Vitamin B is of particular interest to athletes because of the role this group of vitamins play in many metabolic processes that are directly related to performance – including but not limited to energy production, red blood cell formation and muscle building/repair.

A major function of vitamin B is the metabolism of proteins and amino acids. The most biologically active form of vitamin B is pyridoxal 5-phosphate (PLP). During exercise, the gluconeogenic process involves the breakdown of amino acids for energy in muscle and the conversion of lactic acid to glucose in the liver, whereby various PLP-containing enzymes are necessary for this metabolically driven process (Manore, 2000).

A recent paper published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that active individuals lacking in B vitamins may perform worse during high-intensity exercise and have a decreased ability to repair and build muscle than placebo. For active individuals, it was found that even a marginal deficiency may impact the body’s ability to repair itself, operate efficiently and even ward off illness.

In addition, athletes who restrict calories or limit food groups like dairy or meat, have an increased chance of deficiency, and thus, are often the most susceptible. Several studies have examined the effect of vitamin deficiency on work performance. For example, Van Der Beek et al (1994), who depleted 24 healthy men of thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 over an 11-week metabolic feeding period, found that vitamin depletion significantly decreased maximal work capacity (VO2max) by 12%, peak power by 9%, and mean power by 7%. 

B vitamins  especially thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B6  are used to convert food into energy that can be utilised during exercise, with supplementation demonstrating the ability to support efficient energy production at a cellular level. Folate and vitamin B12 play an integral role in the synthesis of red blood cells and the repair of damaged muscle cells, making it an integral element of the recovery process.

With so many within this group, let’s break them down into what they do and where you can find them.

B Vitamin


Common Food Sources

B1 (Thiamine)

Important for the nervous system and helps turn carbohydrates into energy

Whole grains, fortified cereals

B2 (Riboflavin)

Plays a role in red blood cell production and is key in energy production

Almonds, milk, yoghurt, fortified breads and cereals

B3 (Niacin) 

Supports anaerobic and aerobic performance. Important for cell health

Meat, fish, poultry, peanuts, peanut butter, enriched brain products

B5 (Pantothenate Acid)

One of the most important; responsible for supporting production of blood cells and energy metabolism (breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates)

Meat, fish, poultry, mushrooms, avocado, nuts, seeds enriched brain products

B6 (Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate)

Involved in over 100 metabolic reactions, including production of energy and haemoglobin. Also important for muscle growth and repair

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, whole grains, seeds, oysters

B7 (Biotin) 

Important for energy production

Nuts, eggs, soybeans, fish

B9 (Folate)

Important for cell production, heart health and protection against birth defects

Enriched greens, dark-leafy greens, whole grain breads and cereals, citrus fruits

Vitamin B12

Plays an important role in red blood cell formation and energy 

Seafood, meat, milk and cheese, eggs, fortified cereals

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The Vitamin Needs of Athletes

Vitamin Bs are water soluble, which means these vitamins cannot be stored by the body and must be consumed regularly in order to exert a continual beneficial effect in the body. This also means these crucial vitamins can also be lost in significant quantities through sweat and urine. A recent study found that vitamin B levels were more consistently depleted in individuals during periods of intense exercise, in comparison to periods of rest, reaffirming the need for regular consumption particularly amongst active individuals. Additionally, the vast majority of these vitamins are easily degraded through food preparation stages (such as cooking), and hence, regular intake through supplementation serves as a more reliable source of B vitamins, ensuring levels do not compromise performance.

They are also particularly important in the practice of physical exercise because they are involved in the regulation of energy metabolism, modulating the synthesis and degradation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Similarly, vitamin Bs are involved as co-enzymes of numerous regulatory processes, assisting cell division, growth and synthesis of new cells such as red blood cells, and the repair of damaged cells and tissues. Given that exercise stresses metabolic pathways that depend on thiamine, riboflavin, and other B vitamins, the requirements for these vitamins are increased in athletes and active individuals. Thus, active individuals who restrict their energy intake, or partake in regular strenuous activity, are at greatest risk for poor vitamin B status and should consider supplementation to protect and enhance performance.

PILLAR’s Ultra B Active formulation uses upper-doses of eight key vitamin B groups to optimise energy levels, relieve fatigue, support nervous system health, and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.