Vitamin C Bodybuilding Benefits: Top 5 Reasons To Supplement This Nutrient

  • By Performance Lab
  • 7 minute read
Vitamin C Bodybuilding Benefits: Top 5 Reasons To Supplement This Nutrient

Bodybuilding is a tough sport. It takes careful planning, consistent training, and a whole lot of willpower and dedication to achieve the best definition and strength possible. But along with a solid training routine, most bodybuilders have specific supplement stacks that support muscle growth, strength gains, and fat loss.

In those stacks, you’ll typically find things like protein powders, amino acids, creatine, glutamine, and others, but there’s one that may be missing from a lot—vitamin C.

As a fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C is best known for its role in immune function, and while keeping a strong immune system is important for athletes and bodybuilders, it’s typically not a supplement that makes it to the top of their stack. But maybe it should be.

We’re breaking down everything you need to know about vitamin C and its benefits for bodybuilders. We’re talking about what it is, what it does, and why it should be an essential in your stack.

Let’s get to it.

What Is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a fat-soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant properties. Because it’s water-soluble, it’s not stored in the body, which means it must be replenished daily to ensure adequate stores.

However, with illness, infection, and other stressors, levels of vitamin C are rapidly depleted due to increased needs, meaning demands further increase from baseline values.

Several studies have also found a relatively extensive list of human diseases that partly develop because of oxidative damage to tissues. Research shows that consuming an abundance of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer, CVD, and stroke, because of its potent antioxidant properties.

And for bodybuilders, the constant stress of heavy lifting is enough to increase levels of oxidative stress, to loading up on vitamin C is to their advantage.

What Does Vitamin C Do?

In the human body, vitamin C is most well-known for its antioxidant roles due to its involvement in redox reactions; it readily donates two electrons to stabilize free radicals, but in the process, it becomes a free radical itself.

However, vitamin C radicals are relatively stable and short-lived compared to other reactive oxygen species, meaning they cause minimal damage 1.

But the reason why vitamin C gets love from the athlete and bodybuilder community is for its antioxidant properties.

It’s been known for some time that strenuous exercise inflicts metabolic and mechanical stress on the human body, which can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress 2.

The need for energy during strenuous exercises increases oxygen consumption in the tissues quite drastically - 10- to 20-fold systemically and 100- to 200-fold at the level of skeletal muscles—which leads to a spike in the mitochondrial electron flow and ultimately may cause more leakage of ROS in the mitochondria, thereby further increasing the production of the reactive oxygen species.

Because reactive oxygen species are produced as a byproduct of metabolic processes, including muscle contraction, levels of oxidative stress can increase during high-intensity activity, thereby increasing the risk of muscle damage and inflammation.

However, vitamin C’s properties can help mitigate the effect of radicals on the body. We’ll dive into that more in a few minutes, but many of the benefits seen from vitamin C are due to its powerful antioxidant properties.

That’s not all it does, though. It’s also involved in 1, 3:

  • Collagen synthesis: Reactions add hydroxyl groups to the amino acids proline or lysine in the collagen molecule to increase the stability of the triple helix structure; collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body that forms the foundation of all connective tissues, including muscle
  • Carnitine synthesis: Essential for the transport of fatty acids into mitochondria for ATP generation
  • Biosynthesis of norepinephrine from dopamine
  • Addition of amide groups to peptide hormones to increase stability
  • Modulates tyrosine metabolism

Benefits Of Vitamin C For Bodybuilders: 5 Reasons To Supplement

1. Boosts Immune Function

Immune function may not be the first concern for bodybuilders, but it plays a vital role in proper recovery. Following skeletal muscle damage, there’s a complex cascade of cellular events that coordinate to restore the functional environment of muscle fibers 4.

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The immune system plays an important role in recognizing the damage and mediating the response necessary to facilitate muscle regeneration.

But the immune system also needs to recover after intense exercise. Studies show that in the post-exercise recovery phase, blood concentration of lymphocytes is suppressed, in addition to suppressed natural immunity, decreased concentration of secretory IgA, along with increased blood concentration of neutrophils and increased levels in the blood of inflammatory cytokines 5.

