My car says ZERO miles to empty but I'm 7 miles away from the gas station. So I turn off my radio, cruise through stop signs, shut off the AC, and try to time the stoplights just right so I don't have to stop. I conserve as much energy as I can until I refuel.
Your body is exactly the same way. When you don't give it the fuel it needs to operate your systems, it starts to slow down your functions. Luckily, your body is a lot smarter than my car in that if I don't make it to the gas station, my car will shut down. Your body won't do that. Your body is smart. It draws energy out of other functions to continue to do what you are asking of your body.
And that's where the trouble lies.
We all know vitamins are as essential to the body as gasoline is to my car. Without them, we will not function properly. Some of the unsung heroes of the vitamin world are the B Vitamins. When I work with athletes and individuals of all ages, I tell each client they are going to be out there waving the flag about B Vitamins and telling everyone how important they are to the body.
If you have high demands on your body through physical, mental, and/or emotional stress, your B Vitamin gas tank is severely demanded. I tell my athletes, they are a Ferrari, not a Prius. A Ferrari needs WAY more fuel than a Prius to go the same distance. If we don’t refuel the Ferrari as often, the Ferrari stops. The Ferrari also needs premium fuel, not regular fuel and can’t rely on a battery for backup fuel. So, depending on your physical stress demands, your body may need more fuel than others.
In the genetic testing that we utilize with athletes, we see that many of them have genetic predisposition to flush out, not absorb, not transport, or not convert vitamins the way the body should. So the whole mindset of “I’m just going to get all of my vitamins through food” mentality does not work for everyone. An athlete’s blood work should look significantly different than a regular person’s blood work. They should be on the upper ends of the “normal” ranges and in some cases, they may be above “normal” ranges.
So why is it hard to just get your B Vitamins through food? Let’s look at the facts.
First up, Vitamin B12. The ENERGY Vitamin! Super important for brain function including memory, focus, mental health, and long term brain health. Also extremely important for the energy our body needs not only for daily life functions, but for the physical demands of training.
How can you get Vitamin B12 in your daily routine? Clams, Oysters, Salmon, Tuna, Lamb, Beef Liver, Eggs, and Cow’s Milk. I suspect, just like myself, that most of those are not in your daily routine. Even if they are, some individuals with genetic variants, like myself, cannot absorb the B12 well once it comes into the body, so people like us really struggle to have energy and often times are severely fatigued and exhausted.
But wait, don’t run out and buy the first bottle of Vitamin B12 that you see on the shelf at the store. Not all B12 is created equally and there are three forms that we recommend when looking for a B12 supplement. If you have MTHFR variants, this will severely dictate your specific needs for the right types of Vitamin B12, What the MTHFR is MTHFR? I’m glad you asked.
The MTHFR gene, which relates to Vitamin B9 metabolism is a topic I could write an entire week’s worth of blogs about. For now, we’ll focus on how variants on the MTHFR gene effect your body’s natural conversion of folate vs. folic acid.
Vitamin B9 (folate) is extremely important to an athlete’s body. Unfortunately, with variants on the MTHFR gene, athletes are not able to process synthetic Vitamin B9 (folic acid) into real Vitamin B9 (folate) like they should. Why is this a problem? Because folate is EVERYTHING to an athlete’s body. Without enough folate many athletes may feel severe fatigue, exhaustion, cramping issues, women’s health troubles, depression and anxiety, poor recovery, digestive issues, and the list continues.
So whether you know if you have MTHFR gene variants or not, I always recommend using real Vitamin B9 (folate) in vitamins and supplements. Avoid the folic acid (synthetic Vitamin B9) and stick with the natural forms like methylolate or L-5MTHF. That way you know you are getting the real deal when it comes to Vitamin B9. Natural sources are always best but lentil beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, and beets are not super common in our lifestyles. So go ahead and make yourself a beet and garbanzo bean smoothie for breakfast if your heart desires.
Sleep troubles, energy issues, mood concerns? Your body may be dealing with less than optimal Vitamin B6 ingestion and/or flushing out more than you should. Some genetic variants do not allow athletes to hold on to their Vitamin B6 optimally. So here’s where we find people supplementing with all sorts of things to mask the symptoms, not the problems.
Vitamin B6 supports your body’s natural melatonin production. If you don’t have enough Vitamin B6 in the body, your do not produce enough melatonin naturally and thus can have some wicked sleep issues. Most people just buy an unregulated melatonin supplement off the shelves and pop gummies every night. If you can boost your body’s natural melatonin production, you most likely will have better sleep health which results in better energy throughout the day.
Vitamin B12 is the energy vitamin (see above if you need a refresh). It doesn’t matter how many Vitamin B12 gummy bears or 5 Hour Energy shots you drink daily. If you don’t have enough Vitamin B6, you won’t absorb the Vitamin B12 properly. Without proper sleep and energy, we can be thrown into the “hot mess” category and our mood will be significantly effected.
Your mood will also suffer with B6 concerns because the Vitamin helps your body naturally make serotonin and norepinephrine, good mood feelings in the brain. If we can’t produce enough good mood feelings in the brain, we don’t feel super awesome.
As you can see, if your sleep, mood, and/or energy is off, you are significantly off and B6 could be the culprit.
Now that you’re going to be out there waving the B Vitamin flag as well, how do you proceed with this knowledge? It’s extremely important to stay on top of your B Vitamin levels. You can ask your provider during yearly physicals to draw your vitamin levels via blood. Making sure nothing creeps too low and that you stay towards the middle to upper end of the “normal” range is ideal for optimal training and performance needs.
There are MANY different ways to get B Vitamins and hundreds of various brands to look at on the shelf. Don’t just buy the cheapest and easiest option. Look for the natural forms and make sure it’s sport certified for ingredients and banned substance free to be extra confident what’s in your products.