For optimal health and athletic performance you need a diet that fills your belly with foods that not only provide calories from macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates but also certain must-have micronutrients and vitamins.
Sadly, the main American diet is full of processed foods that don’t do a very good job of providing the most important vitamins in optimal amounts, many vitamins are actually pumped back into processed foods like white bread but this is not the best way to get what you need. If you buck the trend and focus on consuming nutrient-rich foods you will be supplying your body with many of the raw goods it needs to perform at it’s best.
Humans needs vitamin A for proper cell growth which in turn plays a large role in forming and maintaining organs like the heart, skin and lungs. Vitamin A is also needed for vision, immune health and bone health.
There are two main sources of vitamin A, animal sources which contain preformed vitamin A in the form of retinol, and plant sources which contain provitamin A carotenoids that the body converts to retinol. The most important carotenoid is beta-carotene which gives vegetables their bright orange color in things like carrots and orange bell peppers.
The RDA (Recommended daily allowance) for vitamin A is provided in micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) to account for the different bioactivities of preformed vitamin A and vitamin A precursors, it’s pretty confusing stuff, just eat a bunch of the foods below and you are good to go. Adult men need 900 micrograms RAE daily whilst women should get 700 micrograms RAE.
3 Ounces = 444% RDA
Perhaps it is time to start serving liver and onions for dinner more often since vitamin A is stored in the liver. It should come as no surprise that this organ meat from beef and other animals is a top-notch source. Liver is actually more concentrated as a source of several nutrients like vitamin B12 and copper than normal cuts of steak, let’s also not forget the muscle-building 21g of protein as well in a small 3oz. serving.
Nobody loves liver with a skin texture akin to shoe leather so cook it quickly in a hot skillet so that the outside sears and the interior remains tender and pink. This normally takes around 3 minutes per side, soaking liver for upto 8 hours in water spiked with salt and lemon juices before cooking can help reduce the strong flavor as well as tenderize the meat.
1 Medium potato = 438% RDA
The vitamin A you will obtain from a sweet potato comes with a plethora of beta-carotene. As well as vitamin A, beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant in the body which has been linked with a lower risk of developing diabetes. Other nutritional perks include ample fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium.
1 Cup = 206% RDA
More proof that this hipster green is worthy of the superfood label. Like sweet potato, the vitamin A in Kale is mainly in the form of the orange pigment beta-carotene. The high amount of chlorophyll in the leafy green vegetable is why it is not orange in color, other things include vitamins C and K.
If you don’t like kale’s bitter side, a quick steaming can mellow the flavor, also consider stripping the leaves from the stem which is far more bitter. Buy frozen kale if that is too much work which is flash frozen soon after harvest to lock in the beta-carotene and other nutrients.
The list doesn’t end there, other vitamin A sources are pumpkin, carrots, butternut squash, milk, cod liver oil, broccoli leaves, Swiss chard, spinach, goats cheese, turkey and chicken giblets, eel, bluefin tuna and egg yolk.
To keep those bones of steel, it is important to get enough vitamin D. This nutrition is required for proper calcium absorption and impacts the function of compounds called osteoblasts which are involved with bone formation.
Recent research in more recent years has shown that vitamin D’s role in the body is far more than just strengthening the skeleton. Adequate vitamin D has been linked to everything from improved heart health and brain function to lowered risks of diabetes and obesity.
Many genes in the body are impacted by vitamin D which is why it has such a s varied resume. Those who like to spend time working up a sweat should take note of some data which suggests that vitamin D may help improve athletic performance and muscular strength, reduce inflammation and even bolster testosterone production. This is more noticeable if you are vitamin D deficient, which well over half the population is.
In a similar fashion to vitamin A, there are two forms of vitamin D. Vitamin D derived from sunlight in the form of vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol. When UV rays hit the skin, a molecule in the epidermis – 7-dehydrocholesterol is triggered to initiate vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D3 is also found in animal sources such as egg yolks and fish.
Vitamin D2 however is derived from mold and yeast. D2 is also known as ergocalciferol, can also be found in plant sources such as mushrooms.
Vitamin D3 has been shown to be the most potent of the two and most likely to show effects within the body and is the form used most extensively in clinical trials.
Adults who don’t see much sun should aim for at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day.
1 Ounce = 115% RDA
No fish out does herring when it comes to vitamin D, it is one of the best sandwich meats when it comes to building muscle, providing plenty of protein and vitamin B12.
Fresh herring availability can be a bit hit or miss so keep an eye out for pickled or smoked versions which can instantly up the nutritional power of your lunch sandwiches.
Canned Sockeye Salmon
3 Ounce = 162% RDA
Yet more proof that the canned food aisle is somewhere you should spin your wheels. Canned salmon is a convenient way to load up on vitamin D. Other nutritional perks include protein, omega-3 fatty acids and even calcium if you eat the softened bones. Less expensive canned pink salmon also supplies decent amounts of vitamin D, not quite as much as the richer tasting sockeye though.
Other good sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, sardines, mackerel, fresh sockeye salmon, shrimp, milk, egg yolks and fortified foods such as yogurt, non-dairy milks, orange juice and cereals.
Very few foods are actually packed with vitamin D. Vitamin D status is very much determined by sun exposure, your location relative to the equator, amount of time spent outside, skin pigmentation and the use of sunscreen. Have your vitamin D levels checked by a doctor using a simple blood test. If you are deficient, consult a doctor about supplementing with 2,000 – 5,000 IU daily of vitamin D3.
It is possible with vitamin A, but you would have to make a constant, prolonged effort to do so. Eating large amounts of liver, cod liver oil or overdoing other high-level animal-based sources may lead to hypervitaminosis A (toxic levels of vitamin A). Large amounts of beta-carotene (from orange and yellow fruits and veggies) will not make you sick though.
The ceiling is much higher for vitamin D and a lot less clear. Many people deficient in vitamin D take 5,000 IU+ daily safely and many nutritional circles have been trying to raise the RDA from it’s current 600-800 IU up to around 4000 IU.
If you have been trying really hard with your diet then try to get some of these extra vitamins in there to top things up.
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