Top 10 Vitamins for Bodybuilders
The Metabolic Spark Plugs<
One of the most confusing issues for any athlete is supplementation. What to take, how much, when to take it, blah, blah, blah. Figuring out a supplementation regimen can be so frustrating at times that it becomes easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees, to forget the purpose of supplementation and to overlook exactly what makes successful bodybuilding.
It's sometimes easy to forget that the cells in our bodies, particularly muscle cells, rely on certain biochemical reactions for proper metabolism, growth and maintenance. These reactions, in turn, depend upon specific vitamins to help catalyze, or facilitate, their actions.
Without these vitamins, nothing happens. Even if only one of these critical substances is deficient, a bodybuilder's progress can be stifled without warning. Virtually every energy production or muscle growth process we rely on so heavily (and that we sometimestake for granted) is dependent upon, in one way or another, a vitamin.
Making matters more critical is the fact that bodybuilders are notorious for overlooking vitamins because these nutrients don't supply energy like carbohydrates, proteins and fats do. But that doesn't mean they aren't important. Without vitamins, muscle mass would decay, bone density would deteriorate and all systems of the body would begin to fail.
Vitamins can be divided into two broad categories: fat-soluble and
water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K) are so named
because they are stored in the body's fatty tissue and do not have to
be replenished daily. But be careful: Because they are stored,
overdoes of these vitamins can lead to toxicity.
The water-soluble vitamins (with the exception of vitamin C) are
composed entirely of the B and B-complex vitamins, including Thiamine
(B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pyridoxine (B6), Folate,
Cobalamin (B12), Biotin and Pantothenic Acid. Because these vitamins
are water soluble and thus have difficulty entering fatty tissues,
they aren't stored in the body and excessive amounts are excreted.
And while this means toxicity is generally not a problem, these
vitamins must be continually included in a bodybuilder's diet.
Questions to Ask
How important is it to know this stuff? Just ask any pro bodybuilder
who must continually analyze his or her diet to ensure it contains
these critical components. A bodybuilder, when considering how
important a dietary vitamin is, asks at least one of the four
Is the vitamin directly involved in muscle action, protein synthesis
or the integrity of muscle cells?
Does exercise result in an increased requirement of the nutrient?
Do athletes typically have suboptimal intakes of the vitamins?
Does dietary supplementation with the vitamin improve performance
1. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Surprised? Most athletes don't realize how important vitamin C status
is to success. As the most widely studied vitamin in sports
nutrition, Ascorbic acid has proven itself to be valuable to
bodybuilders in many ways.
First, vitamin C is an antioxidant, protecting muscle cells
from free radical damage, thus enhancing recovery and growth.
Second, Ascorbic acid is also involved with amino acid
metabolism, especially the formation of Collagen. Collagen is the
primary constituent of connective tissue, the stuff that holds your
bones and muscles together. This may not seem important, but as you
lift heavier weights, the stress you put on your structure becomes
tremendous. If your connective tissue is not as healthy and strong as
it should be (a problem often seen in steroid users), risk of injury
Third, vitamin C helps in the absorption of Iron. Iron is
necessary to help Oxygen bind to hemoglobin in blood. Without
adequate oxygen transportation in blood, muscles are robbed of
precious oxygen and performance is greatly reduced.
Fourth, Ascorbic acid also assists in the formation and release of
steroid hormones, including the anabolic hormone testosterone.
Finally, vitamin C is perhaps the most water soluble vitamin
there is. In other words, it diffuses very rapidly in water. Since a
muscle cell is mostly water, the more muscular an athlete becomes,
the more vitamin C disperses and the lower the concentration of this
critical substance becomes in body tissues. So vitamin C requirements
are greatly increased for bodybuilders.
2. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Protein metabolism, growth and carbohydrate utilization are all made
possible in part by the presence of vitamin B6. Like Thiamine,
studies on Pyridoxine in athletic performance show a definite
increased need for athletes and possible performance enhancement from
The vitamin makes the number two spot for a very good reason:
It's the only vitamin directly tied to protein intake. The more
protein you eat, the more Pyridoxine you need. Of course, this,
coupled with Pyridoxine's role in growth, had profound implications
for bodybuilders, though it is generally not known or discussed in
sports nutrition circles.
3. Thiamine (vitamin B1)
This B vitamin packs muscle! Thiamine is one of the vitamins required
for protein metabolism and growth. It's also involved in the
formation of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that
transports oxygen throughout the body (especially working muscles).
The transport of oxygen is critical to athletic performance and
becomes even more important as intensity and duration of exercise
Making matters more interesting, Thiamine, according to research, is
one of the few vitamins that enhances performance when supplemented
and is increasingly needed by athletes. Not only that, but Thiamine
requirements appear to be directly related to caloric expenditure.
The more exercise frequency, intensity and duration increase, the
more Thiamine is needed.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the absorption of Calcium and
Phosphorus. Calcium is necessary for muscular contraction. If
adequate stores of Calcium are not available in the muscle, full,
hard muscular contractions cannot be sustained. Of course, Calcium is
also needed for the integrity of bones, which must support increased
muscle tissue and provide an anchor during muscular contraction.
