Should Athletes Take B-Vitamins Supplements?

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Vitamins and minerals are essential for the body to function properly, but there may be a link between the B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, B-12, and folate) and sports performance in high-level athletes. The B-vitamins are called 'micronutrients' and are used to convert proteins and carbohydrates into energy. They are also used for cell repair and production.

What the Research Says

Study results published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism highlighted the value of B-vitamins.

Researchers at Oregon State University found that athletes who lack B-vitamins have reduced high-intensity exercise performance and are less able to repair damaged muscles or build muscle mass than their peers who eat a diet rich with B-vitamins.

They found that even a small B-vitamin deficiency can result in reduced performance and recovery. Individual B-vitamin requirements vary and may depend upon the type and intensity of exercise, the amount of nutrients lost through sweat, and urine, and individual differences in diet.

Women athletes, in particular, may be more prone to B-vitamin deficiencies simple based upon the reduced number of calories many women athletes consume. Male athletes tend to eat a lot of calories and a lot of variety of foods, but more female athletes tend to monitor their nutrition more closely and often fail to eat enough calories or enough variety of food to replace all the nutrients they need to rebuild muscles and aid recovery.

USRDA and Athletes

According to the researchers, the USRDA (the United States Recommended Daily Allowance) for B-vitamin intake may be inadequate for athletes.

Those most at risk for the B-vitamin deficiencies include athletes who are limiting calories or have specialized, consistent or restricted eating plans.

Current evidence supports the theory that athletes, and those who exercise frequently or at high intensity may have an increased need for riboflavin and vitamin B-6, in particular, and may benefit from supplementing with a multivitamin/mineral supplement. This is especially important for those who have poor quality diets or anyone reducing their calories or cutting out entire food groups, such as meat or dairy. However, B-6 toxicity can occur in those who exceed their B-6 needs.

You can get plenty of B-vitamins from the whole and enriched grains, dark green vegetables, nuts, and many animal and dairy products.

Vitamin B6 is found in beans, chicken, fish, and some vegetables and fruits, such as dark leafy greens, bananas, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, or dairy. Nutritional yeast is also a great source of B12. You can also get B12 from miso, seaweed, fortified cereals, and enriched soy or rice milk.

Unless you are a vegetarian athlete, you likely get plenty of B12 is your typical diet.

Folate is found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, beans, cereals, and other fortified grains and grain products.

Although you can get plenty of these crucial vitamins in your diet, for athletes who spend a great deal of time and intensity in high-level exercise, it is recommended that you talk with your doctor or a sports nutritionist and have a nutritional evaluation done to ensure you are getting the nutrition you require. Before you any vitamins supplements to your diet, it's also important to understand the quality and purity of the supplements. Again, talking with a qualified nutritionist is the best way to learn more about supplementation.

Because adequate nutrition is critical to athletic performance, and supplements can be confusing, the bottom line is to learn what specific nutritional supplementation you might need,

Meet with a sports nutritionist to analyze your diet and find out exactly what supplements would be helpful for your unique physiology and what supplements you can skip.

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Article Sources
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  • Bill Misner, Food Alone May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients for Preventing Deficiency1 J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2006; 3(1): 51–55.
  • Jennifer L. Minigh. (2007) Sports Medicine.