Vitamin C FAQ
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What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin which plays a number of crucial roles in the human body, including but not limited to providing antioxidant protection against the cellular damage caused by free radicals and other environmental toxins.
Also known as ascorbate or L-ascorbic acid, this vitamin is an important part of at least eight enzymatic functions in the body, most notably that of collagen synthesis.
The role that vitamin C plays in the process of collagen synthesis is most notable because the condition known as scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C is directly related to dysfunction in this context.
Production of Vitamin C
The vast majority of animals are capable of biosynthesizing vitamin C through the use of the various monosaccharides or sugars.
Unfortunately for us, humans are incapable of synthesizing vitamin C, and ability that we likely lost earlier on in our evolutionary development. Because of this it is essential that the consume vitamin C in our diets.
How does Vitamin C Work and What are the Benefits?
To major roles that vitamin C plays within the body are that of enzymatic function and immune function.
The synthesis of collagen and carnitine are directly affected by vitamin C, meaning that it is an integral part of everything from the formation of blood vessels and cartilage to the metabolism of fatty acids and intra-cellular ATP production.
It is also worth noting that vitamin C can help to attenuate cortisol levels, acting indirectly to reduce endogenous levels of this stress hormone.
While cortisol does play a number of important roles within the body, acutely or chronically excessive levels can make it harder to both lose body fat and build muscle, and can even help the immune system.
Who Can Benefit from Taking a Vitamin C Supplement and How?
While there are a number of vitamins that provide health benefits that are not directly related to the pursuit of bodybuilding and athleticism in general, we can clearly see from the above that vitamin C possesses a great deal of relevance in this context.
Training hard, lifting heavy weights, and generally exerting ourselves physically on a consistent long-term basis obviously impacts on joints, tendons, and ligaments, so bolstering the synthesis of new collagen imparts clear benefits.
Furthermore, the role that vitamin C plays in the production of ATP within the cell mitochondria is very interesting considering that many of us use creatine supplements for this very purpose. That is of course not to say that you should ditch your creatine supplement and start using vitamin C instead, but it is interesting to see how these two compounds can affect the same cellular mechanisms.
The production of the amino acid carnitine and its role in fatty acid metabolism is also another obvious benefit in the context of fat loss and the overall maintenance of favourable body composition in the long term.
As for cortisol, this is one of those things that can really accumulate over a period of weeks during periods of high intensity and/or high-frequency training.
Just as the neurochemical melatonin helps us to fall asleep at night, cortisol essentially acts as its antithesis by waking hour minds and bodies up as a natural part of our circadian rhythm.
If you’ve ever woken up in the morning with what is known as “morning anxiety” then you are probably somewhat familiar with the effects that high cortisol levels can cause. This can become particularly prevalent after weeks and weeks of hard training as the body becomes more fatigued and enters into a state of high stress.
Taking a gram or two of the vitamin C both before sleep and after waking can have marked effects on this, helping to offset some of the detrimental effects that excessive cortisol levels can cause.
Do Any Foods Contain Vitamin C? Which Ones are the best?
There are a wide variety of foods that contain vitamin C.
The richest sources of vitamin C tend to be plant-based, especially citrus fruits:
- Green chilli pepper
There are dozens of other plant-based foods which contain vitamins C, such as strawberries, oranges, lemons and limes, and even spinach; however, the above list is of examples of common foods that are particularly high in vitamin C.
Example of this is the green chilli pepper which contains almost 5 times as much vitamin C as lemon!
Does Vitamin C Have any Side Effects?
There aren’t any particularly common side-effects associated with vitamin C, due largely to the fact that it is a water-soluble vitamin and excessive amounts can simply be excreted through the bladder.
Having said that, consuming large quantities can lead to some gastrointestinal upset and discomfort, including but not limited to diarrhoea. This is especially true if sensitive individuals take vitamin C in high doses on an empty stomach.
There is some data to suggest that high doses of vitamin C taken in the first month of pregnancy can potentially increase the risk of a miscarriage due to the suppression of progesterone production. The research on this is quite conflicting with some data suggesting otherwise so it is best if you speak to your doctor if you have any further questions regarding this.
What’s more, there is a direct link between excessive intake of vitamins C and the formation of kidney stones, so if this is something that you have either suffered from before or are concerned about then you will of course want to exercise some caution.
As with any dietary supplement, we recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consult their doctor or physician prior to use. This also applies to people under the age of 18 and individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions or who are taking any kind of prescription medication.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
How and When Should I Use a Vitamin C Supplement?
Exactly how and when you do use of vitamin C is going to be dependent on your medical history and any underlying health conditions that you may suffer from.
Depending on who you talk to you will be told a number of different things regarding the best times to use vitamin C, but in the context of bodybuilding and athleticism they do appear to be some advisable practices.
We discussed above that using a vitamin C before going to bed and shortly after waking up can help to reduce excessive levels of cortisol production, so this appears to be a fairly obvious place to start from.
Bearing in mind that as we discussed above some individuals do suffer from sensitivity to vitamin C when taking it on an empty stomach, so if you are concerned about this then your best bet would be to take your vitamin C with breakfast rather than first thing upon waking.
There are some arguments for also using vitamins C pre- and/or post-workout for the same purpose of reducing cortisol levels.
While there is some merit to this it is worth considering that carbohydrate intake leads to the release of insulin which subsequently helps to blunt the production of cortisol. Therefore it is arguably unnecessary to use vitamin C at this time.
How Much Vitamin C Should I Take?
The most commonly used dosages tend to range from around 500 mg to 2000 mg or 2 g daily, taken in multiple doses at the time is most suited to you.
Having said that you are always advised to follow the usage guidelines on any supplement that you purchase, including vitamin C.
Choosing the Right Vitamin C Supplement
Because of the simplicity of vitamin C you don’t really have to worry about going too far astray.
Some of vitamin C supplements will include added bioflavonoids extracted usually from lemons which can help to facilitate absorption; this does not appear to be essential so beyond this the only choice you really need to make is whether you want to purchase your vitamin C in tablet form or as a free-flowing powder. The latter tends to be slightly cheaper.
My Multivitamin Contains Vitamin C; Do I Need More?
To answer this question you really need to look at exactly how much of vitamin C is contained in your multivitamin versus how much of it you think you actually need.
If your multivitamin contains only a few hundred milligrams and you want up your dose to 1 or 2 g then of course it is worthwhile investing in a stand-alone vitamin C supplement.
Be sure to also take a look at your current diet and consider whether you may want to add more foods that are high in vitamin C before investing in a vitamin C supplement.
By the same token you should always try to source your nutrients from food sources if possible.
Please note: This FAQ has not been written or reviewed by a doctor or medical professional and is therefore not to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness. Nor should it be used as medical reference.