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Improved energy levels help physical and mental performance, mood and immunity, among other benefits — so it’s useful to know what vitamins give you energy.
You’ll find lots of the best vitamins to boost energy within a healthy diet, however, supplements are a good way to make sure you get what you need.
When taking vitamins for tiredness and lack of energy, make sure to stick to the recommended dose.
Consistent tiredness is frustrating. If you’re feeling fatigued, introducing more energy-boosting vitamins to your diet could help improve your motivation, concentration, performance and mood. But which are the best vitamins for energy, and how do they help?
In this article, we’ll round up the best vitamins for tiredness and lack of energy, from familiar supplements to surprising solutions backed by scientific research.
Iron has been recognised for its role in health since the Ancient Greeks. It’s a vital component in blood haemoglobin, rapidly absorbing oxygen from the lungs and releasing it throughout the body. Iron is also needed for the body’s synthesis of tyrosine and tryptophan; precursors to the “feel good” hormones dopamine and serotonin. So, if low energy levels are making you grouchy, iron could help.
Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide. The reduced supply of oxygen impairs brain function alongside muscular energy and endurance, symptoms associated with low energy. Men at higher risk include vegetarians or vegans, those who exercise intensely, and those who regularly donate blood. Dairy and egg proteins have also been shown to inhibit the body’s iron absorption.
- Where to find it: Good sources include meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrains and most dark-green leafy vegetables.
- Possible side effects: High doses (over 20mg / day) can cause constipation, nausea and stomach pain.
Ashwagandha, or Indian Ginseng, is a small shrub used by the traditional Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine to promote youthful energy and improve overall health. Investigation under laboratory settings is encouraging: in addition to increasing the stamina of rats during a swimming endurance test (yes, really), it makes the body more resilient to stress and improves immune function, both common factors contributing towards fatigue, or low energy.
That’s not all. Studies show ashwagandha can improve memory and cognition, reaction times and increase muscle mass — so if you want energy-boosting vitamins to improve your physical and mental performance, ashwagandha could help. Finally, its antioxidant properties help protect against carcinogens, and it can improve fertility, so you may find it boosts more than energy levels.
- Where to find it: You’re unlikely to find ashwagandha in your standard salad mix, so supplements are a useful source. However, it’s an expensive extract, so make sure you’re buying from a reputed company to ensure you’re getting the best ingredients.
- Possible side effects: more research is needed, but reported possible side effects of sustained high doses include sleepiness, stomach upset and headache.
3. B Vitamins
B vitamins are essential for the body to extract energy from food, and all the B vitamins except folate are involved in energy production within the cell. In fact, a shortfall in any one of them limits energy generation. B vitamins are key for the production of haemoglobin and healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body — integral to physical performance — and the production of dopamine and serotonin, making them important for regulating your mood.
Humans have lost the ability to synthesise B vitamins ourselves, so they’re a key part of our diet. For most people, getting adequate B vitamins is possible through eating healthily, however, strict vegans and vegetarians could be missing out on vital nutrients. Additionally, as we age, our stomach produces less gastric acid, reducing the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12.
- Where to find it: Good sources include wholegrains, dairy, eggs, rice, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
- Possible side effects: While there’s not enough evidence that high doses of most B-vitamins cause any harm, high doses (over 200mg/day) of vitamin B6 can cause temporary loss of feeling in your limbs — though this usually goes away once you stop taking supplements.
4. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 (known as vitamin Q10 or CoQ10) is an antioxidant that your body produces naturally.
It’s fundamental to the body’s energy production cycle: CoQ10 acts as a cofactor in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the molecule that captures chemical energy from food. This is essential for the health of virtually all human tissues and organs. CoQ10 also helps to boost immunity, as cells involved in immune function are very energy-dependent.
