Proper nutrition is of particular importance for those trying to optimize their physique or be their best at any highly athletic sport. Intense exercise, cardio and weight training deplete a number of vital nutrients in the body at a much greater rate than that of a sedentary person, meaning that athletes and lifters have a greater need for many vitamins and nutrients. This is not just for health reasons, but anything less than optimal vitamin levels in the system will lead to decreased performance, fatigue, impaired protein synthesis and slower recovery times, to name a few. Of particular importance to athletes are Vitamin D, several B vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
While other vitamins are important, the aforementioned are most likely to be depleted during intense training and create a deficiency, directly hurting performance. A recent article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that it is impossible for high level athletes to meet their daily requirements of these vitamins without supplementation. Couple regular intense training regimens with a calorie restricted diet as many bodybuilders, fitness, physique, and figure competitors adhere to, and there is an even greater need to supplement. Here are the key vitamins essential to athletes broken down:
Vitamin D – The first and foremost vitamin that is necessary for athletes to supplement with is vitamin D. Over 77% of the population is vitamin D deficient, perhaps an even higher percentage of athletes and bodybuilders. In addition to its known bone strengthening properties, immune health, brain health, and more, recent research is abound showing that vitamin D has a central role in many more body processes than previously thought, such as: signaling gene response, protein synthesis, hormone synthesis, immune response, plus, cell turnover and regeneration. A vitamin D receptor has recently been discovered within muscle tissue, suggesting a significant role for vitamin D in muscle tissue function that is currently being studied. Also, Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that Vitamin D levels in the body at the start of a low-calorie diet predict weight loss success, suggesting a role for vitamin D in weight loss. Not only that, but research from The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Utah enrolled active adults to participate in an experiment in which one leg was used to measure muscle performance while the other acted as control, and compared to blood levels of vitamin D as well as other blood measurements. Muscle weakness was observed in then exercise leg (as compared with the control leg) post-exercise, with blood levels of vitamin D inversely predicting muscle weakness both immediately and several days after exercise. The study authors report that: “we conclude that pre-exercise serum [vitamin D] concentrations influence the recovery of skeletal muscle strength after intense exercise.” All of this from a vitamin that is readily available, cheap and most of us are lacking.
Vitamins C and E – Intense training can increase oxygen consumption by as much as 10x or 20x. As such, much more oxidative stress is placed on the body and the creation of cell damaging free radicals. As this is happening, cell-protecting superpowers vitamin C and vitamin E are depleted in their efforts to protect from free radical damage. These two nutrients work in unison as a powerful one-two punch to protect nearly every cell in the body. These two are depleted at a rate that exceeds what a restricted diet can replenish, so supplementing is crucial to optimal performance, recovery and free-radical protection.
B Vitamins – Namely, Thiamin (B-1), Riboflavin (B-2), Niacin (B-3), Vitamin B-6, Folic Acid (B-9) and B-12 are essential to athletes and bodybuilders. The stress on the body’s energy producing pathways during exercise, the breakdown of muscle tissues resulting from training, an increase in the loss of nutrients in sweat and urine during training and the additional nutrients needed to repair and maintain higher levels muscle in bodybuilders all mean a greater need for B vitamins. Research from Oregon State University published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that athletes lacking in B-vitamins perform worse during high-intensity exercise and have a decreased ability to repair and build muscle than counterparts with sufficient B vitamins in their system. B vitamins are one of the few nutrients that science has demonstrated an immediate decrease in performance if they are not readily available for use. With a huge increase in need for B vitamins by bodybuilders and how quickly they break down during intense training, consuming B vitamins before, during and after training is ideal for peak performance.
It is of course important to maintain all around proper nutrition for both health and performance, but the bodies of bodybuilders are exceptional machines and in turn have exceptional needs for several vitamins. Intense training is a great thing but also places a great deal of stress on the system and depletes important nutrients. Vitamin D, C, E and B vitamins are those that are most crucial to keep elevated at all times, particularly around training. Maintaining optimal levels of these key vitamins will allow bodybuilders and athletes to achieve their optimal level of performance that would not be possible if they are deficient.