can have an effect on individual bodily needs of both of these electrolytes. It’s a good idea, therefore, to consult with your personal doctor to discover your balance and personal needs for these particular minerals.
‘Nutrients to Build Muscle’: Trace Minerals
There are 14 trace minerals that are important for health. Trace minerals are needed by the body in much smaller amounts than the seven major minerals listed above. Moreover, trace minerals are highly interactive with one another and it’s very easy to consume toxic doses of these minerals if prudence isn’t practiced when supplementing any of them.
The 14 trace minerals are as follows:
Iron, zinc, copper, chromium, manganese, selenium, iodine, molybdenum, fluoride, boron, vanadium, silicon, nickel, and strontium
Each of these minerals is needed for bodily health in its own unique amount. However, to create an exhaustive list of what each of these minerals does in the body is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, let’s keep with our theme of ‘nutrients to build muscle’ by focusing on which are most directly involved with that:
Iron: A component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. It’s needed for energy metabolism, neurotransmitter development, and immune function. Males require about 8 mg. per day and females between the ages of 19 and 50 require about 18 mg. per day. Women over 50 require about 8 mg. per day. Good sources are beef, eggs, fish, poultry, legumes, and green leafy vegetables.
Zinc: Needed for DNA synthesis and protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism. It’s also needed for general tissue growth and maintenance. Men need about 11mg. daily and women need about 9 mg. daily. Good sources of zinc are ground beef, poultry, shellfish, legumes, and dairy foods.
Copper: Works with iron to form hemoglobin. It’s needed for synthesis of collagen, energy metabolism, nervous system, and immune system. Good sources are seafood, liver, nuts, seeds, and beans. Recommended daily intake is about 900 micrograms with 10,000 micrograms being the absolute upper limit.
Chromium: Works with insulin. It’s debatable whether this helps muscle recuperation when taking supplemental doses. Good sources are unprocessed foods such as whole grains, egg yolks, broccoli, nuts, and green beans. Recommended intake is 35 micrograms daily for men and 25 micrograms daily for women.
Manganese: Needed for bone formation and metabolism of protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fat. Good sources are leafy vegetables, dried fruits, whole grains, and nuts. Recommended intake for men is 2.3 mg, daily. 1.8 daily mg. is recommended for women. The upper limit is 11 mg. per day.
Selenium: Functions to reduce peroxide free radicals that contribute to accelerated aging. It works synergistically with vitamin E as an antioxidant. It also plays a valuable role in proper thyroid function. Good sources are meat and seafood. Grains and vegetables are also good sources if they’re grown in selenium-rich soil. Recommended daily dosage is 55 micrograms with 400 micrograms being the upper limit.
‘Nutrients to Build Muscle’: Balance is the key
When I was young and desperate to build muscle, I was naïve and willing to accept many wild bodybuilding supplements claims at face value. Given that some of these claims pertained to high doses of certain minerals, it’s somewhat surprising (and a blessing) that I never hurt myself – at least not acutely.
Two wild claims stand out: At one time it was hypothesized that supplemental boron could raise testosterone levels in men. Just 3 micrograms was claimed to be the daily dosage that would turn a guy’s body into an anabolic machine that would nearly rival the effects of some steroids.
Another time, it was vanadium that was claimed to be a muscle building miracle via its purported ability to improve sensitivity to insulin. Supplemental versions of each of these respective minerals hit the market with huge promotional campaigns back around the late eighties and early nineties. Of course, the claims were bogus and the hype died down. But not before many guys ingested high doses of these (supposedly) ‘trace’ minerals.
My point: Be careful in consuming ‘nutrients to build muscle.’ Whether it’s a water soluble vitamin or a trace mineral such as zinc – more is only better if you’re not getting enough. If you’re already consuming enough, a higher dosage can very easily become a level that’s detrimental to health – especially in the case of some minerals and trace minerals.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed the “balanced diet approach” is a piece of wisdom that’s simple but priceless.