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Trace elements comprise of only 0.02 % of total body weight. Human body consists of 16 trace elements. Trace elements are present in the body as essential elements (Chromium, Copper, Zinc, and Selenium), possibly essential elements (manganese) and toxic elements (lead) (Mehri et al., 2013). With this less amount also, these trace elements perform all types of functions of the body like metabolic, physiologic, biological, chemical and molecular. Maintaining normal physiological functions is essential for the sports persons. These trace elements assist in maintaining normal physiologic functions of sports persons which includes muscle contraction, usual heart activity, monitoring nerve impulse transmission, oxygen transport, promoting oxidative phosphorylation, enzyme activation, immune functions, antioxidant potential, maintaining bone health, and acid-base balance of the blood (Speich et al., 2001). As most of the above mentioned activities are increased in the sports persons, it is required to maintain ideal level of the elements in the body of sports person specifically through the nutritional supplements.
Reference values are not generally useful in evaluating optimal level of trace element in sports persons because level of these elements changes after the physical activity. (Nielsen , 1990). In athletes, these trace elements are lost through urine and during sweating. While evaluating, level of trace elements in the body of athletes, conclusion should not be based solely on the blood levels of trace elements because these trace elements might have redistributed to the other parts of the body to perform its respective functioning. Specifically, immediately after the completion of the exercise, there is more possibility of these trace elements to redistribute to different body parts (Kienlen, 1977; Wada, 2004).
Human body requires iron, copper and zinc in milligram amount and selenium, lead, chromium and manganese in microgram quantity.
Iron: Iron is an essential part of haemoglobin and myoglobin, which are present in red blood cells and muscle tissue respectively. Iron is essential during energy exercise for the transport and metabolism of oxygen, which is required for aerobic energy production. It has been established that supplementation of iron in athletes results in the enhancement of VO2max, which is essential for aerobic endurance activity. Iron performs this function of oxygen supply through above mentioned proteins like haemoglobin and myoglobin (Brownlie et al., 2002; Hinton et al. 2000). Iron take part in reactions of oxidation and reduction by donating and accepting the electrons, this helps in generation of metabolic energy, required for the sports persons during their endurance activities. Reasons for the deficiency of iron in the sports persons as compared other sedentary human being include hemolysis, myoglobin seepage, sweat losses, and menstrual losses in female athletes (Schumacher et al., 2002; Williams, 2004). Iron deficiency causes anaemia which produces harm to muscular regeneration which is essential for the endurance activity. There is the more possibility of deficiency of iron as compared to the other trace elements in both male and female athlete. Iron should be avoided along with calcium and vitamin E, because these are the inhibitors of the iron.
Zinc: Many enzymes in the body are essential for functions of endurance activities like muscle energy production and protein biosynthesis. Zinc is the constituent of such many enzymes in the body. Also, Zinc plays important role in enzyme and insulin formation. Zinc is required for maintaining strong immune system, synthesis of collagen and proteins. Zinc is essential for cell division and maintaining normal structure and functioning of the skeletal muscle, which is most notable requirement for athelets. All these are essential for the athletes. Zinc level in the body has effect on thyroid hormone status, basal metabolic rate (BMR), and protein utilization. All these factors affect endurance and strength performance of athlete (Volpe, 2006). Zinc denatured very quickly in the body and moreover it is present along with calcium in many supplements for athletes, there is more possibility of zinc deficiency in athletes, because calcium inhibits zinc absorption. Reduced level of zinc results in the deprived growth and sexual maturation, anaemia, enlargement of organs like liver and spleen, and lethargy.
Copper: Copper is the essential component of the muscular and skeletal systems. This system helps the athletes by giving support to the body and allowing movement of the body. Copper is required for collagen synthesis which helps is recovering tendon injuries in the sports persons. Copper is also helpful in preventing anaemia in athletes, as it involved in the formation red blood cells (RBCs) and improving absorption of iron. It has been reported that there is increase in the blood copper level after exercise (Chan et al., 1998). Most of the athletes are consuming vitamin C and vitamin C interferes the absorption of the copper, hence copper deficiency occurs in the athletes. Less amount of copper produces anaemia, reduced wound healing, decreased synthesis of collagen and lethargy.
