Vitamin supplementation and athletic performance

Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl. 1989;30:163-91.


Vitamins serve primarily as regulators of metabolic functions, many of which are critical to exercise performance. Depending upon the nature of their sport, e.g., strength, speed, power, endurance, or fine motor control, athletes may use megadoses of various vitamins in attempts to increase specific metabolic processes important to improved performance. Surveys have indicated that most elite athletes do take vitamin supplements, often in dosages greater than 50-100 times the United States Recommended Dietary Allowances. The theoretical basis underlying the use of each vitamin depends upon its specific metabolic function in relation to sport. Vitamin A functions to maintain night vision; thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid are all involved in muscle cell energy metabolism; niacin may also block free fatty acid release; pyridoxine is involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin and other oxygen transfer protein; folic acid and vitamin B12 are integrally involved in red blood cell (RBC) development; vitamins C and E are antioxidants, possibly preventing the destruction of the red blood cell membrane during exercise; vitamin D may be involved in muscle cell energetics through its influence on calcium. These are but a few of the possible metabolic functions of vitamins which have been suggested to have ergogenic applications to sport. Research has shown that a vitamin deficiency impairs physical performance. If this deficiency is corrected, performance usually improves. In general, vitamin supplementation to an athlete on a well-balanced diet has not been shown to improve performance. However, additional research with certain vitamins appears to be warranted, such as with the vitamin B complex and fine motor control, and with vitamin E and endurance at high altitudes. Moreover, research with megadose supplementation may also be necessary.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Efficiency / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Physical Endurance / drug effects
  • Sports*
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage
  • Vitamins / pharmacology*


  • Vitamins