And don't forget about Phosphorus. Phosphorus helps provide quick,
powerful muscular contractions, which comprise the majority of
movements during weight training. Phosphorus is also required for the
synthesis of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the high energy molecule
used by your muscle cells during contraction.
This nutrient is high in the list since bodybuilders typically avoid
the fat content, e.g., dairy foods. Look for vitamin D fortified
foods and get in the habit of drinking at least one glass of low-fat
or nonfat milk per day.
5. Niacin (vitamin B3)
This vitamin is involved in nearly 60 metabolic processes related to
energy production and ranks high for bodybuilders by virtue of its
critical importance in providing training fuel (no train, no gain)!
The bad news is that high levels of Niacin have been found in the
blood of athletes after exercise, suggesting that athletes may need
more niacin than nonathletes. On the other hand, the good news is
that even if a diet is low in Niacin, the body can make it from the
amino acid tryptophan, which is found in abundance in turkey meat.
Bodybuilders are familiar with the form of Niacin known as nicotine
acid, which causes vasodilation and may help a competitor look more
vascular before going onstage. But this form of Niacin shouldn't be
used during training; large doses of nicotinic acid (50 - 100 mg)
significantly impairs the body's ability to mobilize and burn fat.
6. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, meaning it protects the cell's
membranes. This is important because many of the metabolic processes
that take place in the body, including the recuperation and growth of
muscle cells, are dependent upon health cell membranes.
You've probably heard a lot about antioxidants in the news lately,
and research continues to validate their importance. Specifically,
antioxidants help to reduce the number of free radicals in the body.
Free radicals are natural byproducts of cellular respiration, but
accumulation of free radicals can lead to cellular changes and
destruction (even cancer), rendering cells unable to adapt normally.
This means a reduction in exercise induced processes in the cell such
as repair and growth.
7. Vitamin A
Most of us know that vitamin A helps with vision, but bodybuilders
need to become familiar with its other benefits. First of all,
vitamin A is important in the synthesis of protein, the chief process
of muscle growth. Second, vitamin A is involved in the production of
Glycogen, the body's storage form of energy for high intensity
The problem with vitamin A status in bodybuilders is twofold. First,
American diets are consistently measured to be low in vitamin A.
Second, both strenuous physical activity (which disrupts the
absorption of vitamin A) and a low fat diet (which renders vitamin A
loss in feces) jeopardize the level of vitamin A in the body. So be
especially careful of your vitamin A intake during contest
8. Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
Riboflavin is involved in energy production in three areas: 1)
Glucose metabolism, 2) Oxidation of fatty acids, and 3) The shuttling
of hydrogen ions through the Krebs cycle. Of particular interest to
bodybuilders, Riboflavin is somewhat related to protein metabolism.
In fact, there is a strong relationship between lean body mass and
One study by Belko and colleagues found that females needed higher
than RDA levels of Riboflavin to return blood levels of Riboflavin to
normal after exercise. Another study by Haralambie showed that
Riboflavin supplementation improved muscular hyperexcitability (seen
in trained athletes). This vitamin may prove to be especially
important for athletes.
Although there's a limited amount of sports nutrition research on
Biotin, it makes our top 10 list because it has critical functions in
amino acid metabolism and the production of energy from many sources.
It also may be one vitamin that some bodybuilders have trouble when
attempting to maintain an adequate supply.
The reason bodybuilders may have difficulty with Biotin is because it
can be blocked by a substance called Avidin. Avidin is found in raw
egg whites, a staple for many athletes. In fact, bodybuilders who eat
raw egg whites or who don;t cook egg white well enough may experience
growth problems with Biotin deficiency if their egg white consumption
approaches 20 per day. Eating raw eggs can also lead to a bacterial
infection called Salmonella, which can have severe health
10. Cobalamin (vitamin B12)
Although the functions of vitamin B12 are numerous, those important
to bodybuilders include carbohydrate metabolism and maintenance of
nervous system tissue (the spinal cord and nerves that carry signals
from the brain to muscle tissues). Stimulation of muscles via nerves
is a critical step in the contraction, coordination and growth of
Vitamin B12 is available only from foods of animal origin;
therefore,it is very important for athletes following a strict
vegetarian diet to consult a physician about vitamin B12
supplementation. In fact, B12 shots are popular with countless
athletes, vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike, many of who swear it
helps them perform better.
Bodybuilders are notorious for overlooking these key components of
growth and performance. Do yourself a favor and analyze your diet to
ensure you're taking in enough of the vitamins outlined above.
Remember: You could have the best diet in the world in terms of
calories, fat, etc, but if you're lacking adequate levels of these
metabolic spark plugs, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
This article was written by Bob Lefavi, and Timothy C.
Fritz. Bob Lefavi, PhD, is an assistant professor in Georgia Southern
University's graduate health science program, located at Armstrong
State College, Savannah, Georgia. He was the 1990 IFBB North American
bantamweight champ, and was runner up in the 1989 USA, and 1992
Nationals in that weight class. Timothy C. Fritz, B. Nutr. Sc., is a
graduate research assistant in Georgia Southern University's exercise
science program in Statesboro, Georgia.
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