Riboflavin: How This B-Vitamin Could Change the Sport of Ultra-Running
By: Amy Tribolini, MS, RD, LD
You may not be familiar with riboflavin, but it is likely you have heard of or even supplemented with B-vitamins. B-vitamins have been marketed as “energy enhancement vitamins” and added to sport supplement bars and drinks for years.
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, has stayed relatively under the rug and gained little attention by itself, but all that may be changing after a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine proposed that supplementation may have significant benefits on muscle pain and soreness both during and after completion of ultra-running events.
In 2016, researchers performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on participants at one of the most iconic ultra-marathons of all time: The Western States 100-Miler. Researchers split up participating runners into a control group or a placebo group. The controlled group received a riboflavin capsule both before the race and again at mile 56, the other group received a placebo at both intervals. Participants in the study rated their soreness and muscle pain before the race, during, immediately after, and for 10 additional days.
The results were significant. The runners that received the riboflavin reported significantly less muscle pain and soreness during and immediately after the race. While this is newer research into this area, the findings suggest that riboflavin may be a highly beneficial supplement to decrease soreness and aid in the performance of ultra-runners.
What Does Riboflavin Do in the Body?
Riboflavin plays an important role in metabolism and protecting against cell damage. Essential to ultra-runners, riboflavin is involved in the process of energy metabolism. Without adequate riboflavin, the enzymes needed to break down nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) do not function as efficiently. This can lead to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue in an athlete.
The second essential role riboflavin plays in athletes is enhancing oxygen delivery. Hemoglobin, the protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the body, requires riboflavin in order to synthesize. Having adequate oxygen transport allows athletes to perform better with less fatigue.
How Much Should I Take?
In this research study, participants were given a 100mg supplemental capsule of riboflavin twice during the race (once before the race and another 56 miles into the race). According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this far exceeds the estimated daily needs of healthy athletes- 1.2mg (men) and 1.1mg (women). But, because riboflavin is water soluble, healthy individuals will excrete excess out through the urine instead of storing it in toxic levels.
Can I Get Enough Riboflavin in the Foods I Eat?
It is easy to meet your estimated nutritional needs by selecting foods high in riboflavin. However, in order to experience the decreased soreness that the Western States athletes reported, supplemental riboflavin may be needed.
Foods High in Riboflavin:
Riboflavin occurs naturally in foods and it is also fortified into many grains. If you are looking for natural ways to enhance your intake of riboflavin during a race, these handy grab-and-go snacks are good sources:
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified Grains, Crackers, and Breads
- Fortified sports bars and supplements
- Sun-dried tomatoes
With new research suggesting that increased riboflavin intake may be a significant component of decreasing soreness among ultra-runners, there is likely to be more chatter in the ultra-running community over this topic. While more research needs to be done to identify optimal dosing and benefits, the preliminary research seems to point to this B vitamin as a nutrient that may be changing the field of ultra-running.
Hoffman, M. D., Valentino, T. R., Stuempfle, K.J., & Hassid, B.V. (2017). A Placebo-Controlled Trial of Riboflavin for Enhancement of Ultramarathon Recovery. Sports Medicine – Open, 3(1).
Denny, S. (2014). Vitamin Needs of Athletes. Retrieved April 5, 2017, from http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitmains-and-nutrients/vitamin-needs-of-athletes
Zempleni J, Galloway JR, McCormick DB (1996). Pharmacokinetics of orally and intravenously administered riboflavin in healthy humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The American Society for Nutrition. 63 (1): 54–66.
About the Author:
Amy Tribolini currently works as both a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Instructor. She lives, trains, and competes as an ultra-runner out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Amy specializes in fueling endurance athletes, athletic performance, and plant-based diets. Amy holds both a Bachelors Degree in Dietetics and a Masters Degree in Human Nutritional Science from the University of Wisconsin
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