Vitamin B is of particular interest to athletes because of the role these group of vitamins play in many metabolic processes that are directly related to performance. These include 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 the 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).

Vitamin Bs are a collection of water-soluble vitamins, which means they 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 (i.e. cooking), and hence, regular intake through supplementation serves as a more reliable source of B vitamins, ensuring levels do not reach levels that risk compromised performance.

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.[1]

When thinking about B vitamins, it is worth paying special mention to Vitamin B12, which serves a multitude of additional key benefits, which include:

Red blood cell formation and anaemia prevention
Vitamin B12 is crucially involved in the formation of red blood cells. When vitamin B12 levels are suboptimal or too low, the production of red blood cells is altered, causing anaemia. When you’re anaemic, your body no longer has enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to your vital organs, which can cause symptoms like fatigue and weakness.

Supports bone health and prevent osteoporosis[2]
Vitamin B12 status is important for maintenance of Bone Mineral Density (BMD). A study examined the association between vitamin B12 and BMD in 2576 adults. Results indicated that low B12 levels were associated with significantly lower BMD at the hip and spine. Furthermore, clinical studies have shown that vitamin B12 deficient patients have a higher risk of fracture. This reinforces that low vitamin B12 may be a risk factor for low BMD.

Neurological benefits such as potential improvement in mood and supports in the prevention of the loss of neurons[3]
Vitamin B12 is needed for the production of serotonin, a chemical responsible for regulating mood. Vitamin B12 supplements may help improve mood in people with an existing deficiency. High vitamin B12 levels have been clinically linked to better treatment outcomes and an increased probability of recovery from major depressive disorder. Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been associated with memory loss. B12 may play a role in preventing brain atrophy (the loss of neurons in the brain) and its deficiency is often accompanied with memory deterioration or dementia. One study in patients with early-stage dementia showed that a combination of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acid supplements slowed the progression of mental decline. [4]Another study found that even B12 levels on the low side of normal can contribute to poor memory performance. As a result, supplementing with vitamin B12 may improve memory, even in the absence of a clinically diagnosed deficiency[5]

May reduce your risk of macular degeneration and heart disease[6]
Ensuring you maintain adequate levels of vitamin B12 may help prevent the risk of age-related macular degeneration (eye disease). It is believed that supplementing with vitamin B12 may lower homocysteine, high levels of which have been associated with an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration and heart disease.

Supports healthy hair, skin and nails
Healthy vitamin B12 levels are important for the maintenance of healthy hair, skin and nails. In fact, low vitamin B12 levels can cause various symptoms, including hyperpigmentation, nail discoloration, hair changes, vitiligo and inflamed and cracked mouth corners.

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. Vitamin B12 specifically, plays an integral role in the synthesis of red blood cells and repair of damaged muscle cells, making it an integral element of the recovery process. 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.

[1] Woolf K, Manore MM. B-vitamins and exercise: does exercise alter requirements? Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Oct;16(5):453-84. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.16.5.453

[2] Tucker, Katherine L., et al. "Low plasma vitamin B12 is associated with lower BMD: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study." Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 20.1 (2005): 152-158.

[3] Syed EU, Wasay M, Awan S. Vitamin B12 supplementation in treating major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Open Neurol J. 2013 Nov 15;7:44-8.

[4] Oulhaj A, Jernerén F, Refsum H, Smith AD, de Jager CA. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status Enhances the Prevention of Cognitive Decline by B Vitamins in Mild Cognitive Impairment. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;50(2):547-57

[5] Köbe T, Witte AV, Schnelle A, Grittner U, Tesky VA, Pantel J, Schuchardt JP, Hahn A, Bohlken J, Rujescu D, Flöel A. Vitamin B-12 concentration, memory performance, and hippocampal structure in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr;103(4):1045-54.

[6] Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Chew EY, Albert CM, Manson JE. Folic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin combination treatment and age-related macular degeneration in women: the Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):335-41.