Building a strong, lean, shapely, and muscular body is challenging. It requires not only dedication, perseverance, and a strong work ethic, but attention-to-detail as well. It doesn’t take long for anyone pursuing the worthy and rewarding quest for muscular fitness to realize they need every natural advantage obtainable. Thus, it only makes sense for bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts to eventually ask the question “what vitamins build muscle.”
Admittedly, the ‘what vitamins build muscle’ question is a bit funny in its wording. The question contains the presupposition that certain vitamins possess inherent muscle building qualities that will be acutely noticed upon regular, adequate dosage of these vitamins. This might or might not occur. The following are two conditions upon which it could occur:
- The bodybuilder was previously deficient in the vitamin that’s essential for health and muscle growth. This could result in better muscle building workouts and recuperation upon remedying the deficiency.
- All other elements that are vitally important to building muscle are sufficient while the vitamin deficiency was the limiting factor to optimum muscle growth upon remedying the deficiency.
These two qualifiers to the “what vitamins build muscle” question might seem obvious to my regular readers whom I consider to be intelligent and ‘thinking’ bodybuilders. However, it’s worth mentioning at the outset of this discussion; ‘what vitamins build muscle’ is likely a natural question among individuals new to strength and muscle building – those for whom these two points might not yet seem obvious.
“What Vitamins Build Muscle?” Two basic categories
Successful muscle building boils down to the optimization of just two basic but interrelated steps:
- Muscle Breakdown (bodybuilding workouts)
- Muscle Recuperation with ‘compensatory tissue’ creation (adequate rest between workouts)
Obviously, the “what vitamins build muscle” question is answered with suggestions that can likewise fall into just two categories – vitamins required for energy optimization resulting in better workouts and vitamins that optimize tissue repair for better recuperation between workouts. With respect to the nuances in function of certain vitamins, however, it becomes quickly observable that there’s spillover; some vitamins are needed for both tissue repair and optimal energy levels. This is especially true of certain B vitamins. Let’s start with the importance of those.
‘What Vitamins Build Muscle’: The B Vitamins
The B Vitamins are water soluble coenzymes in the release of energy from food. The fact that they’re water soluble means they’re easily excreted from the body and are in need of more regular replenishment than fat soluble vitamins. It also means that athletes and bodybuilders might need slightly higher amounts of them than do non-athletes or sedentary folk. B-vitamin’s function as ‘energy releasers’ makes it pretty obvious why I’m including them first in a list of ‘what vitamins build muscle.’
Here are the ones, with their listed functions, that are of particular importance for bodybuilders:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Important for protein synthesis and helps break down carbohydrates. Deficiency can occur in as few as ten days and there’s no known toxicity.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Extracts energy from the three macro-nutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. There’s no known toxicity.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Used in over 200 enzymatic interactions and over 60 energy-producing processes. Half is produced by the body as Tryptophan can be converted to it with help from Vitamin B6, Riboflavin, and Iron. Recommended dosage is 35 mg. per day.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Another important one for protein synthesis – especially for synthesizing non-essential amino acids. It’s needed for the functioning of over 100 enzymes. The upper limit is 100 mg. per day.
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Important for fatty acid synthesis and amino acid metabolism. Recommended dosage is 30 mg. per day.
- Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid): Needed to metabolize amino acids and synthesize DNA. Recommended dosage is between 400 mcg. – 1000 mcg. Per day.
- Vitamin B12: Needed for central nervous system maintenance and production of red blood cells. It’s also needed for Folic Acid absorption. The body can store a two year’s supply of it in the liver and there’s no known toxicity.
Having listed the importance of these particular B Vitamins, let’s look at some (but not all) good food sources for each one:
- Vitamin B1: Pork, navy beans, peanuts, green beans, spinach, breads, fortified cereals.
- Vitamin B2: Liver, milk, yogurt, eggs, organ meat, fish, green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin B3: Meat, poultry, tuna, halibut, salmon, asparagus, peanuts, cereals.
- Vitamin B6: Liver, fish, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, bananas, cabbage, whole grains.
- Vitamin B7: Egg yolks, beef, chicken, salmon, sardines, tuna, broccoli, spinach, oats,
- Vitamin B9: Spinach, broccoli, black and pinto beans, potatoes, grains, fortified cereals.
- Vitamin B12: Liver, meat, eggs, milk, fish, crab, lobster, cheese, clams.
Only two of the B vitamins listed have a known toxicity. Those are vitamins B3 (Niacin) and B6 (Pyridoxine). Too much niacin can cause flushing and redness and excess pyridoxine can actually lead to numbness and muscle weakness.
