Importance of B Vitamins for Athletes

You try every diet. You cut the carbs. You increase the protein, add more water, get more sleep, and then you realize, “Hey, maybe I’m just missing a couple vitamins? Could that be the real difference between dreaming of goals and creating realities?

Do you assume that if your diet is made up of a wide variety of healthy foods, you’re probably getting all the essential vitamins and minerals that you need?

What if you could be wrong?

Yes, it’s true, a wide variety of nutritious, organic, grass-fed, home grown, locally raised everything does make up a MUCH better diet than store-bought, processed, boxed and canned food choices. But the reality is that no matter how healthy we try to be each and every day, sometimes we just miss a mineral, a vitamin, or two.

Every athlete and health conscious individual understands that vitamins are essential to life. Some people even go as far as getting blood work done to ensure that the body is functioning optimally on the right amount of vitamins and minerals, meaning no deficiencies or abundances. For some, this can make a HUGE difference when it comes to mood, energy, metabolism, overall health, even areas of life such as having better skin or recovering from and/or preventing a major illness.

In some cases, a certain vitamin or two can make the difference between elite and average performances. Exercise stresses the metabolic pathways where an athlete’s micronutrients are required and increases the loss of these micronutrients. Athletes need more vitamins and minerals to cover the increased needs for building, repairing, and maintaining lean body mass. Sometimes, a vitamin can make the difference between losing the last five pounds or holding onto it for another five years.

A full blood work profile revealed that over 50% of the 2014 NY Giants had a vitamin deficiency.
A team blood study revealed that over 50% of the 2014 NY Giants had a vitamin deficiency.

The more I’ve read about health as it relates to performance, the more it strikes me that little tweaks in a diet or vitamin regime can really go a long way to help people meet their long-term goals. This is many times frustrating–for me and for those searching for ultimate health and well being. Or even those searching for more PRs in the weight room!

Yes. Imagine that. Something so small could make the all the difference.

I struggled with weight loss for a long time in my life and for me, the yo-yoing of diets with excessive exercise really left a lot of my hormones rather “messed up” and left me pretty darned moody on any given day. It wasn’t until I was experimenting with a B Complex vitamin several years ago that I put two and two together:

I was really moody, anxious, and borderline depressed/panicky feeling. I thought to myself one day near an anxiety attack, that I should take some vitamins. (I really don’t know why I thought this at such a random moment, but I did, and I’m so happy with my findings.) I took a B Complex and within minutes, I felt so much more calm, relaxed, and happy.

I actually didn’t make the connection that the B complex was helping me until weeks later when I realized that every time I remembered to take those specific vitamins (I’m so bad — or should I say good? — at forgetting to take my vitamins) and on the days I remembered, I had much happier days.

My B-Complex pill became my new favorite supplement.

A few years after this B Complex discovery, I was able to link my moodiness to a diet that was too low in carbs. I was deficient in a few vitamins and minerals in my quest for ultimate leanness–and those B vitamins and carbs had been my main culprits.

Now I understand much better how my body responds to all sorts of foods, and that it needs essential vitamins and nutrients to not only help me survive, but to give me plenty of energy and keep me from being a tired, crabby, anxious, witch.

And for those highly involved in the fitness community, getting adequate amounts of the B-vitamins won’t just boost your mood, but they can make a big difference in being an average athlete and a great one. The B vitamins are the ones that ensure optimum energy production and at the same time, they build and repair muscle tissues.

To function optimally, we all need our Bs. What do the Bs do for you?

B1 (or Thiamine)

b1Looking at the B vitamins from an athlete/health perspective, I see that we can get more energy and increase our moods from B1. We can build better muscle tone, resist the temptations of too many ice cream cravings, and help our bodies digest our foods better. And as an “almost mom,” I see the imperative for B vitamins in the growth of children.

So how am I going to ensure both myself, my child, and my family will get enough B1 daily? We’ll eat the right foods.