As such, intense, long-term exercise causes concomitant inflammation and temporary suppression of the cellular immune system, with the most pronounced findings being 2-4 hours post exercise.

With that said, vitamin C is critical for supporting appropriate immune responses. It’s involved in several aspects of the immune system, including antimicrobial and natural killer cell activity, lymphocyte proliferation, chemotaxis, and delayed-type hypersensitivity 6.

Sufficient levels of vitamin C are also needed to maintain the redox integrity of cells, which helps protect them against reactive oxygen species generated during the inflammatory response, as well as during intense exercise.

Overall, vitamin C is important for supporting your immune system, and the immune system plays a critical role in muscle recovery post-exercise. So, if your levels aren’t up to snuff, don’t expect your recovery to be either.

2. Reduces Muscle Soreness And Enhances Recovery

The role of vitamin C in muscle repair and recovery results from its powerful antioxidant properties. Free radicals are generated as a byproduct of intense, exhaustive exercise, which is evident through increases in lipid peroxidation, glutathione oxidation, and oxidative protein damage, along with increased activity of cytosolic enzymes in blood plasma 7.

While free radicals in small amounts can be beneficial for the body, an overload of free radicals that cannot be neutralized or with poor availability of antioxidants causes free radicals to accumulate, and a phenomenon called oxidative damage kicks in.

Studies show that free radical production increases during and following contractile activity and is known to cause skeletal muscle damage. Given the link between delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and contraction-induced muscle damage, post-exercise production of free radicals has been linked to DOMS 8.

Studies show that vitamin C, vitamin E, or a combination of both vitamins is effective for inhibiting muscle injury (blood CK and lactic acid dehydrogenase (LDH)) 9.

Other studies suggest that increasing antioxidant intake can also be effective against oxidative stress and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Less DOMS means a faster recovery and a quicker return to training.

As well, studies show that taking vitamin C before exercise can reduce muscle soreness, delay CK increase, and prevent blood glutathione oxidation, with minimal interferences on muscle function loss 2.

3. May Prevent Muscle Breakdown

The ability of vitamin C to prevent muscle breakdown is largely the result of its antioxidant capacities, too. As mentioned above, vitamin C can mitigate some of the adverse effects of reactive oxygen species produced from strenuous exercise.

When levels of free radicals exceed the endogenous antioxidant defense system, oxidative stress develops. And studies show that unresolved oxidative stress can cause damage to muscles, thereby accelerating the destruction and decline of muscle mass, especially in older people 10.

4. Increases Neurotransmitter Release

One of the non-antioxidant roles of vitamin C is its participation in the central nervous system signal transduction through neurotransmitters 11. Research suggests that it influences this process by modulating the binding of neurotransmitters to receptors and regulating their release.

What’s more, vitamin C also functions as a co-factor in synthesizing neurotransmitters, especially the catecholamines dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals play an important role in regulating mood, motivation, and reward.

5. Lowers Cortisol

Interestingly, studies also show that vitamin C is beneficial for reducing cortisol levels when taken in high doses. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body that also happens to be catabolic; building and maintaining muscle mass in a catabolic state is very difficult, as high circulating levels of cortisol are known to increase muscle protein degradation and inhibit muscle protein synthesis.

A 2001 study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the effects of high-dose vitamin C supplementation on circulating cortisol, adrenaline, and anti-inflammatory polypeptides in ultramarathon runners 12.

They found that although transient, 1500mg of vitamin C per day attenuated the adrenal stress hormone and anti-inflammatory polypeptide response to prolonged exercise.

Final Thoughts

Taken together, vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body that plays critical roles in mitigating the effects of exercise on the body. Bodybuilding is a gruesome sport that puts massive stress on muscles to achieve major definition and strength, meaning major free radical production.

So, if you want to stop radicals in their tracks and avoid derailing your gains and recovery, consuming sufficient vitamin C either through diet or supplementation is non-negotiable. Step aside creatine; there’s a new kid in town for maximizing gains.


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