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Vitamin B12: what experts and athletes say

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin essential for your body’s metabolism. It is so vital for the body’s metabolism and the formation of normal red blood cells that people can often feel exhausted and tired when lacking in vitamin B12. Most people obtain it from regularly sourced foods such as meats and fish. If vitamin B12 intake is not met through diet alone, you can try supplementing with tablets and oral mouth sprays; however, if you are severely deficient, injections may be needed through your doctor. Vitamin B12 deficiency can often cause fatigue, tiredness, and reduced physical performance.

What about it?

One of the leading causes of tiredness and lethargy in adults is anemia, and one of the leading causes of anemia is a lack of folate or vitamin B12. Over the last few years, more people have been using vitamin B12 for overall well-being and athletic performance. They work hand in hand, so if one is low, it can affect the other, which is why people supplement it.

So why the craze now?

Over the last few years, the “wonder drug” has dramatically enhanced its public perception with increasing social media presence. Some claim it makes them feel more energetic, with others claiming it increases strength and endurance. With this, there have been more readily available self-injection kits, which can sometimes contain up to 40,000% of the recommended daily amount. High doses do not cause harm because it is water-soluble; in theory, the body will only use what it needs, and the rest will get excreted.

However, is it all true?

What do the doctors have to say?

A study run by Spradley showed that vitamin B12 reduces fatigue and improves muscular endurance. Especially since vitamin B12 is crucial to the production of nerve cells, RNA/DNA and red blood cells, energy levels come into play. If an individual is vitamin B12 deficient, this will have undesired effects on well-being and performance.

Sleep is vital to the body’s recovery, and vitamin B12 plays a role through the production of melatonin which encourages sleep, stabilizes mood and motivation, and allows healing to occur. Because of this and its involvement in the nervous system, vitamin B12 can improve cognitive function, concentration and reaction time.

How does it affect athletes?

A recent study showed that 34% of all athletes use vitamin B12 injections, with endurance athletes having an even higher percentage at 46%. A study was completed investigating whether the concentration of vitamin B12 in the blood affects the hemoglobin level. The hemoglobin level is important for red blood cells and oxygen supply to the muscles. The results summarized a positive correlation between high blood vitamin B12 and hemoglobin, but insufficient evidence supports this. Concluding, there are potential benefits of improving red blood cell parameters, especially in athletes with insufficient vitamin B12. Supplementation should be considered.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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