Foods high in Vitamin B1:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Pecans
  • Spinach
  • Rice
  • Lentils
  • Wheat germ
  • Pork

And make sure, as any other health conscious individual would tell you, that you’re not under too much daily stress, you’re not drinking and smoking, or even eating too many refined carbohydrates. These things can deplete your B1 stash pretty quickly.

If you’re concerned about a possible deficiency, make sure you see a doctor–B1 is not highly tested in the doctor’s office so you may have to persist. Adults only need 1.1 – 1.2 mg daily.

B2 (or Riboflavin)b2

For the athletes, the tired, the stressed, and the busy individuals: B2 (or Riboflavin) gives us energy. ENERGY! How many times have you complained (or heard someone else complaining) about being tired? B2 helps increase energy in individuals. And if that isn’t great enough, B2 helps us metabolize our food and fight toxins in the body–a double YES!!

So what’s the best way to increase your consumption of B2? The obvious answer for anyone with a passion for nutrition–EAT!

You can find Vitamin B2 in the following foods:

  • Almonds
  • Brewer’s Yeast (also great for aiding in lactation–so I’ve read) ;)
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats like liver and tongue (yum?)
  • Salmon

Athletes are amongst the most likely of those who could be deficient in Vitamin B2. Those whose lifestyles reflect high levels of physical stress their metabolic pathways and increase the needs for micronutrients. Those who are pregnant, as well as individuals with hypothyroidism, migraines, suffering injuries, or who have adrenal fatigue, all need to make sure they’re taking in enough B2.

If you’re concerned about a possible deficiency, make sure you see a doctor–B2 deficiency has to be conducted in a lab. Ironically, the average daily intake for adults is only 1.5 mg for women and 2.0 mg for men. Not much considering so many of us need it! So buy more foods rich in B2 and eat up!

Vitamin B3 (or Nicotinic Acid / Niacinamide, or in its original form: Niacin)b3-1

Just like the others, Vitamin B3 is an incredible B vitamin which is why you may have seen athletes supplementing with Niacin–B3 in its original form. Simply, it’s a water soluble vitamin that can’t be killed by heat, air, light, an acidic or alkaline environment. And it provides energy for the body to use. Athletes sometimes use it for just that–converting food into glucose for energy. Some studies even suggest high doses (which we aren’t advising) can lead to an anabolic hormone growth. Interesting, huh?

Vitamin B3 also helps improve one’s circulation, helps in breaking down those all-important macros we’re out there trying to consume each day, and it is even said to help increase one’s lifespan. It not only reduces the chances of major illnesses and cancers, but it can also repair DNA in the body; help with the breakdown of food, toxins, and alcohol; help synthesize cholesterol and fatty acids; and it can even release stomach acid that aids a healthier digestive system.

Sounds pretty amazing, right? I think so too. Now for the good stuff. Where you can find B3?

Easy. Right in these very nutritious food sources.

  • Beef
  • Brewer’s Yeast
  • Chicken
  • Coffee (Woohoo!)
  • Fish
  • Green Leafy Veggies
  • Legumes
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Tea
  • Turkey
  • Wheat Germ

Sounds like a well-rounded diet, don’t you think?

In the article “Supplement Guide: Niacin” written by Lisa Freedman for Men’s Fitness, Sari Greaves, RD spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and nutrition director at Step Ahead Weight Loss Center in Bedminster, NJ. reported, that eating protein-rich foods is the best way to get adequate niacin.

Choose lean sources of protein such as skinless poultry, fish, round/loin cuts of beef, natural peanut butter and legumes,” she said. Freedman added, “Niacin is also added to many grain products: On a food label 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value is considered a good source of niacin while 20 percent or more of the Daily Value is considered an excellent source.”

