Vitamin C is fast becoming one of the biggest vitamin supplements of this age with an expected market growth of 1,200.59 million by 2025. Commonly, vitamin C has been viewed as a tool to help fight illnesses such as the flu and common colds. However, it is fast becoming regarded as a major influence in the realm of sport due to its ability to help the body repair and recover after intense, strenuous exercise. But what exactly is vitamin C and how can it help optimise athletic performance?
What is vitamin C and where is it found?
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is an organic compound which is not produced in the body. As a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C cannot be stored in the body unlike fat soluble vitamins, meaning that vitamin C rich foods must be constantly ingested to maintain a high level of vitamin C in the body. Foods containing high levels of vitamin C include things like lemons, oranges and kiwi fruit. But, more obscure foods containing high levels of vitamin C include things like bell peppers, kale and broccoli. Below shows the foods with the highest levels of vitamin C.
Once vitamin C enters the body, it is reduced to form ascorbic acid which is the chemical compound that controls many enzymatic reactions in the human body including synthesis of new cells, healing, and antioxidant reactions. This is perhaps why vitamin C is regarded as one of the most valuable vitamins as it has a huge potential to recover the body after stress or injury.
How vitamin C can aid recovery in the body (and how this physiologically occurs)
The main reason vitamin C aids recovery is due to its great antioxidant possession. When your body undergoes stress caused by exercise, it produces free radicals (unstable atoms which cause damage to cells) as a result of food and drink being broken down as energy to fuel the workout. This is a natural process, but the presence of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress in the body which is what causes the soreness and damaged muscles. The intake of vitamin C post exercise donates electrons to the free radicals produced during exercise to neutralise them. Essentially vitamin C’s antioxidant function protects the body from the effects of free radicals.
The effects of vitamin C consumption have been demonstrated within the general athletic population. However, research has suggested that those who are less accustomed and trained for exercise demonstrated the greatest benefit of vitamin C ingestion relating to their recovery post-exercise. A 2 week investigation into whether vitamin C affected recovery post exercise found it had a moderate beneficial effect for those unfamiliar to that exercise type (Thompson et al., 2001). Similar results have been found within a study conducted on males undertaking resistance training (Bryer & Goldfarb, 2006). Vitamin C has, also, been linked to enhancements in performance related to maximal aerobic capacity and improved input efficiency in athletes; however, this is only shown to be the case if the athlete is vitamin C malnourished.
Although research has suggested those not familiar with a specific type of exercise possess the greatest potential benefit from vitamin C supplementation, there is great amounts of evidence to show that these benefits are still hugely significant within the athletic population (See Braakhuis, 2012 for a meta-analysis).
What dose of vitamin C is too much?
Like any supplement, mega-doses are regarded as dangerous and are never recommended. In the case of vitamin C, a dose above 1g per day for an extended period of time has shown to increase an athletes risk of oxalate stones, vitamin B12 destruction and iron overload (Alhadeff et al., 1984). These toxic effects that very high levels of vitamin C can have may ultimately lead to negative effects on performance, so its important to work with a nutritionist to ensure you are intaking the correct quantity of vitamin C for improved health and well being, as well as optimal athletic performance.
Doses of ~0.2g/day of vitamin C consumed through five or more servings of fruit and vegetables may be sufficient to reduce oxidative stress and provide other health benefits without impairing training adaptations (Braakhuis, 2012)