The buzz on B vitamins boosting energy

The buzz on B vitamins boosting energy

First, if you are eating a reasonably balanced diet, you’re probably getting all the B vitamins you need. Vitamin deficiencies in the United States are relatively rare unless you are malnourished or suffering from disorders such as pernicious anemia, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or autoimmune diseases like lupus or Grave’s disease.

But, pick up a bottle of B vitamin supplements and likely on the label will be a claim stating they are your go-to solution for low energy. Sorry to burst any B vitamin bubbles out there, but the truth behind B vitamins powers to magically make you feel energized is misleading.  Marketers promoting B vitamin supplements or energy drinks and shots use the claim that B vitamins can give you a boost of adrenaline when lacking get up and go. Who wouldn’t want to simply pop a pill or down a beverage and feel pumped full of vigor and vitality? This has been a very popular selling tool which marketers use to “twist” the truth to their advantage.

But don’t B vitamins give us energy?

While it’s true the B vitamins, which include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid, pyridoxine (B6), B12, biotin, and folate (B9),  do play essential roles in the complex biochemical machinery of releasing energy (aka calories) from the food we eat, they themselves do not contain energy or calories. No vitamin gives you energy.

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In other words, the B vitamins do not provide energy directly as only food provides energy in the form of calories that come from carbohydrates, protein, and fat.  What the B vitamins specifically do is to help convert or release dietary energy into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the form of energy the cells of our bodies use to power their life-sustaining operations.  If our cells could not generate ATP, we would die. 

What about people deficient in B vitamins?  Wouldn’t their energy levels be improved with a supplement?

If a person truly is deficient in a B vitamin, it could possibly affect their energy levels.  But so can many other factors such as lack of sleep or too much stress.  Just because someone may lack adequate B vitamin levels, popping a pill or downing energy drinks is not the solution for automatic extra energy.  You see, the B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins and there is no place to store them so any excess amount you take in is simply excreted out the body in your urine. 

The decision to take any type of nutrient supplement needs to be weighed carefully as nutrients in supplement form often work closely together.  For example, if vitamin X relies on vitamin Y, but you already have a lot of vitamin X and not enough Y, then you may end up with too little of each one.

We only need a small amount of B vitamins to function normally.  Most of us obtain adequate amounts of B vitamins in our food choices so any additional B vitamins in a supplement form will not provide a burst in energy.  Only unless you had a severe deficiency due to an illness, extreme dieting or alcohol abuse, your energy levels will not be affected at all.  So only those who are extremely malnourished in one or more B vitamins would benefit from a supplement.

Why do energy drinks make me feel more energized?

The reason why you may experience a sense of energy or feeling “wired” is not due to the massive dose of B vitamins they are often laced with.  Rather the energy surge is coming from the high amount of either caffeine or herbal stimulants these products contain.

What are the best food sources of the B vitamins?

Lucky for us, B vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods and most of them are found in the same foods.  The richest sources are animal sources such as fish, poultry, eggs, meat, and dairy products.  Plant sources include leafy green vegetables, lentils, beans, peas, and whole grains.  Many cereals, bread, nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are also main sources of these nutrients.

As long as you eat a varied diet, you most likely are getting in adequate amounts of B vitamins.  The only exception would be vitamin B12.  If you are a strict vegetarian, you could be setting yourself up for a deficiency since B12 is only found in foods of animal origin so vegans would need B12 supplements or be consuming foods fortified with B12 such as soymilk is.