A small study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center has found that a low intake of zinc may mean low energy levels in active people. The study, based on 14 active young men, found that cardiovascular fitness decreased when the participants followed a low zinc diet for 9 weeks.
Zinc is an essential mineral that stimulates activity in many of the body's enzymes. It is considered an important player in such vital functions as immune system defenses; wound healing and normal growth and development in children.
Researchers speculate the reason zinc is tied to athletic performance is due to an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, which relies on zinc for proper functioning. This enzyme, which is present in red blood cells, helps rid the body of carbon dioxide, with the demand greatly increasing during periods of exercise. When participants followed a low-zinc diet, these enzymes were far less active, as a result, their bodies were less efficient at expelling carbon dioxide.
While these new findings indicate the importance of adequate zinc intake in a person's capacity for exercise, it does not mean active people should load up on zinc pills. Researchers indicate the best way to get enough zinc in the diet is through food. Sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, yogurt, beans, nuts and whole grains.
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