The B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that are incredibly important for maintaining optimal health. Not only are they used by the body to convert the food you eat into energy, but they also are involved in the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body.
For athletes, it is extremely important to maintain optimal vitamin B levels. If you are lacking in B vitamins, the fuel you put in your body may not be converted to energy as efficiently. A deficiency in B vitamins can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and decreased endurance which can hinder your exercise performance.
Here's everything you need to know about B vitamins, including their benefits, signs of deficiency, and dietary sources.
- B vitamins are involved in the metabolism of carbs, fat, and protein, all of which are converted into adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the body’s main source of energy.
- B vitamins are readily found in animal sources such as lean meats, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, dairy foods, and fortified cereals.
- Many athletes are at risk for poor dietary intakes of several B vitamins, increasing their risk of deficiency. Taking a high-quality supplement with B vitamins can cover your bases and protect against deficiencies.
WHAT MAKES B VITAMINS ESSENTIAL?
Adequate vitamin B consumption is important for everyone. But it's especially important for physically active individuals. That's because B-complex vitamins play a crucial role in energy metabolism. Basically, they turn the food you eat into fuel for your muscles. They're also needed for proper brain and nerve function.
Without adequate vitamin B stores, you may begin to feel tired, leading to decreased stamina and endurance. You may also experience difficulty concentrating and poor cognitive function.
THE BENEFITS OF THE B
The B vitamins offer several health benefits and are among the safest vitamins to take as they are water-soluble, and toxicity is rare.
Thiamine (vitamin B1) plays a vital role in converting glucose (sugar) into carbohydrates that the body can use for energy.
Deficiency is rare but is more common in individuals who frequently consume alcohol. With excessive alcohol intake, the intestines can no longer absorb adequate thiamine, and vitamin supplementation is often required.
Research shows that exercise stresses metabolic pathways that depend on thiamine, increasing the body's demand. Athletes and active individuals often have higher thiamine needs and may be at a greater risk of deficiency.
Thiamine deficiency initially causes symptoms like loss of appetite, irritability, and difficulty remembering. If untreated, it can progress to severe confusion and cardiovascular issues.
Like thiamine, exercise increases the body's demand for riboflavin. A riboflavin deficiency can cause exhaustion, depression, blurred vision, and mouth swelling. It can also cause skin, hair, and reproductive issues.
In addition, emerging research shows riboflavin's role in preventing and reducing headache frequency in people who suffer from migraines.
Niacin (vitamin B3) plays an essential role in human metabolism and brain and nervous system function. Niacin has been well studied for its benefits to cardiovascular health by increasing the amount of HDL in the blood and lowering the amount of LDL, leading to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Niacin deficiency can cause a condition called pellagra, characterized by digestive problems, fatigue, rough skin, and a bright red tongue.
Athletes need more niacin to support their increased nutrient requirements.
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is involved in the development of healthy red blood cells, proper production of nerve cells, and synthesis of steroid hormones. Pantothenic acid supplements may also improve running endurance in athletes.
Deficiencies are rare. However, they can lead to digestive disturbances and adverse neurological symptoms.
Pyridoxine plays an important role in the metabolism of amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates. Adequate levels of pyridoxine also support healthy brain and immune system function.
Endurance athletes and female athletes are more likely to develop a deficiency.
Biotin is a B vitamin that plays an important role in human metabolism by breaking down macronutrients. It is needed for fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism, and glycogen synthesis. Biotin supports tissue growth and muscle development. A biotin deficiency often manifests as thinning hair, brittle nails, and poor cognitive function.
Vitamin B9 is known for its crucial role in energy production, DNA synthesis, and the development of new, healthy red blood cells. It also helps protect against neural tube defects in pregnancy.
Vitamin B9 comes in two forms: a natural form called folate, and a synthetic form called folic acid, often used for supplementation. Adequate levels of Vitamin B9 can be beneficial in preventing megaloblastic anemia (abnormally large red blood cells).
Athletes have an increased demand for folate to ensure adequate production of oxygen-carrying healthy red blood cells to maintain performance.
Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in energy production and works together with Vitamin B9 to prevent anemia. It is also essential for a healthy immune system and proper nerve function.
Vitamin B12 absorption can be affected by multiple factors such as gastric surgeries, proton pump inhibitors, and lack of animal products in the diet.
Higher levels of B12 are linked with improved energy and endurance, while low levels can cause fatigue and weakness.
ARE YOU DEFICIENT?
In the United States, vitamin B deficiencies are relatively rare. However, certain groups are at an increased risk of deficiency. This includes those who follow strict vegan diets as well as athletes, especially female athletes.
The signs of vitamin B deficiency vary depending on the vitamin, but signs of inadequate vitamin B intake generally include:
- Increased illnesses
- Skin disorders
- Skin issues
THE BEST FORMS
Vitamins in their active form are readily available for the body to use upon consumption. Inactive vitamins must be broken down into simpler forms for the body to absorb and use.
Taking active vitamins allows the body to bypass conversion and immediately utilize nutrients needed for optimal health.
B1: Thiamine Hydrochloride
Thiamine hydrochloride is an active form of vitamin B1 that quickly raises low thiamine levels in the blood. Thiamine allows the carbohydrates you eat to be more easily converted to energy for athletes to power through strenuous workouts.
Riboflavin plays an important role in the metabolism of macronutrients which gives the body enough energy to be physically active.
Riboflavin-5-Phosphate is the active form of B2 that is more easily absorbed by the body.
Niacinamide is a highly absorbable, active form of vitamin B3 that the body can readily use. The body can also produce niacinamide from tryptophan and niacin, another form of Vitamin B3.
B5: Calcium Pantothenate
Calcium Pantothenate is a superior form of vitamin B5 as it is more stable within the body and is less likely to be broken down before it can be metabolized.
This form of vitamin B6 is ideal for supplementation as it can be directly used as a coenzyme in metabolism without needing to be broken down for absorption.
Biotin is a natural form of vitamin B7 used to support adequate tissue development. Although rare, Biotin deficiency can be seen physically through brittle nails and hair loss.
Folic acid and folate are both forms of vitamin B9. However, folate is considered superior as it is the natural form compared to folic acid, which is synthetically produced.
Methylcobalamin is the natural, active form of vitamin B12. It is found in foods and supplements and has been shown in some studies to be better retained in the body than other forms of the vitamin.
B VITAMINS IN FOOD
B Vitamins are readily found in many types of foods, such as:
- Dairy foods
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Fortified breakfast cereals.
- Sweet potatoes
- Kidney beans
- Fortified nutritional yeast
Although it's best to obtain nutrients from foods first, sometimes dietary supplements are necessary. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, which are stored in the body, B vitamins are water-soluble. This means the body will excrete what it cannot use and is unlikely to cause harm.
LASTLY...WHY B VITAMINS "SMELL"
Yes, B vitamins have a strong smell, but it doesn't mean it's gone bad.
In fact, it's normal due to the naturally occurring sulfur.
Thiamine has an especially stronger aroma when compared to other b vitamins, also normal.
If you're really worried about the smell, check the expiration date to see if it's still good and if it is, just swallow it down with a big swig of water.
B Vitamins are involved in many metabolic processes. They are needed to convert the food we eat into energy, form red blood cells, and increase oxygen delivery throughout the body. Athletes have a higher demand for B vitamins to meet their increased nutrient needs.
It is important to consume a nutritious diet to maintain adequate levels and prevent vitamin deficiencies. When supplementation is necessary, a multivitamin or B-complex formulation that includes the active forms of B vitamins is most beneficial. Always consult with a healthcare professional for specific supplementation needs.