How Can You Detect Nutrient Deficiencies?

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Other than getting a complete blood panel done, is there a less expensive way to make sure you are fulfilling all your vitamin needs as a runner?
– Jen Burn, Carbondale, CO

Runners put a lot of stress on their bodies. From weekly high mileage to intense training workouts to racing for hours, it is important that your body is getting the nourishment it needs to train, race and recover. It is advisable to visit your doctor and get regular blood work done once or twice a year to make sure all of your levels are within a normal range. Unfortunately, depending on insurance coverage, a complete blood panel can be very expensive.

While nothing should replace regular doctor visits, there are ways to help you determine whether you’re fulfilling your dietary needs. Using apps and mobile dietary trackers can help you detect patterns in your eating habits, gauge the quality of your diet and estimate your daily intake of calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat. However, some programs have a limited food database, and most information is estimated. Also, because updating these programs takes time and relies on an Internet connection to access, they may be burdensome in the long run.

Fortunately, our bodies are the best gauge of good health and are great at communicating when something is awry. Keep a record in your training log of how your body feels. Take note if you feel particularly tired or are having a hard time recovering from long or intense runs. Notice irregular patterns in appetite, sleep or mood. If you are experiencing any deviation from what is normal to you, it may be time to either evaluate your current eating plan, adjust your training regimen or both.

Common Deficiencies in Runners

Signs & Symptoms of Deficiency


Fatigue; Weakness; Pale skin; Cold hands and feet; Fast heartbeat

Vitamin B12

Fatigue; Pale skin; Shortness of breath; Loss of appetite


Stress fractures; Low bone mineral density

Vitamin D

Fractures; Bone pain; Muscle weakness

Antioxidants (Vitamins C & E, Selenium)

Poor performance; Inability to recover

Eat a diet that does not overly restrict calories. Eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day for women and 1,500 calories a day for men is not enough energy to ensure optimal vitamin and nutrient intake. If you are eating enough calories in the form of a variety of plants, fruits, vegetables, grains and lean protein, you should not have to worry about being deficient in one specific nutrient.

If you are a woman of child-bearing age, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, there are some minerals you should be mindful of especially when you are pushing yourself daily. Iron, calcium and folic acid levels should be closely monitored. It may also be beneficial for runners to have their bone mineral density (BMD) taken, as a decreased BMD can increase the risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis later in life.

If you have any concerns that you are deficient in certain nutrients, meet with a registered dietitian who can take a closer look at your diet or speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner about getting tested. Though it may cost a pretty penny, keeping your health in check and your feet on the trails is well worth it.

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