"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Afton and Supplements You Don't Need #1


Yesterday was the first big meeting of trail runners at Afton Park of the year. There'll probably eventually be reports from Matt, Helen, Carl, Zach, Wayne and Karen. I wanted to do some fast miles, but Matt took off befor I arrived, Helen started after the main group and I couldn't cajole anyone into chasing me, so I spent my time barreling downhill, then waiting for everyone to catch up, then charging uphill, then waiting for everyone to catch up. I put in a 7 minute mile on the prairie and got my heart rate into the 170's on a few hills, so I got in some decent work, while trying to talk with people I hadn't seen in 6 months.

That morning, my car didn't like starting, so I didn't want to be left stranded at the park and didn't do more than one 15 mile loop. Standing around the parking lot after the run as we regrouped, I passed out the latest of my concoctions - chocolate fudge. It's especially good when you've just run for a couple of hours.

One subject that came up during the run was all the various gels and pills people swallow while ultrarunning. I've thought about them all, tried several and thought it'd be a good idea to do a series of posts about them.

Vitamin B-6

Every long race I run, I seem to acquire another package of Hammer's Recoverite. There's a number of things I don't like about it, but the one thing that stands out is the 4.8 milligrams (more than twice the RDA) of vitamin B6. Why is this included in this product? There was a study that showed that after long intense exercise, the level of this vitamin is lowered in the blood; this doesn't mean that one needs more, just that what your body has is being moved to where it's needed.

B-6 is necessary in the diet, unlike most things found in supplements. It's used in the breakdown of glycogen, in the making of amino acids, in the breakdown of amino acids and in the manufacture of hemoglobin - all things that are important to runners - but athletes do not require more than non-athletes.

The general consensus has been that, as it's water-soluble, whatever your body doesn't need just gets excreted, so it's safe to take. This is, to an extent, true. However, there's a problem with water-soluble vitamins first seen with vitamin C and that is that one's body adapts to regular high levels of the vitamin by becoming less efficient at absorbing it. When you stop taking the supplement, you become deficient in the vitamin and thus you become dependent upon the supplement. This is why some will say that it must be helpful; when they stopped taking it, they did worse.

It is possible that one could get a small benefit from vitamin B-6 during the later stages of races beyond 50 miles. Most races have bananas, which are an excellent and easily digestible source and 100 milers frequently have potatoes, another very good source. For those who are on the high protein/low carb fad common among ultrarunners, there are several good sources in meats (turkey breast would be my recommendation).

The bottom line: eat real food during ultramarathons and you won't need B-6 supplements.


Anonymous said...

Two things:
First, I hope you bring fudge to share with the other runners doing Superior - it sounds great!

As for the B6, I've been taking B6 vitamins for about a month to help with numbness during running, which was caused by an ankle injury. It works for me.... but I never needed it when I was healthier.

Meanwhile, have you ever heard anything about NOT using Gu and Gatoraid together? My training friends said yesterday not use both at once, but I've been using them together during races for 2+ years and have never had a problem... My thoughts are "whatever works."

Helen said...

I'll take your stash of Recoverite - love the stuff!! As in, it tastes good. No, I've never actually looked at the label. I know, I know...

How would the label of the fudge read?? Actually, don't tell me. When it tastes good AND it's chocolatey, it's never all that good for you. Except maybe my friend's chocolate beetroot brownies - I need to get that recipie.

Londell said...

One Red Bull - 250% RDA B-6 5-hour energy 2,000% RDA and so on... It is not just in the recoverite, that is for sure.

Matthew Patten said...

I will trade you some brew for some fudge.

I would have run with you yesterday, but I really needed to do my own thing. You get it.

One of my plans for Zumbro is to eat "Normal Food" for as long as I can, as well as just water with S Caps to manage electrolytes.

Normal will be subjective. I might see if I can cram a steak in my hip pack.

I like shot blox because I can eat them for 10 hours without problems. After 10, they get ugly.

John Victor said...

Vitamin supplement are vital for the proper functioning of the body. I think it's better to ask the experts. As I know you should not be taking together. Try consuming lot of water.

sea legs girl said...


I agree with this post. But I think the entire subject of vitamin supplements can be summed up in a couple of sentences:
If one eats a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, iodized salt and fish(!) and gets sunlight and does not have some underlying medical condition, one does NOT need ANY supplements, athlete or not. A notable exception is all pregnant women should take folate supplements.

Lindsey, I am curious to know how Vitamin B6 is working for you. If you get enough in your diet, it should not improve numbness from running.

John Victor, are you claiming to be an expert or trying to sell supplements?

UNRELATED:Steve, I LOVE Njals Saga. Wow. Great stories and such history.

RBR said...

I wonder how much B-6 there is in Red Vines and Poptarts? That is what I always pick at the aide stations.


Oh, and you had to say homemade fudge, didn't you?!

Since I have the metabolism of an air plant, I have now gained 4 pounds thinking about homemade fudge. Thanks.


SteveQ said...

@Lindsey: if you have a deficiency, then it makes sense to take supplements. There's no problem with taking Gu and Gatorade together that isn't wrong with either separately.

@Helen: Surprisingly, it doesn't taste bad - you're right. Unfortunately, the Xylitol works as a laxative for me and several other ingredients also are a problem.

@Londell: That 5-hour energy is the worst of a bad lot!

SteveQ said...

@Sea Legs Girl: I, of course, agree. The problem with athletes is that, while they don't NEED supplements, there's always the possibility that supplementation will lead to enhanced performance and therefore, they'll swallow anything.

My daily diet has 700mg of folate; that's what they suggest for pregnant women (it also has the same amount of iron, which is ridiculously high), so supplementation there is not necessary either if one's eating a perfect diet - but almost no one does, and it's better safe than sorry.

It's that "better safe than sorry" that sells billions of dollars of vitamins.

Jean said...

Sounds like you got in a really good training run this weekend, Steve. Nicely done. And I will bet the fudge from Steve's Evil Kitchen was awesome!