Do B Vitamins Actually Improve Your Performance?

STACK Expert Nicholas Mortensen offers a brief primer on B vitamins: what they do and how to get them from your diet.

B vitamins seem to be finding their way into more and more supplements designed for improved workouts and athletic performance.

B vitamins are water soluble. Vitamins B6 and B12 are stored mainly in the liver and muscles, but any excess is excreted, typically through urination. To have sufficient B vitamins, you need to consume them through your diet in some way, shape or form. And it turns out, this is very important.

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B vitamins play a critical role in energy metabolism, breaking down nutrients to provide energy. Each type of B vitamin has a specific function:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is essential for breaking down carbohydrates for energy; it also assists with proper nerve function.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) assist with carbohydrate, amino acid (protein) and fat metabolism.
  • Vitamin B6 has a variety of functions, including red blood cell production and amino acid and carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Vitamin B12 regulates functions of cells in the G.I. tract, bone marrow and nerve tissue.

Not consuming adequate amounts could lead to a deficiency that could cause problems. However, unless you are deficient in one or more of them, consuming B vitamins in large doses does not necessarily increase the body's ability to create "extra" energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Don't expect a sudden burst of energy from taking a B vitamin supplement, like you might get from a cup of coffee or an energy drink (which, on a side note, is not advisable for athletes). That's why products that promise substantial increases in energy from the consumption of mega-doses of B vitamins are at best stretching the truth and at worst causing problems, especially if the dosage remains exceptionally high over a long period of time.

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The Institute of Medicine advises that your vitamin B6 intake should fall between 1.3 and 1.7 milligrams per day. One serving of a typical energy drink contains around 40 milligrams. Consuming the energy drink, along with the vitamins you ingest through your diet, could be disastrous down the road. And it ends up being a waste of money, since anything over your body's capacity is lost in your urine.

For athletes, maintaining adequate B vitamin levels is extremely important. All the fuel that you carefully put in your body might not be used to the full extent if you are lacking in B vitamins. They ensure that you can use every last drop of fuel to keep you energized late in your games or races.

Rather than relying on supplements, it's better to focus on eating a healthy and plentiful diet. If your vitamin intake is causing you to worry, you may want to try taking a multivitamin to boost your nutrients. Foods high in B vitamins include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, beans, bananas, almonds, chicken, fish and fortified cereals.

Note: You need to eat some meat, poultry or seafood to get B12 naturally through your diet. Otherwise, you need to find fortified foods or opt for a supplement. Alway do thorough research on any supplement you are considering. Spending extra money on supplements for that elusive enhanced energy will not do you any good.

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