Learn all about B vitamins for athletes in this comprehensive guide.
Vitamins and minerals are necessary for the body’s optimal functioning, however there may be a link between some B-complex vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, B12, and folate) and high-level athletes’ sports performance. B vitamins are essential micronutrients that help the body convert proteins and carbs into energy. They’re also used in cell formation and repair.
B vitamins are essential for sustaining good nutrition and health. They help turn food into energy, but that doesn’t guarantee that taking vitamin B supplemets will make you feel more energized.
Some B vitamins for athletes work together in the body to help break down fat and/or protein, while others break down carbs.
Here’s a closer look at some of the health benefits of B vitamins for athletes.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin aids in the conversion of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) to its active coenzyme form and tryptophan to vitamin B3 in metabolism and blood cell formation (niacin). Vitamin B2 has also been shown to prevent or improve a variety of medical disorders, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Certain types of cancer
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacin is required for optimal digestive function as well as the maintenance of healthy skin and nerves. Niacin may also help relieve stress, enhance blood circulation, and slow down the aging process. While niacin deficiency is uncommon, some people use niacin supplements for a variety of reasons, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Motion sickness
- Premenstrual syndrome
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is a “helper nutrient” with a role in a variety of metabolic processes. B6 is involved in the metabolism of foods as well as the production of haemoglobin (which transports oxygen throughout the body), antibodies (which assist the immune system), and neurotransmitters (which send nerve signals).
Vitamin B6 deficiency can impair the body’s capacity to metabolize lipids, carbs, and proteins. It can also cause the circulatory, immune and nervous systems to malfunction.
Vitamin B6 is commonly used to support a variety of ailments, including:
- Macular degeneration, a condition that affects people as they get older.
- Atherosclerosis, a disease that affects the arteries (hardening of the arteries)
- Hyperemesis gravidarum (a.k.a. “morning sickness”), a condition that affects pregnant women
- Kidney stones
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Infants with pyridoxine-dependent seizures
- Sideroblastic anaemia
- Tardive dyskinesia
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Folate is necessary for DNA and RNA production. DNA and RNA are the genetic blueprints for all human cells. Vitamin B9 is therefore required for cell division and development.
Folate is especially critical during the first trimester of pregnancy to prevent neural tube disorders such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
In the US for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires folic acid to be added to grain and cereal products. The rate of neural tube abnormalities has decreased dramatically as a result of this decision.
Furthermore, studies have indicated that combining folate with vitamins B6 and B12 may be good for patients who suffer from persistent migraine headaches.
Folate may also aid in the prevention of some diseases, such as:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Cardiovascular disease
- Some types of cancer
- Some cases stroke
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Many people take vitamin B12 supplements or increase their intake of B12-rich foods to aid with a variety of health issues. Vitamin B12, for example, has been shown in studies to help retain your eyesight as you become older.
Some people take B12 to boost their energy or improve their mood, while others claim it can help them improve their memory, strengthen their immune system, improve sleep quality, and even slow down ageing. However, there is limited scientific evidence that supports increasing the recommended daily B12 intake to reap these alleged health benefits.
Nonetheless, there is some evidence that adequate B12 consumption can help treat or prevent health problems like:
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
Vitamin B Complex Deficiency
According to current studies, athletes and people who exercise regularly require more vitamin B2 (riboflavin) than normal. A small percentage of athletes also experience vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency.
Insufficient dietary intakes of B vitamins for athletes can hamper exercise performance and lead to weariness, injury, and reduced concentration, according to a 2017 study. The study authors point out, however, that most participants could fulfil their required B vitamin intake through food sources.
Female athletes, in particular, may be more susceptible to B-vitamin deficiency due to their lower calorie intake.
Male athletes, on the other hand, tend to consume more calories and a wider variety of foods. Female athletes tend to monitor their nutrition closely, and as a result, they frequently fail to meet their recommended daily nutrient intakes.
B vitamins for athletes have also been shown to be beneficial in previous studies. Researchers at Oregon State University discovered in 2006 that athletes who are deficient in B vitamins have poorer exercise performance. They are also less able to repair damaged muscles or gain muscle mass than those who consume a diet rich in B vitamins.
B Vitamin Foods
The recommended dietary intakes for B vitamins for athletes are as follows:
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 1.1mg for women and 1.3mg for males
- 14 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B3 (niacin) for women and 16 milligrams (mg) for men
- 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) for women and 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) for men
- 400mg folate (vitamin B9) for both men and women
- 2.4mg vitamin B12 (cobalamin) for both men and women
When possible, experts recommend that healthy people meet their required nutrient intakes primarily from food sources.
B vitamins for athletes are abundant in whole and fortified cereals, dark green vegetables, nuts, and a variety of animal and dairy products. The foods listed below are good sources of B vitamins for athletes:
- Milk and other dairy products, fortified breakfast cereals, portobello mushrooms, chicken, beef liver, clams, and almonds are all good sources of vitamin B2.
- Eggs, fish, fortified bread and cereal, rice, pecans, peanuts, milk and dairy products, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, and organ meats are all high in vitamin B3.
- Beans, poultry, fish, and several vegetables and fruits, including dark leafy greens, bananas, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe, all contain vitamin B6.
- Many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fortified cereals, and other fortified grain products include vitamin B9.
- Vitamin B12 is found in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products, as well as nutritional yeast, miso, seaweed, fortified cereals, and enriched soy or rice milk.
Vitamin B Complex Supplements
Although you can receive enough B vitamins from your diet, the items listed above may not be a regular part of your diet, so supplementation may be necessary. A multivitamin or specific vitamin supplements may be beneficial to athletes who are lacking in B vitamins.
It’s critical to do your homework on the quality and purity of vitamin supplements before adding them to your diet. Getting advice from a doctor or a skilled nutritionist can be a good method to learn more about vitamin B complex supplements.
Bottom Line: B Vitamins for Athletes
Before making any changes to your diet or taking new supplements, athletes should consult their GP or a trained nutritionist. An evaluation by a health professional helps guarantee that you get the nutrition your body demands.
Because proper nutrition is so important for athletic performance, and supplements can be confusing, it’s ideal to figure out what nutritional supplements you might need to perform at your best and stay healthy.