There are lots of things people do to try to make their exercise more effective. Vitamin supplements (along with minerals and other nutrients) are just one of them. It’s meant to enhance your performance to make you stronger, faster and better.
The logic is obvious. Every part of the body needs vitamins to function. Skin, bones, muscles, metabolism, eyesight, immune system… they’re all reliant on vitamin power. If you don’t have enough vitamins, you can experience all kinds of health problems and won’t be able to exercise at all. So, do additional vitamins give you even more of a boost?
Of particular interest when it comes to exercise are B vitamins. Vitamin B1 is thiamine, which is what helps take sugar from the carbohydrates you eat and turn it into energy. If you want to sustain a period of high-intensity exercise and build endurance, you’re going to need thiamine. You can find it in various foods, particularly whole grains (such as flour and cereal), beans, legumes, and pork.
Thiamine isn’t the only B vitamin that plays a role in the body’s energy processes. Riboflavin, niacin and others also have a role to play. A lack of them can lead to physical weakness, among other symptoms. B vitamins also help the body repair itself from injuries, something else that’s important when exercising regularly.
Some people are told to take vitamin supplements to ensure they get enough vitamins. That may be because they can’t get them from their diet, or it might be because they’re in a position where they need more than usual, such as when pregnant. Individual supplements are available, but a lot of people like to take multivitamins to cover everything.
There’s variation in how the body reacts to an overdose of vitamins. Some can be harmful, and others don’t seem to have major consequences. There’s also a lack of evidence to suggest taking extra vitamin supplements when you don’t have a deficiency is particularly helpful. There’s also going to be some individual variation depending on your own circumstances, from your body to the type of exercise you do.
Athletes often need more nutrients than other people to push themselves further, but the best way to do that is to balance your diet. Supplements may give a bit of a boost, but you can’t use them as a substitute for proper food.