To make it through an entire obstacle course race, or when you’re lagging in energy from the training process, you’re going to need an additional boost of energy that may not always come from food. Many energy-inducing vitamin and mineral sources can be found in your diet, if you’re eating clean and balanced, but in some cases, you can level it up a notch and give these energy-boosting vitamin and herbal supplements a try. Dietitians walk us through what vitamins give you energy and can help carry us through a long race or training session.
What Vitamins Give You Energy: Dieticians Weigh In
When it comes to what vitamins give you energy, Vitamin B12 is one of the most well-known sources. “B12 affects energy metabolism, red blood cell development, and brain function—all of which contribute to successful athletic performance,” explains Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, a member of the Jenny Craig Science Advisory Board. You can find B12 in many of the foods that you normally eat, like seafood: salmon, tuna, and clams, and eggs, milk and yogurt, Gellman says. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it might be trickier to sneak enough B12 into your diet—in that case, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about adding supplements into your nutrition routine.
If you’re iron-deficient or anemic, one of the common symptoms is fatigue. This makes sense because iron helps transport oxygen to your muscles, which will be pumping hard the more vigorous your exercise is, Gellman says. “In addition, our bodies may lose small amounts of iron through sweating, so extreme athletes who are sweating a lot during activity may lose more iron than those who are not,” she adds.
Iron can be found frequently in your regular diet, so you may not need a supplement unless your doctor specifically recommends one. Look to meats like turkey, chicken, and lean beef for protein-heavy sources of iron. “Or if you’re looking for vegetarian options, dark, leafy greens such as spinach, tofu and beans or lentils are also great choices,” Gellman says.
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This coenzyme (a molecule that helps an enzyme function) acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping reduce oxidative stress in the muscles, especially during exercise. In terms of what vitamins give you energy and may also help treat fatigue, according to recent studies, CoQ10 is an endurance athlete's best friend. The coenzyme actually occurs naturally in the body, though, so the need for supplements is still a question (many people turn to ubuquinol, another form of CoQ10, for supplements, as they may be more effective Silverman points out). “CoQ10 is actually present in every cell of our bodies, primarily in our heart, lungs and vital organs. It is needed for proper cell functioning,” Silverman says.
It may prove a bit difficult to get enough CoQ10 in your diet, though. “CoQ10 is a bit more complicated because the best sources are organ meats (heart, liver, etc.) which most people don’t consume often, if ever,” Silverman says. She suggests eating sirloin, soybeans, broccoli, egg yolks, and sweet potatoes, all of which have small amounts of CoQ10, or going with a supplement. (Spartan's pick: MitoQ, which contains mitochondria-targeted CoQ10 to support healthy energy levels, mental focus, and overall well-being.)
An Adaptogen is a type of herb that assists the body in adapting to stressors and balancing the body’s systems, and according to research, adaptogens, in general, have been known to help regulate energy circulation throughout the body. “Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb commonly used to increase energy,” explains Jen Silverman, Jen Silverman, MS, CNS. “Many people use it to combat stress but recently has been linked to improved physical energy as well.”
Another common adaptogen that may help sustain your athletic performance is Rhodiola rosea, (commonly known as just rhodiola). “Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, Rhodiola is most commonly used to fight depression and anxiety, promote longevity, and improve immune function,” Silverman says. And it may also help you in your endurance training: “It has also been used to increase stamina,” she adds.
5. Recovery Supplements
There are a few energy sources that help pump your muscles with energy after a long run or training session. Magnesium is one important mineral not only for sleep, as it’s usually associated, but also for re-energizing after your workout with muscle recovery too, Silverman explains. “Magnesium loosens tight muscles and prevents cramping by preventing the buildup of lactic acid and reducing DOMs, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” she says. You can find magnesium in a variety of foods that you normally eat, such as dark chocolate, avocados, bananas, nuts, and seeds, or if you might not have enough, talk to your doctor about adding a supplement.
One other post-workout essential (in terms of what vitamins give you energy) is a specific group of amino acids called BCAAs, or branch chain amino acids. These BCAAs, specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine, are three of the nine “essential” amino acids—the body doesn’t produce them, so you need to find them in food sources, Silverman explains. Leucine and isoleucine are found mostly in animal products, like eggs, chicken, cheese, fish, and other protein sources like soybeans. Valine is also found in similar animal products, as well as some vegetarian foods: nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and portobello mushrooms. “These three BCAAs are metabolized in skeletal muscle tissue, so that’s why they play a huge role in muscle synthesis,” says Silverman. Make sure you get enough of those key BCAA-filled foods, or turn to a powder or supplement if not, after a race or heavy training session, so that your muscles can properly recuperate.