Minerals are one of the six classes of essential nutrients found in foods that are important for human health, alongside carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, vitamins and water. Unlike carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, known as ‘macronutrients’, minerals are classed as ‘micronutrients’ as they are required in smaller amounts, making up just 5% of one’s diet.1 These micronutrients act as little helpers, assisting with important bodily processes (like metabolism) that help to generate the energy we require to function. However, it’s important to remember that while we need these minerals, high doses can be toxic and harmful to the body.2
Among the many minerals that play vital roles in meeting our body’s energy needs, magnesium and iron are critical players in energy metabolism. They help build important molecules such as DNA and ensure that oxygen gets carried to our brains and muscles, keeping them supplied with necessary resources.2 Additionally, trace minerals such as copper and chromium, which are needed in even smaller amounts than their ‘bigger’ counterparts, also contribute to our energy supply.
Magnesium: A metabolic catalyst
Magnesium is involved in the activation of over 300 enzymes in the body.3 In particular, it plays a vital role in the generation and usage of ATP, the body’s energy currency. An ATP molecule requires a magnesium ion (Mg2+) to work properly within our cells. These Mg-ATP complexes are crucial to help certain enzymes during the process of turning sugar into pyruvate compounds (glycolysis) and further to convert these compounds into energy (citric acid cycle). Specifically, in the mitochondria, which are the energy factories of the cell, ATP and magnesium work together to move energy from the mitochondria into the main compartment of the cell to be used.1 Magnesium is also largely significant for muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and maintaining the heart rhythm, all of which require energy.
Foods such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and almonds are highest in magnesium, followed by green leafy vegetables such as spinach and legumes. However, around 30-40% of magnesium that is consumed is absorbed by the body, with a normal serum value of 80-95mmol/L considered healthy.4 If serum levels are under this amount, a person is considered magnesium deficient, which is a common cause of fatigue and weakness.5
Iron: Oxygen carrier and beyond
Iron is another vital mineral that aids in energy-yielding metabolism, particularly by carrying oxygen in our body. Around two-thirds of the body’s iron is found in a protein called haemoglobin, which is the protein found in the red blood cells that transport oxygen around the body.6 Therefore, iron deficiencies mean that red blood cells cannot transport enough oxygen to the muscles, leading to fatigue. Myoglobin is also an important compound involved in short-term energy storage.7 Iron-containing enzymes, such as heme, are also important in the electron transfer chain and oxidation-reduction reactions involved in the processing of foods for energy.8
Dietary sources of iron are categorized into two types: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron, found in animal products like meat, fish, and poultry, is the most easily absorbed form of iron by the body, with around 30 % being absorbed. On the other hand, non-heme iron, present in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, is also important for a balanced diet but is not absorbed completely. The adult recommended intake of iron is 10-15mg a day, in which only 1-2mg is absorbed by the body. When these needs are not met, a person can develop anaemia, which is an iron deficiency characterised by a feeling of ‘constant tiredness’.9
are minerals that are required in smaller amounts than minerals like magnesium and iron, making up just 0.01% of one’s body weight.1 However, their presence is still crucial for the maintenance of energy in the body.
Zinc and manganese
In their optimum amounts, zinc and manganese ions can promote cell growth, manage the levels of other important molecules, and control when cells live or die. However, too much manganese and zinc can cause a build-up in the mitochondria, disrupting the work of enzymes and generating toxic by-products like hydrogen peroxide.10 Therefore, their concentrations must be ‘just right’ for the body to function healthily. Special carriers and buffers ensure that their levels are balanced.
Chromium and copper
Other trace minerals, such as chromium, are very important in maintaining normal glucose levels in the blood by impacting the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the body’s key to generating energy from glucose. Chromium deficiencies have shown issues in metabolising macronutrients such as carbohydrates and lipids, as well as high blood cholesterol and glucose intolerances, demonstrating the importance of adequate intake.11
Additionally, although copper is also required in very small amounts in the body, it holds important roles in energy-yielding reactions. Specifically, copper helps enzymes make sure oxygen gets turned into something useful for our cells, which helps them create energy.12
Dietary strategies for optimal energy
To enhance energy levels throughout the day, one must consume the right amount of minerals through food. This can help prevent mineral deficiencies that lead to fatigue and weakness.
Magnesium, found in nuts, seeds, leafy greens and whole grains, helps your body convert food into energy efficiently. Additionally, including lean meats, poultry, fish, and legumes in your diet provides a good dose of iron, which is crucial for carrying oxygen to your cells and maintaining energy. Zinc, found in lean meats, dairy, nuts, and whole grains, helps your body use carbohydrates for fuel. To enhance the absorption of non-heme iron (iron from plant-based sources), it is also recommended to pair them with foods high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits, berries, and vegetables. By thoughtfully choosing foods rich in these minerals, one can boost their energy levels throughout the day and maintain a healthy lifestyle.13
Minerals significantly influence the processing of macronutrients and subsequent energy production. Minerals often facilitate these processes by acting as cofactors for enzymes and other important molecules, forming more biologically active complexes to facilitate the reactivity of certain energy-yielding metabolic pathways. Despite being needed in trace amounts, their impact on the body is considerable. Symptoms of tiredness and fatigue are commonly associated with mineral deficiencies,; it is very important to have a healthy and balanced diet to ensure optimal energy.
- Tako E. Dietary Trace Minerals. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 19;11(11):2823.
- Tardy AL, Pouteau E, Marquez D, Yilmaz C, Scholey A. Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 16;12(1):228.
- Faryadi D.Q. The Magnificent Effect of Magnesium on Human Health: A Critical Review. 2012;2(3).
- Fine KD, Ana CAS, Porter JL, Fordtran JS. Intestinal absorption of magnesium from food and supplements. J Clin Invest. 1991 Aug 1;88(2):396–402.
- Schwalfenberg GK, Genuis SJ. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica. 2017 Sep 28;2017:e4179326.
- Aggett P.J. Iron. In: Erdman J.W., Macdonald I.A., Zeisel S.H., editors. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 10th ed. Wiley-Blackwell; Washington, DC, USA: 2012. pp. 506–520
- Winter WE, Bazydlo LAL, Harris NS. The Molecular Biology of Human Iron Metabolism. Laboratory Medicine. 2014 May 1;45(2):92–102.
- Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on iron and its importance for human health. J Res Med Sci. 2014 Feb;19(2):164–74.
- Piskin E, Cianciosi D, Gulec S, Tomas M, Capanoglu E. Iron Absorption: Factors, Limitations, and Improvement Methods. ACS Omega. 2022 Jun 21;7(24):20441–56.
- Rozenberg JM, Kamynina M, Sorokin M, Zolotovskaia M, Koroleva E, Kremenchutckaya K, et al. The Role of the Metabolism of Zinc and Manganese Ions in Human Cancerogenesis. Biomedicines. 2022 May 5;10(5):1072.
- Terpiłowska S, Zaporowska H. [The role of chromium in cell biology and medicine]. Przegl Lek. 2004;61 Suppl 3:51–4.
- Handbook of Nutritionally Essential Mineral Elements - Google Books [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 10]. Available from: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=qUZZDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&ots=w1mgyw3pWp&sig=Aje8ZawRQPStd3EVmV43IK0w94c&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Melse-Boonstra A. Bioavailability of Micronutrients From Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruits. Frontiers in Nutrition [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Aug 10];7. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.00101