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Vitamin C for Runners

Are you curious about the importance of Vitamin C for runners? Do runners need more Vitamin C? This post will break down what Vitamin C is, how it helps runners, and how much you should be getting.

citrus fruits and vitamin c

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Disclaimer – This post is for informational purposes only and is not for diagnosing or treatment. See your medical provider or Registered Dietitian for individual recommendations applicable to your health and health history. 

What is Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that also helps with iron absorption.

Adequate intake of Vitamin C can be achieved through a balanced diet of many fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, broccoli, and leafy greens.

It is also found in fruit juices, like orange juice, apple juice, and tart cherry juice.

citrus fruits stacked on top of another

Daily Recommendations for Vitamin C

Vitamin C is required for the synthesis of collagen, L-carnitine and some neurotransmitters, so it can also be a helper in making electrolyte bone broth, which is a great source of collagen.

Because Vitamin C is an antioxidant, it can also help with the reduction of oxidative stress in the body by limiting the damaging effects of free radicals.

For adults 19 years and over, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 75 mg and 90mg, for females and males, respectively.

For females, the needs increase to 85 mg during pregnancy and 120 mg during breastfeeding.

male and female talking and running on a trail

Vitamin C for Runners

When considering Vitamin C for runners, how much is enough, and should runners, especially those who are in intense training, be getting more?

Though we need micronutrients, like Vitamin C and magnesium for runners, in smaller amounts, they are still necessary for optimal functioning and performance.

Roles of Vitamin C for Running

Vitamin C is a helper for many systems that are involved in running.

  • Iron absorption – Vitamin C (found in many fruits) enhances the absorption of iron, which is an important micronutrient for oxygen transport (More on athletes and iron deficiency). This is one of many reasons why we recommend fruits for athletes!
  • Immunity – A study in ultrarunners found that Vitamin C supplementation enhanced resistance to post-race upper respiratory tract infections. Increasing vitamin C consumption or using a vitamin C supplement at the first sign of a cold may help reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms in some individuals, though the Vitamin doesn’t prevent illness.
  • Wound Healing – Vitamin C works with collagen to strengthen skin and joints, and can aid in wound management.
  • Counteract oxidative stress from training – Vitamin C has been shown to have mixed effects on systemic markers of exercise-induced oxidative stress and on post-exercise muscle recovery.

Do Athletes Need More Vitamin C?

While Vitamin C definitely plays an important role in the body, more is not always better.

In fact, many people are likely getting enough in the diet. Eating 1/2 cup of red pepper or drinking a cup of orange juice will get you just over your daily recommendations.

As long as you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, you’re likely getting between 100-200 mg of Vitamin C, which is more than adequate.

white male runner and black female runner stretching

Runners who are in an intense season of training (or under extreme stress) may benefit from additional Vitamin C, but that doesn’t translate to huge amounts more.

Furthermore, since it is a water-soluble vitamin, having extra amounts will be excreted in the urine.

In fact, taking excess Vitamin C or other antioxidants in supplement form may even act as pro-oxidants, especially if it’s not needed.

Mason SA, et al. Antioxidant supplements and endurance exercise: Current evidence and mechanistic insights. Redox Biol. 2020 Aug;35:101471.

Both acute and chronic vitamin C supplementation have been shown to have mixed effects on systemic markers of exercise-related oxidative stress.

In studies with healthy individuals, researchers found no effect of vitamin C supplementation on resting skeletal muscle antioxidant enzyme levels, though they were not engaging in exercise.  

In animal studies, vitamin C supplementation was shown to hamper exercise-induced antioxidant enzyme gene expression and mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle.

In other words, supplementation prevented the body’s natural antioxidant system from working.

Food Sources Of Vitamin C

You can get Vitamin C through foods in the diet or through a supplement. Most people are not deficient in Vitamin C since it is widely available, though those who aren’t eating adequate fruits and vegetables may not be getting enough.

Vitamin C is decreased through heat, so know that if you are cooking some of these foods, the amount will be decreased.

Here are some top foods high in Vitamin C:

  • red peppers
  • oranges and orange juice
  • kiwifruit
  • grapefruit juice
  • broccoli
  • strawberries
  • brussels sprouts
  • tomato juice
  • cantaloupe
Food sources of Vitamin C

Runners should also consider dried fruits, like apricots and mango. As an easy carb source, they can be used in any DIY trail mix or enjoyed before, during or after a run.

Some conditions that may warrant higher Vitamin C levels include smoking, those healing from wounds, children and those without a variable diet or not eating fruits and vegetables and people with malabsorption.

Vitamin C Supplements

Runners may also consider taking a Vitamin C supplement, however, it is important to talk to a doctor first to determine the right amount for their individual needs.

Most Vitamin C supplements will contain Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid. Generally, the bioavailability of ascorbic acid is similar to that of food, meaning they will be absorbed just as well.

Hand holding Vitamin C supplement

While the idea is that more antioxidants (supplements) help to further minimize oxidative stress to enhance recovery and performance, this is not proven by the research.

While getting adequate Vitamin C is important, there is no convincing evidence of improved performance benefits from additional Vitamin C over that amount.

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Conclusion

In short, focus on getting adequate Vitamin C from your diet by including a variety of fruits and vegetables. Eat a varied diet based on the performance plates for runners.

If you are in intense training (like fueling for a marathon and improving recovery), your needs will be higher, as they will be for most other nutrients, as well.

However, large bolus amounts through supplements generally are not necessary.

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References:

  • Gomez-Cabrera MC, Domenech E, Romagnoli M, Arduini A, Borras C, Pallardo FV, Sastre J, Viña J. Oral administration of vitamin C decreases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and hampers training-induced adaptations in endurance performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jan;87(1):142-9. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.1.142. PMID: 18175748.
  • Mason SA, Trewin AJ, Parker L, Wadley GD. Antioxidant supplements and endurance exercise: Current evidence and mechanistic insights. Redox Biol. 2020 Aug;35:101471. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2020.101471. Epub 2020 Feb 20. PMID: 32127289; PMCID: PMC7284926.
  • Peters EM, Goetzsche JM, Grobbelaar B, Noakes TD. Vitamin C supplementation reduces the incidence of postrace symptoms of upper-respiratory-tract infection in ultramarathon runners. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993 Feb;57(2):170-4. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/57.2.170. PMID: 8185726.
  • https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminC-HealthProfessional/
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