Research has found links between low levels of CoQ10 and fatigue. As you age, the levels of CoQ10 in your body decrease. CoQ10 levels have also been found to be lower in people with chronic illnesses associated with ageing, such as heart disease and Parkinson’s, providing the hypothesis that CoQ10 supplements could alleviate ageing symptoms and slow the onset of these diseases. When you consider that an incremental increase in fatigue is also associated with ageing, CoQ10 could work as vitamins to boost energy.
- Where to find it: Good sources include meat, fish, nuts, and some oils.
- Possible side effects: High doses can cause loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness, rash, nausea, diarrhoea and light sensitivity, insomnia and fatigue, so it’s important to stick to recommended doses.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is vital for healthy bone growth, as it helps to regulate the body’s calcium.
Low levels of vitamin D causes skeletal demineralization and muscle weakness, with fatigue — or low energy — presenting as a common result. Besides poor bone health, low levels of vitamin D are also linked to pulmonary disorders, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, depression and cognitive decline. In fact, some research even suggests a link between vitamin D deficiency and general mortality, so it’s good to keep track of how much you’re getting.
That being said, more than 50% of people are vitamin D deficient worldwide. It’s made in the skin in response to sunlight, but in northern countries, there isn’t sufficient sunlight throughout the year.
People with dark skin produce less vitamin D as the pigment melanin blocks the UVB rays that stimulate its formation. For the same reason, sunscreen prevents vitamin D production — but going without poses a known cancer risk. Nevertheless, studies found vitamin D is an effective treatment for fatigue, so If you’re wondering what vitamins give you energy, the safest choice for vitamin D is supplements.
- Where to find it: Good sources include oily fish, red meat and egg yolks – or 10-15 minutes of bright sunshine.
- Possible side effects: High doses (100mg/day) can cause too much calcium to build up, weakening the bones and damaging the kidneys and heart. If you take supplements, 10mg/day is enough for most people.
Guarana may sound unfamiliar, but it contains something you consume daily: caffeine.
The seeds of this Amazonian plant contain around four-times the amount found in coffee beans. Caffeine’s stimulant effects are well documented; it can provide energy and improve cognitive skills, as it activates neuronal pathways through alterations in the release of neurotransmitters.
In contrast to coffee and tea, however, practically nothing is known about guarana’s caffeine metabolism. Research into how it affects humans is also in shorter supply: one study found it improved test subjects’ short-term cognitive abilities, while another found it expanded the lifespan of worms.
However, if you’re already getting your caffeine fix from other sources, it’s best to be careful as overdoing caffeine can negatively impact your sleep, which will definitely lower your energy levels.
- Where to find it: Guarana is a key ingredient in various energy drinks, so you may already be consuming it without your knowledge.
- Possible side effects: Over 400mg/day of caffeine in any product can start to cause headache, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, frequent urination, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors.
7. Vitamin C
Vitamin C doesn’t just prevent scurvy: your body needs it to make L-carnitine, a molecule that helps you burn fat for energy. It’s well known that vitamin C is vital for immune function, but fewer people are aware that the immune system is very energetically costly. So vitamin C, while not a stimulant, is a useful vitamin for fatigue and energy.
Humans can’t synthesise vitamin C ourselves, and our bodies lose approximately 3% of its vitamin C content every day, so it’s important to have plenty of it in your diet. The symptoms of low vitamin C levels take several weeks to emerge, but they include fatigue and excessive bleeding and often occur alongside iron-deficiency anaemia — a known cause of low energy levels.
- Where to find it: Good sources include oranges, strawberries, blackcurrants, peppers, broccoli and potatoes.
- Possible side effects: High doses (over 1,000mg/day) can cause stomach pain, diarrhoea and flatulence.
If you want to boost your energy levels, it’s important to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins your body needs. Most of these are already part of a healthy diet, which, alongside getting enough exercise and sleep, will help boost your immunity, physical and mental wellbeing, and performance.
That said, some proven energy-boosting vitamins are harder to get or should accompany a healthy diet, so supplements are a good solution. Make sure you buy them from a reputed source and stick to the recommended dose.