If your first question is “What the heck are ACES???”… Let me just say, good question!
No, I’m not referring to the ace of spades, commonly seen as the highest card in a deck of playing cards. ACES is a cute acronym to remember the top antioxidant nutrients required for a strong and healthy immune system: vitamin’s A, C and E and the mineral selenium. You could say they are commonly seen as the top micronutrients within the list of vitamins and minerals we need!
It’s no secret that a key to running well and improving performance relies on keeping your immune system strong. During periods of intense speed workouts and/or high mileage and for 1-2 weeks following race events, runners are at an increased risk of getting sick. In fact anyone that is experiencing a high volume of stress (physical or psychological) is going to be susceptible to catching the latest bug going around, due to the fact that stress hormones (ie. cortisol, adrenaline) suppress the immune system.
Well shizzle sticks. What’s a runner to do?
Why, eat up some ACES of course! It’s well documented that the specific micronutrients vitamins A, C, E and selenium (along with B6, B12, iron, zinc and copper) are all critical factors for the maintenance of a strong immune system. The question becomes whether or not to use supplements to ensure we’re getting enough or to simply rely on our diet. Which is best?
According to Louise Burke and Vicki Deakin in Clinical Sports Nutrition (2010), “there is no clear evidence to suggest that an athlete will benefit from high dosages of anti-oxidant supplements, despite the theoretical basis”. In fact, they go on to say that these supplements have the potential to do more harm than good. And Greg Cox in his article Boosting immune function in athletes writes that there is a growing list of research papers reporting no change in immunity when taking immune-boosting supplements.
That said, if you are lacking in the essential micronutrients (for example, due to a poor diet, a restricted diet, or travel) or are currently fighting a cold or infection, a good multivitamin will cover the basis and ensure you’re meeting your daily recommended intake.
At the end of the day, our money is best spent by investing in nutrient-rich foods that provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, all of which are naturally present in whole, natural foods.
The take-home message? Eat your veggies and fruits. Get adequate carbohydrates, fat and protein through whole and natural sources. How do we do that? Plan for it! Pre-plan what you are going to eat on a daily basis (more or less – save some room for spontaneity!). It comes down to being ready for your training week by having your fridge stocked with the necessary ingredients to keep you strong and healthy, and knowing how to prepare tasty meals and snacks with those ingredients.
Before I sign off, let me share with you my favourite sources of each of the micronutrients required for the maintenance of a strong immune system:
- sweet potatoes/yams (1 medium = 475% DV)
- carrots (1 medium = 204% DV)
- kale (1oz = 86% DV)
- spinach (1oz = 53% DV)
*Note… There are two forms of vitamin A –> the water soluble form (beta-carotene) is not toxic (as found in the above foods). However, pre-formed retinol (the active form of vitamin A) is toxic in high amounts (found in some supplements, check the label).
- red peppers (1 med = 253% DV)
- strawberries (8-10 = 100% DV)
- kale (1oz = 56% DV)
- lemons (fresh lemon juice, 1 lemon = 36% DV)
- sunflower seeds (1oz=47% DV)
- almonds (1oz=37% DV)
- nutritional yeast (1Tbsp = 240% DV)
- potatoes (1 med=27% DV)
- bananas (1 med = 22% DV)
- sunflower seeds (1oz = 19% DV)
- salmon (3oz = 71% DV)
- nutritional yeast (1Tbsp = 50% DV)
- halibut (100g = 20% DV)
- eggs (1 large = 11% DV)
Iron (DV for endurance athletes: males=17.5mg/day; females=23mg)
- pumpkin seeds (4.2mg/oz)
- potatoes (2g/1med)
- tahini (2.6mg/2Tbsp)
- chickpeas (2.3mg/half cup)
- quinoa (2mg/quarter cup)
- cocoa (1.5mg/2 Tbsp)
- pumpkin seeds (1oz = 14% DV)
- sunflower seeds (1oz = 9% DV)
- cashews (1oz = 31% DV)
- sunflower seeds (1oz = 25% DV)
- pumpkin seeds (1oz = 19% DV)
- brazil nuts (1 nut /5g = 137% DV)
- sunflower seeds (1oz = 21% DV)
Now go stock that fridge 🙂