A guide to zinc and why runners need it

It might come last in the alphabetical list, but zinc is one of the foremost minerals for active people. Zinc has many benefits for runners – it’s vital for energy metabolism, essential for a healthy immune system and helps wound healing and injury recovery, all of which are key to good running performance. Because we sweat out small amounts of zinc every time we run, runners can be at risk of zinc deficiency. This makes it especially important runners eat lots of foods high in zinc to get the recommended daily intake from a whole food diet, but where this isn’t possible also look to support that diet with zinc supplements. Here’s more information on this essential mineral, and how to make sure you’re getting enough.

Zinc benefits for runners

Zinc is an essential nutrient, meaning your body can’t produce it, so you have to get it through your diet or supplementation. Zinc is vital for wound healing, protein synthesis, growth and development and immune function. It’s required for maintenance of cell membrane activity, enzyme activity, cellular respiration and DNA reproduction. Studies show that 25% of the world’s population is affected by zinc deficiency, but this could be much higher among athletes. This is partly due to dietary choices, but you also lose zinc when you sweat. In athletes, deficiency can lead to fatigue, decreased endurance and risk of osteoporosis.

Signs of zinc deficiency

There is no one clear sign, but being more prone to colds and infections and slow wound healing are two signs that could compromise your training. Symptoms of deficiency also include, but are not limited to, decreased appetite, altered sense of smell/taste, skin issues and fertility challenges. The best way to find out for sure is to work with a nutritionist or a medical professional to run some tests.

How much zinc do you need?

The current recommended daily intake of zinc in the UK is 7mg per day for women and 9.5mg for men. Ensure you are eating foods naturally rich in zinc or consider a supplement if you’re not able to include enough in your diet. A food-first approach to nutrition is always recommended before reaching for supplements, so add zinc-rich foods into your diet.

Foods high in zinc

(amounts per 100g)

Fish & Shellfish

Oysters 90mg
Crab 5.9mg
Mussels 2.7mg
Sardines 1.3mg


Beef 6.6mg
Pork 3.2mg
Turkey 2.0mg


Chickpeas 3.4mg
Lentils 1.3mg

Nuts & Seeds

Pumpkin seeds 10.3mg
Cashews 5.8mg

Should you take a zinc supplement?

If you are deficient a supplement may be the best way to increase your levels. It is worth noting that there are several forms of zinc supplements, with some better absorbed than others. Studies show that absorption of zinc citrate and gluconate was 60% or higher, whereas zinc oxide was just below 50%, with several subjects obtaining little or no absorption from this form.

It’s also important to note that taking high doses of zinc reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb, which can lead to anaemia and weakening of the bones. It is not advisable to take high levels of zinc for extended periods of time and the NHS advises people to not take more than 25mg of zinc supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor.

Best zinc supplements

Kim Pearson is a nutritionist with more than 10 years’ experience. kim-pearson.com

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By Percy