B-Vitamins For Bodybuilding Success & Good Health!

Of all the vitamins required for optimal health and muscle gain, the B-complex could be the most important as their effects are multifarious and specifically beneficial to bodybuilders. Learn why.

Of all the vitamins required for optimal health and muscle gain, the B-complex (several vitamins that are grouped together because of the loose similarities in their properties, their distribution in natural sources, and their physiological functions) could be the most important as their effects are multifarious and specifically beneficial to bodybuilders.

The B-complex contains eight B-vitamins (in addition to four "unofficial B-vitamins"), all of which are water soluble, and which serve specific functions. Their solubility status, like vitamin C, means they are assimilated in water in the body, and excreted in the urine. Given their solubility, the B-vitamins do however need to be consumed on a constant basis to ensure they are continually present in the body to realize maximum benefit. However, B-vitamins (in supplement form) should never be over-consumed.

For example, if as little as 100mgs of niacin supplement Niacinamide is taken, heart-burn nausea and head-aches could result. Furthermore, some forms of choline can interfere with the healthy functioning of bacteria in the gut, thus disrupting production of other vitamins. Moreover, excess B-6 can cause irreversible nerve damage and excess folic acid can mask a B-12 deficiency.

Why Do You Need B-Vitamins?

All of the B-vitamins play a role in facilitating the metabolic processes of all forms of animal life, and most have been termed coenzymes (small molecules (not proteins but sometimes vitamins) essential for the activity of some enzymes). Although B-vitamins act individually, in specific ways, the interaction of all B-vitamins ensure that one is kept healthy to grow and reproduce properly.

So although the B-vitamins are a complex, it is important to know them individually to identify any specific health needs. Additional functions of B-vitamins include the conversion of food to fuel for energy production purposes and the maintenance of healthy nervous system function. Certain B-vitamins also help to keep the cardiovascular system healthy.

Research into B-vitamins has shown that:

  1. Folic acid (B-9) reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering homocystein levels (Russell, 1996). Homocysteine is a sulphur-containing amino acid that is closely related to the essential amino acid methionine and to cysteine. Many studies have also found an association between elevated homocysteine levels and impaired cognitive performance and dementia.

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  2. Choline (may help with the treatment of bipolar disorder. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School found that, in combination with lithium, choline helps treat the devastating mental illness bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) (Stoll, 1996).

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  3. Vitamin B-6 (Pyroxidine) can alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women (Vutyavanich,1995).

  4. Supplementation with B-vitamin riboflavin has been shown to repair DNA damage thus serving to enhance cognition in older populations (Chen, 1996).

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  5. Vitamin B-12 has also been shown to enhance cognition (particularly in older populations). In fact, as many as 42% of elderly people have a deficiency in B-12, which is often mistaken as a natural sign of aging.

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As shown, the main benefits of vitamin-B intake include cardiovascular and nervous system health, energy production and mental well-being. However, to fully appreciate the many functions the entire B-complex helps to govern, a review of all 12 B-vitamins is in order.

  1. Thiamin (B-1): Thiamin helps with the conversion of nutrients to energy and, in particular, enhances mental function and mood. Grains, wheat-germ, nuts and seeds are high in thiamine.

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  2. Riboflavin (B-2): Riboflavin is another key B-vitamin responsible for helping with nutrient conversion to energy. It also plays a major role in red blood cell manufacturing. Higher energy, as a result of B-2 intake, leads to improved immune system integrity, respiratory and digestive system health. Milk and cheese are high riboflavin foods.

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  3. Niacin (B-3): Niacin contributes in over 50 metabolic processes and therefore is one of the most important of the B-vitamins. The main functions of niacin are hormone manufacturing, detoxification, cholesterol regulation and energy production. Niacin can be obtained in two ways: directly from foods or through protein break-down. Tryptophan is one key amino acid responsible for niacin production. If one eats enough protein they will get enough tryptophan and will produce half of the niacin they need. The rest will be obtained directly through niacin-rich food intake. Niacin-rich foods include, beef liver, chicken tuna and milk.

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  4. Pantothenic acid (B-5): One of the less auspicious B-vitamins, pantothenic acid plays a supporting role in energy and hormone production, and red-blood-cell manufacturing. It can be obtained easily through the a well-balanced diet.

