Can vitamins help you build muscle mass and strength?
Though many tend to focus on grams of protein for muscle gains, we can't forget that muscle growth happens at the cellular level and will also depend on various micronutrients, not just macronutrients!
Vitamins are vital for healthy development and are involved in a multitude of human body processes such as neurotransmitter synthesis, cellular energy production, immune function, maintaining strong bones, and much more.
Though only small amounts are required on a daily basis the body does need these micronutrients to function at its best.
They also do play an indirect role in muscle growth and health and should not be overlooked as part of a healthy muscle-building routine alongside progressive training and nutrition intake. Certain vitamins actually may help to support muscle repair, decrease muscle damage, and improve athletic performance.
Let's learn about which vitamins specifically can improve your fitness.
Supplements for muscle strength
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is becoming increasingly recognized to play an important role in normal muscle function (1). It is mostly recognized for its ability to maintain healthy bones but it also has direct effects on skeletal muscle.
As a steroid hormone, it has proven to work as a natural testosterone booster, supporting optimal testosterone production, the body's most anabolic hormone (2). Vitamin D supplements may help to boost testosterone levels in men (3).
Research in women, in particular, has shown those with higher levels of vitamin D also have higher levels of lean body mass (4).
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with poor muscle function. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of falls as well as bone and muscle weakness (5).
Vitamin D status should be assessed especially among the older population to avoid possible muscle pathology (6). This can be corrected with vitamin D supplementation which can help to reduce the risk of falls and improve muscle performance.
Clinical studies demonstrate that vitamin D supplementation can help to increase muscle strength, particularly in people who are vitamin D deficient (7)(8).
Adequate vitamin D levels have also been associated with increased weight loss and deficiency may be more prevalent among those who are overweight (9).
As there are different forms of vitamin D, when choosing a supplement look for the active form vitamin D3 to receive the most benefits (10). This is the preferred form as it has been shown to more effectively increase levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream.
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A possesses many benefits for muscle growth as it is involved in testosterone production and the utilization of protein (11). It is well known for its role in growth and development and is also a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants help to reduce oxidative damage to cells and may help to reduce muscle soreness and improve performance though more research is needed (12).
Be cautious with vitamin A supplementation as too much can be harmful and food sources will be the safest and most effective route to adopt in order to avoid the risk of toxicity. Foods rich in vitamin A include squash, dairy products, salmon, sweet potato, carrots, beef liver, kale, egg yolks, butter, and broccoli.
3. Vitamin C
Increased oxidative stress triggers the production of free radicals, which can lead to muscle cramps and muscle damage, fatigue, and impaired performance. During exercise the body generates free radicals which are toxic by products of cellular respiration and can cause inflammation in the body. However this is typically not harmful and even beneficial as long as it is offset by endogenous antioxidant production and exogenous antioxidant consumption from the diet. The reality is that the body needs to have a balance of oxidants generated by free radicals, for instance during exercise, but also antioxidants.
Adequate levels of reactive oxygen species will trigger repair and healing of muscle cells but we don't want too much either. Chronic inflammation has been associated with joint pain, lowered testosterone levels, and decreased muscle strength and muscle mass (13)(14).
Most of us are living in a pro-inflammatory state due to the increased toxicity we are exposed to in our environment, high stress levels, poor food choices, and lack of sleep. This is why supporting recovery with nutritious choices, rest, hydration, and the appropriate supplementation can help to speed up the recovery process and improve sports performance.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant vitamin known to play an important role in immune health, the formation of collagen, and more. As a collagen builder, this is also influential on muscle health as collagen helps to improve bone health and bone density which supports muscle growth and exercise performance.
It may help to reduce adverse effects of exercise-induced oxidative stress, including muscle damage, immune dysfunction, and fatigue (15). However, the dosing does seem to matter. Dosages of 0.2 to 1 gram of vitamin C per day may help to optimize recovery and other health benefits in active individuals without impairing training induced adaptations which can occur in larger doses (16). Dietary intake of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C may be enough to achieve the benefits mentioned.
As vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and used by quickly by the body sufficient daily intake is recommended in supplement or food form.
4. Vitamin E
Another antioxidant vitamin, vitamin E has been shown to play a role in protecting skeletal muscle against exercise-induced damage (17). Vitamin E can help to keep muscles healthy by reducing the risk of muscle tears and promoting the healing of muscle cells. Scientific studies have found that when adding vitamin E muscle cells had a better recovery than those without vitamin E (18).
In order to build muscle, there has to be a breakdown process where we stimulate the muscle which causes the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue or trauma to the muscle. This needs to be followed by a repair process in order to effectively build muscle and not result in muscle wasting. This is why recovery is just as important as the workout phase. Vitamin E may aid in that repair process and inhibit muscle breakdown.
Vitamin E can be found in foods such as vegetable oils, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, avocado, olives, and sunflower seeds.
As this vitamin can be obtained from many foods deficiency is rare however if levels are too low supplementation may be recommended. Always verify with your doctor before taking vitamin E to avoid any potential toxicity concerns.
Let's Sum It Up
When it comes to building muscle tissue and muscle strength and improving exercise performance we cannot overlook the important foundations of good nutrition and progressive performance. In addition, micronutrients are also important for any growth and development and may often times need to be supplemented if dietary sources alone are not enough to meet the individual's requirements.
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