The human body is a complicated machine capable of many stunning achievements, including manufacturing some of its own nutrients. Most substances that we need to maintain life and health cannot be manufactured in the body, though, and these are the essential nutrients.
Most vitamins fall into that “essential” category, so we MUST get them from our diets.
What follows is a list of the 10 essential vitamins and minerals, along with their primary role in your body and some common food sources for fulfilling your needs.
(Food sources derived mainly from the lists presented on Kimberly Snyder’s website.)
Vitamin A (Beta-Carotene)
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps fight free radicals in our bodies and also promotes eye health and tissue growth.
Foods: Cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, carrots, mango
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B1, or thiamine, helps your body produce an enzyme called thiamine pyrophosphate. Thiamine phosphate, in turn, aids in the breakdown of fat and carbohydrates from your diet to provide energy.
Foods: whole enriched grains, beef liver, pork, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, helps move oxygen and energy in cells. That aids in your ability to turn fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy for your workouts.
Foods: dairy products, dark greens, whole-grain cereals, pork
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is one of the building blocks of several enzymes, many of which help convert fat to energy.
Foods: broccoli, green leafy vegetables, eggs
Vitamin B6 (Pyroxidine)
Vitamin B6, also called pyroxidine, helps to burn fat and also aids in red blood cell production.
Foods: organ meats, potatoes, non-citrus fruits
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Vitamin B7, or biotin, helps the body turn food into glucose for use as fuel, and it also plays a role in the production of fatty acids and amino acids. Biotin is important for healthy hair and nails, too.
Foods: organ meats, fatty fish, egg yolks
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Vitamin B9, the synthetic form of which is called folic acid, is important for the metabolism and absorption of the food you eat. It also helps your nervous system function properly.
Foods: spinach, green vegetables, bananas, melons, legumes, fortified whole grains
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is a major player in maintaining a healthy metabolism and nervous system. While B12 affects everything from DNA regulation to brain function, it’s especially important to bodybuilders because it helps metabolize fat and amino acids for energy. Thus, it’s vital for helping us get the most out of our food and for getting or staying as lean as possible.
Thanks to it’s beneficial effects on the nervous system and energy production, B12 can also help us generate more intensity in the gym.
Foods: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fortified whole grains
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C is the king antioxidant, known for its power to help keep us healthy and stave off colds and other minor maladies. It’s also important for healthy skin and proper iron absorption.
It’s interesting to note that, while most animals can manufacture their own vitamin C, humans cannot.
Foods: Broccoli, citrus fruits (use your lemons!), tomatoes, cabbage, red bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, papaya, strawberries, leafy green vegetables
Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble anti-oxidant that helps protect your body from free radical damage and may also improve blood flow.
Foods: Almonds, almond milk, sunflower seeds, almond butter, olives, spinach, asparagus, leafy green vegetables, olive oil (use moderate amounts)
That leaves us with three vitamins that your body can manufacture and which you don’t have to consume through your diet.
- Vitamin D is important for healthy bones since it improves calcium absorption. Thanks to a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol in your skin, your body can create vitamin D when you get enough sunshine.
- While your body cannot technically manufacture vitamin K, the “good” bacteria in your gut can do the job for you as long as you’re not on high-dose antibiotics. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health.
- Like the other B vitamins, vitamin B3, or niacin, aids in transforming your food into energy. Your body can convert the amino acid tryptophan into niacin, which means you don’t have to get the vitamin directly from your diet.
Even though you can get by without consuming any of these three vitamins directly, the truth is that it’s HARD to exclude them from your diet, especially if you’re making sure to cover your basis with the 10 essential vitamins and minerals.
There’s simply too much overlap.
And really, there’s no reason to purposely exclude any vitamins and plenty of healthy reasons to make sure you are getting enough of them.
Get your RDAs of your essential and non-essential vitamins if you want to stay as healthy and productive as possible!