We all know that the ideal diet is a balanced one, containing a wide variety of different foods and lots of fruit and vegetables. We also know that ideally we should take regular exercise. However, people often overlook the fact that exercise needs fuel and the more exercise we do, or the greater the intensity of that exercise, the more fuel we need. However, just consuming extra calories is not the answer; to help us deal with the increased stress and damage of exercise, we need proportionally more of the ingredients we use to repair and maintain our bodies. So, what are these? There are obvious things like protein, which we know we must consume in increased quantities when we exercise. However, we often pay little attention to the importance of vitamins. As well as protein, we need to increase our intake of vitamins if we are exercising, and the benefits of doing so can be impressive.

Vitamins help you prepare before exercise and recover afterwards

First of all, let’s be clear on what a vitamin actually is.  A vitamin is an organic compound or set of compounds that is a vital nutrient for an organism.  It is also something the organism itself cannot synthesise in sufficient quantities.  Therefore, vitamins must be obtained through our diets.  Each different organism has a list of vitamins that are specific to it’s needs, and won’t necessarily be classed as vitamins for a different species.  A good example of this is Vitamin C.  It is a vitamin for humans, but not for many other animals.

When we exercise we put significant stress on our body as a whole, on specific areas and muscle sets undergoing work, and also on systems such as our cardiovascular system and our immune system.  When this happens protein, for example, is used in repairing and rebuilding our tissues.  So the harder the exercise, the more damage endured and therefore the more protein we will need to consume to repair these damaged tissues and build new ones.  The role of vitamins in the repair of muscle tissues after exercise is often overlooked.  Kyparos showed in 2012 that Vitamin E can help muscles recover after exercise and injury by more than 10% immediately after exercise, and over 20% 48 hours later.  Barker found in 2013 that Vitamin D consumption can give a faster rate of skeletal muscle recovery after injury.  Ingesting Vitamin D before exercise helped hard-worked leg muscles recover quicker compared to a control leg.  This difference in recovery was seen immediately and continued for up to 72 hours after exercise.

One of the results of hard exercise that is most difficult to treat is a decrease in immune function.  Acute exercise can even result in immune deficiency, and generally results in suppression of the immune system, potentially leading to infection and illness.  Trushina (2012) conducted a study to see what effect specific supplementation with vitamins would have on the immunosuppressant effects of exercise.  Trushina found that the immunosuppression seen after exercise could actually be prevented by modifications to the diet that included a significant increase in the levels of vitamins.  Li confirmed these results in 2013 with a study on 240 young males in the military in China.  They undertook endurance training and were either given an ordinary diet or had an ordinary diet supplemented with multivitamins for one week. After the week of endurance training, the subjects’ immunological functions were significantly decreased.  Those men receiving the multivitamin supplement showed significant functional recovery of their immune system when compared to those just consuming an ordinary diet.

Another wide-reaching negative byproduct of exercise is the increased level of oxidative stress it creates in the body as a whole, as well as more acutely in muscles and systems that have undergone work.  Increased levels of oxidative stress are very damaging and can contribute to cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Vitamins with antioxidant properties are a fantastic tool to combat this, and an increase in levels of particular vitamins can have significant beneficial effects.  Rey found in 2013 that even race horses, which undertake extremely intense periods of exercise, not only use up Vitamin E when exercising but that Vitamin E supplementation can maintain Vitamin E levels during and after exercise.  Maintaining the levels of Vitamin E present had the effect of maintaining a good oxidative status.  This means that reactive oxygen species, which do us damage when we experience oxidative stress, are mopped up and fall to a normal, non-exercising level.

This beneficial effect has been seen in humans too.  Sureda (2013) took fourteen male amateur runners and gave one half an antioxidant supplement containing Vitamins E and C, and gave the other half a placebo for one month.  The participants then competed in a half-marathon.  If we exercise regularly our bodies become accustomed to this and several beneficial responses are triggered with each session of exercise.  This phenomenon, known as an antioxidant adaptive response, was not altered by supplementation.  Those subjects receiving vitamin supplements did have significantly better oxidation statuses than those taking a placebo, particularly so in their neutrophils, which are immune cells.

Research is making a good case for specific supplementation of vitamins for those undertaking exercise.  This could lead to benefits throughout our bodies, as well as improvements in performance and recovery.


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2. Kendall, KL.  Ingesting a preworkout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, β-alanine, amino acids, and B vitamins for 28 days is both safe and efficacious in recreationally active men. Nutr Res. 2014 May;34(5):442-9.

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