Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin found in many animal based foods, and is one of the essential B group vitamins required by the body to function properly. Quite simply, without Vitamin B12, the body isn’t able to work efficiently. But can supplements of Vitamin B12, in addition to a healthy diet, help to improve sporting performance and recovery in athletes?
WHAT DOES VITAMIN B12 DO IN THE BODY
Vitamin B12 has many roles within the body. To begin with, it is essential for the synthesis and functioning of the central nervous system; and is vital for the development of healthy red blood cells. B12 also functions as a co-enzyme in the production of amino acids, proteins, fatty acids and DNA. All of these roles are important for the body to function properly, but for athletes, many of these roles become even more important.
For an athlete’s body to function at its peak, our muscles need to be able to function to their maximum capacity. Vitamin B12 plays an important role here, by:
- Helping to produce healthy red blood cells, which can supply adequate oxygen to muscle tissue
- Ensuring the central nervous system is functioning properly
- Assisting in the production of proteins, fatty acids and amino acids, in order to fuel muscles and aid with muscle recovery
VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY AND WHO IS AT RISK
Vitamin B12 is usually obtained through a healthy, balanced diet. Meat and dairy products usually contain enough B12 to adequately supply the body with what it needs.
A lack of Vitamin B12 in the diet can result in a few unwanted effects, including:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness and tingling the in the hands and feet
If left untreated, Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a condition known as megaloblastic anaemia, where the red blood cells become enlarged and are unable to effectively carry enough oxygen around the body. Obviously, this isn’t ideal.
It is estimated that only 3-4% of the Australian population may be considered deficient in Vitamin B12, but that is still enough to consider getting tested. Individuals most at risk of developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency include those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, people with gastrointestinal issues, and those with a high alcohol intake.
CAN VITAMIN B12 SUPPLEMENTATION HELP WITH SPORTS PERFORMANCE?
In theory, vitamin B12 supplementation may be of benefit for athletes. Due to the varied roles of vitamin B12 within the body, it can be speculated that supplements may improve sporting performance by:
- Increasing oxygen supply to muscles, by developing more healthy red blood cells
- Improving muscle function, by developing a strong central nervous system
- Increasing performance and recovery times, by assisting with the production of proteins and amino acids which help in these processes
However, that is not the case in reality. To put it simply, if your dietary intake of vitamin B12 is adequate, an increased supply via supplementation will not provide any further benefits. Research has shown that, for athletes whose blood tests show vitamin B12 within the healthy range, additional B12 supplementation is of no benefit…..and since B12 is a water soluble vitamin, any excess of B12 in your body will just be excreted in your urine.
But for those with naturally lower concentrations of vitamin B12 in the body, or those who are deficient in vitamin B12, supplementation will allow regular blood levels to be achieved and allow the body to function at its peak.
The best thing you can do? Have a chat to your GP about a blood test. If your diet is lacking and your vitamin B12 blood levels are low, it is worth considering a vitamin B12 supplement to assist with your sporting performance.