Synthesis of proteins is very essential for the athletes. Copper along with above mentioned iron and zinc are involved in the protein synthesis. Trace elements help in the formation of proteins by enhancing the binding ability of molecule to their respective receptors located at the cell membranes. By virtue of this, these trace elements maintain structural integrity of cell membrane and ionic nature of the cell membrane. This function of trace element control inflow and outflow of specific molecules in the cell and induces specific gene expression, which results in protein synthesis (Lukaski, 2004).
Chromium: Chromium is essential for both strength and aerobic energy activity, which increase overall sports persons performance. Chromium performs its function through insulin as it acts as cofactor for the insulin. Insulin assists in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) transport to the muscle. Chromium helps in the metabolism of sugar and fat, which produces energy for the athletes. Chromium performs this function by maintaining blood sugar level by increasing level of stored glycogen under the effect of insulin. There is less likely possibility of chromium deficiency in the athletes. In some case deficiency produces fatigue, hypoglycaemia, and arteriosclerosis risk (Mehri et al., 2013; Williams, 2005).
Selenium: Selenium is toxic in large quantity, however, it performs important biological activities when consumed in less amount. Glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase are the antioxidant enzymes which acts at cellular level. Selenium is constituent of this glutathione peroxidise and thioredoxin reductase enzymes. Selenium improves oxygen metabolism and aerobic exercise by preventing peroxidation of the membrane of RBC and muscle cell structure. Deficiency of selenium has effect on red blood cells and produces heart and skeletal muscle degeneration (Mehri et al., 2013).
Manganese: Manganese acts as cofactor for several enzymes in the body and it is required for the bone and connective tissue formation. In sports persons, it helps in recovering from strains and sprains, accelerate healing of sports injuries, and reduce exhaustion due to exercise. Decreased amount of manganese results in atypical development of bone and connective tissues (Mehri et al., 2013; Williams, 2005).
Lead: Lead is considered as potentially toxic element hence its role in sports is negligible. As a toxic element it produces toxic effects like anaemia, hypertension, nephropathy and disruption of brain and sperm (Rabinowitz et al, 1980). Lead deficiency doesn’t have significant effect on the body.
In summary supplementation of the these trace elements are useful in improving endurance and strength activities is sports persons by correcting anaemia, enhancing the actions of insulin and testosterone, improving muscle strength and enhancing the oxygen uptake. Though, there should be sense of balance for maintaining optimum level of trace elements in the body, as both higher and lower levels affect performance of the athletes. Consumption of food rich in these trace elements definitely helpful in maintaining the required level of trace elements in the athletes.
Brownlie, T., et al. (2002). Marginal iron deficiency without anemia impairs aerobic adaptation among previously untrained women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75, pp. 734-42.
Chan, S., Gerson, B., Subramaniam, S. (1998). The role of copper, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc in nutrition and health. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine , 18(4), pp.673-85.
Hinton, P., et al. (2000). Iron supplementation improves endurance after training in iron-depleted nonanemic women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, pp. 1103-11.
Kien len, J. (1977). Deficiencies in trace elements during parenteral alimentation. Ann Anesthesiol Fr, 18, pp. 1019-34.
Lukaski, H.C. (2004). Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition, 20, pp.632-44.
Mehri , A., Marjan, R. F. (2013) Trace Elements in Human Nutrition: A Review International Journal of Medical Investigation, 2(3), pp. 115-128.
Nielsen, F.H. (1990). New essential trace elements for the life sciences. Biological Trace Element Research, 26-27, pp. 599-611.
Rabinowitz, M.B., Kopple, J.D., Wcrherill, G.W. (1980). Effect of food intake and fasting on gastrointestinal lead absorption in human. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 33, pp.1784-1788.
Schumacher, Y., et al. (2002). Hematological indices and iron status in athletes of various sports and performances. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34, pp. 869-75.
Speich, M., et al. (2001). Minerals, trace elements and related biological variables in athletes and during physical activity. Clinica Chimica Acta, 312, pp. 1-11.
Volpe, S. (2006). Vitamins, minerals and exercise. In: Dunford M, editor. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. Chicago (IL): American Dietetic Association, p. 61-3.
Wada, O. (2004). What are trace elements? Their deficiency and excess states. Japan Medical Association, 47, pp. 351-8.
Williams, M. H. (2004). Nutrition for Health, Fitness & Sport (7th edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Williams, M. H. (2005). Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Minerals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2(1), pp.43-49.
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