I think most of our readers are pretty familiar with what it means to eat a variety of whole, non-processed food items, but beware! Diets high in processed foods can actually lead to a B3 deficiency. Very sick individuals (typically those suffering HIV, cancer patients, alcoholics, those on dialysis), and even those who are obese are highly susceptible to B3 deficiencies. The good news is that many of our healthiest foods are a rich source of the vitamin. If these foods make your food-prep menu, give yourself a pat on the back.

If you’re concerned about a B3 deficiency, just be careful! Men and women only need 14-16 mg daily. High doses of 2000 mg can cause liver problems. Doctors monitor large doses of niacin that are prescribed for cholesterol lowering purposes. And niacin, also the type athletes tend to supplement with, can even precipitate a gout attack in some people. So always, talk to your doctor before supplementing, who can help you figure out your B3 levels with a simple blood or urine test.

Vitamin B6 (or Pyridoxine, Pyridoxal and Pyridoxamine, or PLP)b6

Yes. B6 does it all. It even helps your body absorb other vitamins such as vitamin B12, helps make hydrochloric acid, aids amino acid synthesis, synthesizes serotonin, and it even lowers homocysteine levels.

Vitamin B6 is the health conscious individual’s best friend. Those who consume the proper amount of macros daily, who are in good health, and exercise regularly rarely have B6 issues. On the flip side, however, those who fast and/or eat a low calorie diet are often at risk for deficiencies. This can happen quite often to dieting women, even women who are menstruating or on the pill.

How to tell if you may be deficient? Some common triggers to look for are

  • Depression, nervousness and confusion
  • Irritability
  • Women with PMS
  • Those with anemia
  • Tingling hands or feet
  • Those with increased urination
  • Those who have leg cramps and/or difficulty walking

How to solve your deficiency or simply take in more B6 is simple! Just like the rest of the B vitamins, B6 is found in an abundance of fresh, whole, natural, healthy foods.

  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Brewer’s Yeast
  • Hazelnuts
  • Meats (including organ meats like liver)
  • Nuts
  • Plums
  • Spinach

I don’t know about you, but avocados? Nuts? Bananas? Lots of meats–AKA–protein?! I think it just goes to show that a diet high in protein, good fats, lots of green leafy veggies, and even a few whole grains and fruits is still, and always will be, the best way to eat for the healthiest lifestyle.

And if you’re worried that you may be low in B6, your doctor can perform a simple blood test. The RDA guidelines for B6 are about 1.3-1.5 mg per day. Not much for a boat-load of awesomeness, don’t you think?

Even though the evidence is clear that a healthy, wholesome diet is the BEST way to get your vitamins and minerals, if you’re still unsure whether you’re eating enough of the right foods, or even if you’re “a picky eater” and worried that you’re not eating a wide enough variety of foods, a simple B-Complex vitamin can be found in most any drug, grocery, or vitamin specialty store. If you think you may need one, they’re not expensive, and I personally like this brand.

Thinking we missed some B Vitamins? That’s right, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, and Biotin will be outlined in our next nutritional post. I didn’t want to overwhelm you with too much to think about all in one article. I’ll share the rest with you next week and you don’t want to miss that post.

Especially any vegetarians or non meat-eaters out there.

Did you know that vitamin B12 is ONLY found in animal products? Yep. That’s right. So make sure you’re a Strongfigure subscriber so that you don’t miss any future posts (and share us with your friends)–your health matters!

**Note: we at Strongfigure do not prescribe any vitamins or supplements other than eating a healthy, well-rounded, nutritious, whole-foods diet. We do not diagnose illness, or even suggest deficiencies. We enlighten, educate, inform, and encourage those pursuing more knowledge about their bodies to seek further assistance from medical professionals.

Doctors and Publishers in Holistic Nutrition: Weston A. Price, DDS and the Weston A. Price Foundation, Jeffrey Smith, Geoff Lawton, Robert Lustig, M.D., Cherie Calbom, Dr. Donna Schwontkowski

Feature Image by Scott Webb courtesy of Unsplash