Biochemically, it makes sense to supplement with a quality B-Complex vitamin in advance of a race and during training. Most of the B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6 are utilized either directly or indirectly in the production of cellular energy from sugars, proteins and fats. Increasing intake of these vitamins logically ought to improve energy, a fact borne out in clinical practice. Additionally, there are studies demonstrating that mitochondrial function becomes less efficient during endurance sports, so smart runners should take steps to prevent that beforehand.
Clinical experience is also important when addressing this topic, as there has not been considerable research measuring the effect of B complexes on athletic performance. Based on my own observations and those of other practicing physicians, B vitamins, and especially vitamin B12, improve patients’ energy levels considerably, and indeed that is a common use for them. Patients frequently report higher energy levels, including for sports. It makes sense, then to use them for patients looking to boost performance in endurance sports.
Much of the research done into B-complex vitamins combined with exercise has focused on homocysteine levels. While most people are familiar with homocysteine for its hypothesized connection to heart disease, it can also be measured as an indirect marker for folic acid and vitamin B12 metabolism. The studies consistently indicate that homocysteine is elevated after endurance sports, especially in patients with low vitamin B12 and folic acid levels, and further studies indicate that vitamin B12 metabolism is significantly altered during endurance sports. Far from suggesting that marathoners are more likely to have heart attacks, these studies indicate that marathons place an increased demand on these two nutrients, and that supplementation is important.
The bottom line is that it’s important to supplement with B vitamins going into a marathon or other endurance sport. They would be a remedy to some of the biochemical stresses that runners endure during such events, and may boost performance as well. An easy way to get B vitamins, beyond standard supplements, is by adding Emergen-C or a similar product to the water you drink during exercise (I’m not advertising this particular one, but it’s widely available). Emergen-C supplies a full B complex, as well as vitamin C, which is useful to counter the oxidative stress of a race, and electrolytes, which help promote proper cellular function, as well as maintaining proper hydration and fluid balance. Hope this is helpful to all of you athletes out there! May you have a safe and happy season!