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.
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.