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Vitamins: The Basics

What are Vitamins?

Vitamins are a group of unrelated organic compounds that are required for life. They are obtained through the diet and are involved with a whole cascade of functions within the body ranging from metabolism to reproduction. They can be loosely grouped together into two classifications, either water soluble or fat soluble. Because every vitamin has its own huge following of scientist groupies, it will be impossible (and boring) to talk about every single vitamin in detail, especially since there is cutting edge vitamin research released every day. Instead, this article will have a look at some basic vitamin nutrition, and how they may help you achieve your bodybuilding goals.

Fat Soluble Vitamins


Good sources


Vitamin A

Yellow/red vegetables, green vegetables, liver

Needed for night vision, maintenance of organ membranes, immune function, and as an antioxidant

Vitamin D

Exposure of skin to sun, oily fish, egg yolk

Needed for metabolism of calcium and phosphorous and bone strength. Recently there has been evidence to suggest that vitamin D may increase strength and testosterone

Vitamin E

Green vegetables, seeds, cereals

Is an antioxidant and provides disease resistance. Demand for vitamin E is increased with higher intake of unsaturated fats.

Vitamin K

Synthesised by gut microbes, fermented soy products, green leafy vegetables

Needed for blood clotting. Recent evidence suggests it plays a role in arterial health and cell growth.


Generally speaking, fat soluble vitamins tend to be stored in appreciable amounts within the body, so you do not have to eat a daily supply. An excess is not eliminated through urine, so these vitamins tend to be more toxic in extremely large doses compared to water soluble vitamins.

Water Soluble Vitamins


Good sources


Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Whole grains, starchy roots, animal products

Part of Krebs cycle and needed for energy synthesis

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Green leafy vegetables, animal products, yeast products (Vegemite)

Part of Krebs cycle and needed for energy synthesis

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Liver, yeast products, nuts

Part of Krebs cycle and needed for energy synthesis

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Green leafy vegetables, animal products, whole grains

Part of coenzyme A, needed for fatty acid oxidation, acetate metabolism, and steroid synthesise.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Grains, vegetables, animal products

Part of many nitrogen related reaction, needed for protein and amino acid metabolism

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

Milk, eggs, vegetables, seeds

Involved with carbon dioxide transfer and energy metabolism

Vitamin B9 (Folacin/folate/folic acid)

Green leafy vegetables, animal products

Needed for transfer of carbon, synthesis of RNA, DNA, and neurotransmitters. This vitamin is especially important for women as a slight deficiency leads to neural tube defects in babies.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

Only produced by microbes, found in animal products

Needed for metabolism of DNA, protein, fats, carbohydrates, and maintains nervous system health

Vitamin C

Fruits and vegetables

Needed for collagen synthesis and is an antioxidant

Generally speaking, water soluble vitamins tend not to be stored, so you need to ensure that your levels are topped up daily. An excess is eliminated through urine, so these vitamins tend to be safer in high doses compared to fat soluble vitamins. But this does not mean you should be consuming an extreme excess over long periods of time just for fun.

Although a lot of the functions of water soluble vitamins appear to be similar, they are all unique and one cannot be substituted by another.

Do I Need Vitamins?

As you can see from the above list, vitamins have a series of important roles. So do you need vitamins? Yes! With some few exceptions, vitamins cannot be synthesised in the body by humans, so we need to make sure we provide ourselves with a consistent supply to stay healthy (and alive). A severe lack of vitamins would always result in serious medical conditions and eventually death.

Most people can obtain all the vitamins they need through a balanced diet of whole foods. However, in certain situations, your requirement for vitamins (and other nutrients) skyrockets. This includes instances of:

  • Disease – vitamins play a significant role in the immune system and help fight off infections. Viruses and bacteria also cause cell damage, which results in an increased loss of vitamins (particularly B group vitamins) too, so you need to replenish your supply.
  • Pregnancy – ever heard of the term “eating for two”? This not only applies to calories, but vitamins too. The baby growing inside of you (or your partner) needs its own supply of vitamins.
  • Stress – when stressed, you use more vitamins to neutralise all the extra free radicals. Stress includes anything from being in a cold climate, to working too much (both mentally and physically).
  • Heavy training – pretty much all farmers use vitamin supplements for their animals. The reason for this is simple, those animals are designed to produce lots of meat/milk/eggs/etc very quickly. The principle is the same for you. If you’re expecting to gain lots of lean mass and strength very quickly, your body is going to need more vitamins to ensure the machinery of your body is functional and properly fuelled.

Vitamin Supplements for Bodybuilders

If surveyed, one of the most commonly used supplements among bodybuilders and athletes is a multivitamin. Major reasons for using a multivitamin are to fill any potential nutritional gaps and to maintain health. In other words, they are often taken as a precaution. Topping up your vitamin supplies would mean that can be running at 100%. This in turn, means that it is likely you will see progress quicker. The antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E may also help speed up recovery and protect you from disease.

Vitamin Supplements for Picky Eaters

Something that the eagle eyed readers among you may have noticed is that there is no single food that can provide you with all vitamins. So to ensure you get the full spectrum of vitamins, your diet must be balanced and contain a large variety of foods. If your diet is limited, whether it is because you consciously eliminated a food group from your diet or simply because you do not have the time to eat a balanced meal, it becomes very important to take a vitamin supplement. For example, vegans are often encouraged to take a B12 supplement since only animal products contain B12. If you do not like fruits and vegetables, then vitamin C supplements become necessary for you.

Vitamin Supplements for Dieters

If you are serious about losing weight in the long term, chances are, you are sticking to a good diet and doing some very strict portion control. A good diet is always complete, but the small servings may mean that although you are getting all the vitamins, you may not be getting enough. Taking a vitamin supplement in this case may be beneficial.

Vitamin Supplements for the Elderly

When you get older your appetite decreases, some foods may not be agreeable with your stomach, and other foods may be too difficult to chew. Much like the case with dieters, this demographic runs the risk of not getting enough vitamins through food. Extra vitamins may also be helpful for the elderly to improve their overall health.

Types of Vitamin Supplements

There’s a huge vitamin supplement industry out there. You can find products ranging from single vitamins to a complete multivitamin containing everything and then some. Vitamins are also common ingredients added to more complex mixtures including weight gainers, protein and energy bars, sports drinks, and pre workout supplements. So you’re pretty well covered whether you want to supplement a single vitamin, or use the shotgun approach to make sure everything is covered.

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