‘What Vitamins Build Muscle’: How about some antioxidants?
What discussion of vitamins and bodybuilding would be complete without the inclusion of probably the most famous of vitamins – Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)? It’s well known for its anti-oxidative power – scavenging and neutralizing free radicals which could otherwise have the potential to slow down tissue recuperation and growth. That’s a good enough reason to ensure adequate vitamin C intake.
But there are other reasons. Sufficient vitamin C intake is important in keeping the catabolic hormone ‘cortisol’ under control. Chronically high cortisol levels can lower testosterone and the stress of exercise tends to raise cortisol. So indirectly, vitamin C can help maintain testosterone which is of vital importance to muscle building.
Vitamin C is also important for collagen production. This is important for the strength of tendons and ligaments which is vital for lifting increasingly heavier weights. Clearly, vitamin C falls into the category of being a possible recuperation enhancing substance.
Vitamin C is water soluble, making its daily adequate intake very important to bodybuilders and athletes. The lower limit of recommended daily intake is 90 mg. and the upper limit is 2,000 mg. Evidence shows the best source of vitamin C is adequate intake of 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables and there’s no conclusive indication that mega-dosing has positive effects.
Vitamin E is another anti-oxidant. In fact, its primary role in the body is that of reducing oxidative free radicals. This makes it important for the protection of cell membranes, including the membranes of muscle cells. It thus helps muscle growth on the recuperation side of the muscle building equation as well.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin E is 15 mg. Good food sources are dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, wheat germ oil, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts.
Vitamin A is necessary for gene transcription, which is an important process of protein synthesis. Optimal inter-workout recuperation makes protein synthesis a paramount importance to bodybuilders and athletes. Adequate vitamin A is also important for bone metabolism. Since bones are the foundation on which muscles reside, the connection for bodybuilders and strength athletes is obvious. Vitamin A is also important for rhodopsin, cell differentiation, T lymphocytes, hematopoiesis, as well as some antioxidant activity.
The minimum recommendation for Vitamin A is around 900 mcg. per day. The tolerable upper limit is around 3,000 mcg. per day or 10,000 IU (International Units). The best sources are bright vegetables such as carrots, mango, orange sweet potatoes, apricots, mangos, and peaches.
We’ll top off the “what vitamins build muscle” discussion with Vitamin D. Recent research findings should make this vitamin of particular interest to bodybuilders and athletes. It’s appearing that adequate levels of the stuff are needed for testosterone production and inadequate levels can cause men’s testosterone levels to decline. This seems like more than enough reason for bodybuilders (among others) to become aware of Vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. It actually functions more like a hormone than a vitamin. It’s important for bone health and appears to play a role in helping prevent diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and cancer. But its importance in the bodily production of male androgens is just recently coming to light. Studies show that men who are low in vitamin D have higher levels of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), which lowers testosterone levels. Not surprisingly, these men have lower testosterone than their counterparts who have adequate vitamin D levels.
There are few food sources of vitamin D. Most of it is synthesized by the skin with the help of sunlight and cholesterol. Since many people don’t get enough sunlight for adequate vitamin D production – especially in winter months – supplementation could be necessary. This might be especially so for people with darker skin, as higher melanin tends to reduce the amount of vitamin D produced by sun exposure. Food sources of this vitamin include milk, egg yolks, butter, and oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
The minimum recommended dosage for vitamin D is 200 IU per day. However, some experts contend that this is far too low a recommendation and put the number around 2,000 IU per day (a ten-fold difference). I’ll stay neutral on dosage recommendations and just say that a blood test from your medical doctor to determine your personal requirements might not be a bad idea.
‘What Vitamins Build Muscle?’ Conclusion
The “what vitamins build muscle” answer obviously sits within the bigger context of “what vitamins (at what amounts) are needed for optimal health.” That’s a complex topic that can (and does) fill entire books. It gets into the details of how certain vitamins can negate the positive effects of other nutrients when taken at too high of dosages. It gets into the detailed effects of vitamins, minerals, macro-nutrients, and their many interactions on one another.
Keep this in mind: The foundation for getting adequate vitamin intake for optimal muscle growth is best achieved with a well balanced diet. A good quality multi-vitamin supplement on top of this might be necessary for tightening up any loose edges. These “loose edges” can be caused by requiring slightly higher amounts of some vitamins due to an active lifestyle rather than a sedentary one – and/or – falling a bit short on the ‘balanced diet’ scoreboard.
And remember… despite what others tell you about “nutrition being the #1 factor for bodybuilding” – a perfect nutrition plan cannot compensate for a haphazard training routine. All the positive elements need to come together synergistically.