For killer drive and serious workout results, B vitamins are critical. So, are you getting enough? Here’s how to power up.
<b>STYLING</b> ALMA MELENDEZ/HALLEY RESOURCES
The more active you are, the more B vitamins you need. “These are extremely important for energy metabolism,” says Melinda Manore, a dietitian and professor of nutrition at Oregon State University. They’re crucial for breaking down food into fuel, transporting oxygen throughout your body, and increasing your red blood cell production to keep those muscles functioning properly.
But the funny thing about Bs is that they are depleted by healthy habits. If you work out and limit certain foods, cut out meat or dairy, or ease up on carbs in the form of grains, which are among the three top sources of Bs, there’s a good chance that you’re not getting enough.
What’s more, exercising regularly causes you to drain your supply faster than when you are sedentary. And marginally low levels of certain B vitamins have been shown to negatively affect athletic performance.
Fortunately, all it takes is a few simple eating upgrades to turn things around. This checklist spells out exactly what you need and why.
This breaks down the carbohydrates, protein, and fats that you eat, and converts them into glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids – the substances your body uses as fuel. “It’s what gives you energy when you exercise,” explains Nicole Lund, a sports performance dietitian and personal trainer at NYU Langone Sports Performance Center in New York.
That’s important for everyone, but women who work out regularly need more energy throughout the day than those who don’t, so they may be more likely than most to have low B2 levels, Nicole adds. The ﬁx: Get 1.1 mg of riboﬂavin daily through foods like almonds (¼ cup contains 0.41mg of B2), Greek yogurt (170g, 0.4mg), white mushrooms (1 cup, 0.39mg), eggs (1 hard-boiled, 0.26mg), and brussels sprouts (1 cup boiled, 0.13mg).
It helps you convert food into energy just as riboﬂavin does. In addition, B6 also assists with muscle contractions, which are key for movement inside and outside of the gym. What’s more, the vitamin helps your body produce serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that improve your mood and your sleep, says Keri Glassman, a nutritionist and founder of Nutritious Life, a wellness company.
The trouble is, people who exercise use up more vitamin B6 than those who don’t, research ﬁnds. In fact, some studies have shown that 60 per cent of athletes are deﬁcient in B6. To prevent a shortfall, active women should aim for 1.5mg to 2.3mg a day, Melinda says. Get the nutrient by eating poultry (115g of turkey breast has 0.92mg), fatty ﬁsh (85g of salmon, 0.55mg), walnuts (1 cup, 0.54mg), sunﬂower seeds (½ cup, 0.52mg), bananas (1 large, 0.49mg), and lentils (½ cup, 0.18mg).
A powerhouse essential for energy, B12 assists with the production of red blood cells and helps iron create haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body, Keri says. But since it’s found mostly in meat, vegetarians and vegans are often deﬁcient.
In fact, as many as 89 per cent of vegans don’t get enough B12 from food alone, a recent study in the journal Nutrition Research reported. Fit women need about 2.4mcg daily. If you eat meat or ﬁsh, that’s pretty easy to achieve – 85g of salmon has 2.38mcg and 85g of beef, 3.88mcg.
But if you don’t, Keri suggests consuming fortiﬁed foods such as soya milk (240ml, 2.7mcg), fortiﬁed cereals (¾ cup, 6mcg), and nutritional yeast (1 tablespoon, 2.4mcg). Just be sure to split it up because the body can only absorb so much B12 at once. Eat or drink roughly 25 per cent of your daily target with each meal or snack.
This nutrient serves as a link between your muscles and your brain. Although it’s not technically a B vitamin, experts consider it one because it’s so essential for energy production. “You need choline to activate acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that signals the muscles to move,” says Nicole.
“Learning new skills at the gym, like kettlebell swings or barre routines, requires attention, cognitive function, and coordination – all of which depend on choline to happen.” Yet 94 per cent of women don’t get the recommended 425mg a day, reports the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. To increase your intake, eat eggs (1 hard-boiled has 147mg), turkey (85g, 72mg), and soya protein powder (one scoop, 141mg).