Vitamins and endurance training. Food for running or faddish claims?

Sports Med. May-Jun 1985;2(3):175-97. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198502030-00003.


The inter-relationship of food and physical performance, food is considered as a conglomerate of nutrients and man is depicted as a kind of organic pudding. This 'machine' concept of human performance in combination with the mysticism surrounding vitamins, has led to the faddish belief that additional vitamins are necessary to improve physical performance by means of supercharging the metabolic processes in the body. Various vitamins and their dietary recommendations as well as the indicators for vitamin status are discussed. It is concluded that a marginal or subclinical deficiency state can be defined as an intermediate between optimal vitamin status and frank clinical deficiency. Marginal deficiency is characterised by biochemical values deviating from statistically derived reference limits as well as the absence of clinical signs and symptoms of vitamin deficiency. Besides the static, mostly biochemical, indicators of vitamin status, more functional indicators are considered, among them work capacity. An extensive historical review on depletion studies, epidemiological surveys and supplementation studies is presented. It is concluded that a restricted intake of some B-complex vitamins-individually and in combination-of approximately less than 35 to 45% of the recommended dietary allowance may lead to decreased endurance capacity within a few weeks. Studies on ascorbic acid (vitamin C) depletion and fat-soluble vitamin A deficiency have noted no decrease of endurance capacity. However, in a few recent epidemiological surveys, biochemical vitamin C deficiency was actually shown to decrease aerobic power. Although the general conclusion is that a reduced water-soluble vitamin intake decreases endurance capacity, it is believed that further controlled experimentation is needed with B-complex vitamins and vitamin C individually. Furthermore, usually employed reference limits for vitamins need reappraisal translating them into impairment limits. With respect to the available evidence, it can be concluded that supplementation of diet with either single or multivitamin preparations containing B-complex vitamins, vitamin C or E does not improve physical performance in athletes with a normal biochemical vitamin balance resulting from a well-balanced diet. Although vitamin supplementation does not seem to produce any effect when the diet is adequate, it is possible that vitamin B-complex supplementation is useful in sports with a high energy expenditure, because of the unavoidable consumption of 'empty calories' i.e. food products with a low nutrient density. The side effects of megavitamin supplementation are discussed briefly.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology
  • Ascorbic Acid Deficiency / metabolism
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscles / drug effects
  • Niacin / pharmacology
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Physical Endurance / drug effects*
  • Riboflavin Deficiency / metabolism
  • Thiamine / pharmacology
  • Thiamine Deficiency / metabolism
  • Vitamin A Deficiency / metabolism
  • Vitamin B 12 / pharmacology
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / metabolism
  • Vitamin B 6 Deficiency / metabolism
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology
  • Vitamins / metabolism
  • Vitamins / pharmacology*


  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin E
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin B 12
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Thiamine