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  5. Pyroxidine (B-6): A very important amino acid in terms of protein building and therefore particularly important for bodybuilders. Pyroxidine works to transform amino acids into more than 5,000 proteins, and, in addition helps to make 60 different enzymes which assist our bodies biologic functions. Additional functions of pyroxidine include the assisting of a strong immune system and a healthy heart, and the management of depression. A pyridoxine deficiency can cause certain skin disorders, neuropathy (abnormal nervous system function), confusion, poor coordination and insomnia. Pyroxidine is abundant in many of the foods we eat. Major sources include liver, brown rice, fish and whole-grain cereals.

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  6. Biotin (B-7): Biotin also helps with nutrient conversion to energy and protein conversion. A biotin deficiency might be found in one who eats a large quantity of raw egg whites. The whites contain a substance called avidin which has a biotin binding function. A lack of biotin may also cause hair loss. The addition of biotin may enhance hair growth if the hair loss is a result of a biotin deficiency, not a genetic trait. Biotin is found in significant quantities in beef liver, egg yolks, nuts, and whole grains.

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  7. Folic acid (B-9): Folic acid is important for reproductive health (it can prevent birth defects) in addition to energy production and appetite, mood and sleep. It also assists cell replacement and cardiovascular health. Major sources of folic acid are beef and chicken liver, lentils, kidney beans and chick-peas.

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  8. Cobalamin (B-12): As with the other B-vitamins cobalamin helps to ensure nutrient conversion to energy. Cobalamin also assists with energy production in the sense that it helps to keep red-blood-cells healthy, thus enhancing their ability to carry oxygen and nutrients around the body. All of the cells of the immune system require cobalamin to function optimally. A deficiency of cobalamin will cause pernicious amenia, which results in weakness, numbness of the extremities, and fever. Unless cobalamin combines with what is termed intrinsic factor (a mucoprotein contained in the stomach) it cannot be absorbed or used properly. This problem is sometimes observed in strict vegetarians. Major sources include liver, beef, egg yolk, poultry and milk.

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The Unofficial B-Vitamins

Choline, inositol, lipoic acid and PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) (all originally classified as members of the B-vitamin family but now considered to be closely linked) are classified as vitamin-like substances, sugar-alcohols, folic acid components and enzyme facilitators respectively.


      Choline is essential in transporting and metabolising fats. There is also a suggestion that it can act to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. It may also be able to pass through the blood/brain barrier, and possibly help to improve the memory - but this has not been conclusively proven. It does however seem to be efficacious in treating bipolar disorder. Choline can be obtained from wheat bran, offal, brewers yeast and egg-yolk.

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Because its chemical composition is alcohol, inositol is regarded as a sugar-alcohol. Inositol seems to be involved in the construction of cell membranes, prevention of fat accumulation in the liver and glucose metabolism. Inositol can be obtained from liver (chicken and beef), brewers yeast, milk, sweet-corn, whole-grains, lecithin, raisins and peanuts.

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Lipoic acid

      Lipoic acid helps with energy production. Dietary intake is unnecessary as lipoic acid is manufactured in the body in a sufficient quantity.

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      PABA is a component of folic acid and is important for a wide range of biological functions. It can be obtained from eggs, cereals, meat and milk.

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Who Are Likely To Be Deficient In B-Vitamins

  1. Those who smoke.

  2. The elderly.

  3. Those who drink alcohol or abuse other drugs.

  4. Vegetarians.

  5. Those with chronic digestive problems.

  6. Those with increased nutritional requirements or who have a nutritionally inadequate diet.

Should One Supplement With B-Vitamins?

Yes, if one is:

  1. Eliminating whole food groups.

  2. Taking birth control pills, in which case extra folic acid and B-6 should be taken.

  3. A vegan.

  4. Experiencing heart problems (B-12 and folic acid).

  5. Is pregnant (supplement with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects).


Because they act in concert to ensure that many of our biological processes are functioning optimally, the B-vitamins are an important dietary component. B-vitamins assist the functioning of the nervous and cardiovascular systems, energy production and mental well-being and can be obtained from a variety of nutritional sources.

To power through intense work-outs, it is undoubtedly important to have sufficient energy at ones disposal. B-vitamins, supplied either through diet or supplementation, will help to ensure that energy levels are at their highest.


  • Russell, R.M., et al.(1996). Journal of the American Medical Association. ;275(23):1828-1829
  • Stoll, A.L., et al.(1996). Biological Psychiatry. 40:382-388.
  • Vutyavanich, T. (1995). American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.173:881-884.
  • Chen, M.(1996). Journal of the American College of Nutrition.15(3):231-236.
  • Dolby, V.(1997). Faith Sloans bodybuilding resource. [Online]