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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How much vitamin C should an athlete take to keep healthy?

It is the common experience of many athletes to finish an exhausting event like a marathon or iron man triathlon and feel surprisingly good; only to crash several days later going down with a virus an injury like tendonitis or feeling very depressed and tired or all of the latter. This may be fully or partially due to the delayed effects of the extreme oxidative stress suffered during the exhausting exercise (This can be either from competition or heavy training). In many cases, such as multiday events there is the added stress of sleep deprivation which hammers one's immune system.

"A practical way to reason is that, if a person carrying out heavy exercise feels that he or she has colds too often, he or she could (should?) try vitamin C.

The doses have been about 0.5 to 2 grams per day in the controlled trials and that kind of doses are safe for ordinary people (and cheap). In the US nutritional recommendations they consider that safe range goes to some 2 g/day. That is a conservative limit in my opinion, but with the current knowledge, I do not think it makes much sense to use substantially larger doses even though I consider them safe.

If we assume that the oxidative stress caused by the marathon would b protected against by higher vitamin C levels in the body, I think that the time scale would be initiation a few days before and continuing a few days after the marathon (one or two times per day I would think)". Harri

(Excerpt from correspondence between Gary Moller and Harri Hemilä, MD, PhD,Department of Public Health,University of Helsinki, Finland. Dr Hemilä is one of the world's leading researchers into the benefits or otherwide of substances like vitamin C and vitamin E).

Dr Hemilä's impressive work in this area makes fascinating reading.

With what we know about free radicals and how they are generated during exhasting or intense exercise, it would make good sense to anticipate excessive oxidative stress to your body and take preventive measures, if you are doing heavy training or have an exhausting competition coming up. This migh also apply to work and personal situations that may be emotionally as well as physically exhausting.

Using Dr Hemilä's advice as our guide, here is my guidance:

  • If you are doing exhausting training take 1-2,000mg of vitamin C per day
    • If you have a history of frequent colds, take towards the upper level (2,000mg)
  • Take 2,000mg per day over the 2 days before an exhausting competition and for 2 days afterwards
  • If you are taking Wagner Ester C, then you could reduce these guidelines to 50% and you will probably get the same protection or still better.
  • Regardless of vitamin C supplementation, take a daily Super Smoothie that has red berries and whey protein added and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Go to sleep before 11pm every night and be out of bed by 7am
  • Get plenty of sunlight on your body to boost your vitamin D levels. Get a blood test of your levels.
  • An athlete requires more minerals and B group vitamins than most
  • Other antioxidant food extracts like high potency garlic extracts could be added to the diet
  • Have recovery days within your training schedule and take 3-5 days rest after an exhausting competition like a marathon.
I will be posting some guidelines about use of vitamin E which is currently a confused and controversial matter.


Wayne said...

-your body excretes vitamin c in the urinie only when it is saturated with it, i've done tests that show it takes between 1.5 and 2 grams of vitamin c after an 18 k run before any is excreted in teh urine. so you could use that as a guide for how much to take against how long you are exercising for, sodium and calcium ascorbate are better absorbed and better tolerated than straight ascorbic acid.
theres no evidence taking that much vitamin c im proves performance so i can only guess its being used up by free radicals and possibly from the damage to body tissues.
tests i did when sick with a virus showed very little excretion of vitamin c with amounts up to 80 grams a day, information i have says this is the case up to 150 grams a day and it has been shown similarly with some chronic illnesses such as cancer. do not take more than 10 grams a dy of calcium ascorbate without suplemental magnesium to avoid an imbalance.

Anonymous said...

I eat large amonuts of all kinds of fruit and veges, probably more than ten portions per day. I think going by my health that I would be getting enough vitamin C. Would this be true? I have had a day or two after marathon running where I feel a bit low but I doubt that this is unusual. I would be interested in your views. I'm all for not taking supplements if it can be avoided.

Gary Moller said...

Raymond, you probably are getting enough vitamin C but some extra before and for a few days after a marathon might aid recovery. I would be more concerned about mineral depletion that I have found is almost universal in competitive athletes. Most fruits and veges simply do not supply enough due to modern agriculture methods. There is also a possibility of depletion of "stress" vitamins - the B group, several such as B-12 is best sourced from organ meats or a supplement. The best thing to do is to have a test of your nutrient status - a hait tissue mineral analysis is best and better than a blood test. Details on this website.

Anonymous said...

I train regularly but I don't put myself in the competitve class. My average mileage is only 60 - 80 kms per week. But I am interested in the minral depletion issue. What would be the signs, are we talking long term effects or short term or both and what would I need to look out for. When would you do an hait test?

Gary Moller said...

Have a good read of the information about HTMA on this website. The best time to get this kind of thing done is when well. If you then feel unwell for any reason - even if a year or so later then you can repeat the test and compare. Very revealing.
A HTMA will also identify any deficiencies/toxicities well before it becomes a health issue allowing you to take corrective action while it is still possible.
Got the idea?
As I said in my earlier post, mineral deficiencies are exceedingly common and running as much as you do certainly contributes. Some kind of test is the only way of knowing for sure