B-Complex Vitamins

In the early 1900s, medical science began to extend its research beyond how the body processes functioned, into the realm of why such dynamic systems as body metabolism, cell growth, and the skin developed as they did. This approach led to the isolation of what is now referred to as B-complex vitamins, commencing with the discovery of vitamin B1, thiamin, in 1903.

The B-complex is so named because, while all of its eight components are chemically distinct, carbon-based, freestanding structures, they share similar characteristics. These vitamins are typically found in combination and they have been found to be most effective when working together. The B-complex vitamins are of particular importance to the proper function of the human metabolism, healthy skin, the development of proper muscle tone, the fostering of a healthy immune system and nervous system, optimum cell growth and cell division, particularly with regard to red blood cells, and the reduction of stress and cardiovascular disease. Proper amounts of the B-complex are essential to the maintenance of general health in an athlete.

All vitamins of the B-complex are water soluble, meaning that they are not stored for a lengthy period within the body, and are excreted through the kidneys and urine. The B-complex must be replenished on a daily basis to ensure good health and the proper functioning of the systems. While there are a number of commercially available B-complex vitamin supplements, it is believed that a proper balanced diet will be as effective in ensuring that an athlete is consuming the optimal amounts of each B-complex component, each day.

Each vitamin within the B-complex has a specific relationship to a bodily function or system, and there is a recommended daily allowance (RDA) for healthy adults. The eight different B-complex vitamins include:

  • B1: Thiamine is essential to the conversion of the carbohydrates into glucose that the body converts into energy. Thiamine is also important in the creation of neurotransmitters, which serve as a chemical relay between the muscle fibers of the body; RDA 1.0-1.5 mg/day.
  • B2: Riboflavin is also important to the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is essential to the maintenance of healthy skin; RDA 1.2-1.8 mg/day.
  • B3: Niacin is important to the metabolism of food, as well as the health of the digestive tract; RDA 1.2-1.8 mg/day.
  • B6: Pyridoxine is also involved in the metabolism of food in glucose; it plays an important role in both the production of red blood cells as well as the creation of amino acids, which are important to the creation of proteins; RDA 1.4-2.0 mg/day.
  • B12: Cyanocobalamin is also important to the production of red blood cells; it is an important agent in the development of the sheath fibers that protect the nerves; RDA 2.0 mcg/day.
  • B9: Folic acid, panothenic acid, and biotin are the three components of the B-complex believed to act together in the production of hemoglobin, the chemical compound essential to the transportation of both oxygen and carbon dioxide waste in the bloodstream. Folic acid, in combination with vitamin B12, is of importance to the synthesis of DNA and the resultant proper growth of cells in the body. Both panothenic acid and biotin are produced in the human intestines; RDA 150-180 mg/day.

The B-complex vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods, including yeasts, whole grain cereals, rice, nuts, milk, eggs, many green vegetables, and liver. Given the water-soluble nature of these compounds, the athletic diet should be planned to provide for daily intake of sufficient B-complex foods. Given an athlete's usual energy level, it would be a rare occurrence that a serious B-complex deficiency would occur; for the athlete, assuming that the B-complex is being ingested, the important issue will be insuring that all of the B-complex is being obtained on a daily basis for optimum functioning of the affected systems. A shortage in any of the forms of vitamin B will impact an athlete's ability to metabolize food into energy, or the ability of the body to transport oxygen, two essentials of athletic performance.

Serious B-complex vitamin deficiency is most often noted in pregnant or nursing mothers, vegetarians, and alcoholics who do not eat regularly. This condition can cause equally profound physical problems, ranging from skin disorders and stomach upset, to significant impact on muscle reaction and mental performance. There is evidence that vitamin B-complex deficiency will impair the ability of an athlete to concentrate.

SEE ALSO Metabolic response; Minerals; Nutrition and athletic performance.