The Benefits of Vitamin C for Cyclists

Vitamin C is the go-to vitamin when you feel a cold coming on. We can usually get plenty from diet alone, but there are perhaps a few more reasons to supplement based on some of the studies I've found.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Vitamin C can reduce the bronchial inflammation of exercise-induced asthma. There are a surprisingly large number of cyclists who suffer from asthma - myself included. Now this just may be because we've found the training we do to be effective cyclists also helps keep our asthma in check. I know I've needed my puffer much less frequently since I took up regular bike riding. Perhaps a little extra vitamin C will also help to keep my airways a little more open without extra medication. And wider airways means more oxygen in-flow which can mean improved endurance.
  • Improved oxygen flow can also aid in the additional burning of fat for fuel. The aerobic process of burning fat for energy requires oxygen, and more oxygen means more fat can be burned. This may be the mechanism contributing to the results of another study that showed subjects in a treadmill test with low levels of vitamin C burned 25% less body fat than subjects with adequate vitamin C levels.
  • And here is the point I'm particularly interested in exploring. Now this was a small study with 20 "chubby" adults. Half took 500mg of vitamin C and the other half took a placebo. After 4 weeks, they each performed a treadmill test. Those on the real vitamin C reported a lower Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and a lower heart rate at identical work loads. I've been doing some StrengthEndurance intervals where I ride 5mins at my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) but at a very low cadence, between 50 and 60rpm. These are hard, and on some days my RPE seems higher than others. Perhaps if I supplement with vitamin C, these workouts will at least feel a bit easier.
  • And finally, one last point particularly relevant to us cyclists. Yet another study looked at the effects of vitamin C on muscle recovery. Exercising men supplementing with vitamin C had greater muscle recovery in the first 24 hours after exercise than those who took either a vitamin E supplement or a placebo. The faster we can recover from our hard workouts, the quicker we can get back to another hard workout session and train ourselves to be even faster cyclists. If vitamin C can help me recover faster, I'm all for it. And especially as a master-aged cyclists (I'm 46), when recovery starts to take longer than when we were younger, then maybe this will help me keep up with all those young guys in my stage racing.

So how much vitamin C should we try taking? The convenient thing about vitamin C is that you really can't take too much and overdose yourself. It's one of the water soluble vitamins meaning anything your body can't immediately absorb will simply get pissed away - putting it bluntly. In the studies mentioned above, the supplements ranged from 400mg to 1500mg daily. The Recommended Dietary Allowances for men are 90mg/day and for women 75mg/day, with yet further data suggesting 200mg/day to be ideal for chronic disease prevention.

There are plenty of good, natural dietary sources of vitamin C that I'm sure you're already aware of like:

  • citrus fruits
  • kiwi
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • (hey, those are all awesome, sweet, tasty treats!)
  • potatoes (with the skin - the skin has the highest concentration of vitamin C)
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • bell peppers

So you can see, this is a fairly well rounded list of typical fruits and vegetables. Keep at least 50% of your plate filled with these, and you'll be pretty much on the mark for the lower levels needed in the studies.

But to add a bit of insurance, and to get to the higher levels that were studied, I'll be supplementing with 1000mg/day of a time-released vitamin C supplement. The time release variety will help maximize absorption with minimal loss in my urine. I think this will be one of the staple supplements I'll be taking. I love getting most of my nutrients from fresh, natural sources, but given the above mentioned studies, a little extra supplementation may be quite "fruitful".

To read more, and to find the links to the studies mentioned, please check out this article:

P.S. Please remember to check out my National Regifting Day plans by clicking HERE.


  1. The information about the "chubby" adults is so interesting! I've started taking a daily multivitamin so I'm excited to see if it has any effects or brings any improvement. I'm a fitness lover as well!

    Have you ever tried those cod oil/butter oil supplements? What do you think of those? They seem so exorbitantly expensive but many people seem to swear by them

  2. I've taken Wild Fish Oil Supplements (Salmon, Sardine & Mackerel in there), 3x1000mg capsules a day - 1 with each meal. Actually, I noticed my mood generally better with them than without. But once 1 was eating a handful of Brazil nuts while downing my capsules and wasn't paying attention - why did this Brazil nut taste so bloody fishy?? Uggh, I just bit into a Fish Oil capsule!

    Today, I've switched to Udo's Choice 3-6-9 Omega Oil. It actually tastes not bad on its own, and I put about 15-20g of it on my oatmeal every morning. Goes down great, and I don't need to worry about more pills at other meals. It also works great on salads and vegetables.

    Generally with any supplements, I like to have them with real foods. I'm not sure if there have been any specific studies done on their efficacy this way, versus by themselves, but intuitively it seems to make more sense to have any supplement with real food as there could be synergies with the other micro-nutrients in real foods that help the supplements work better.

    Good luck with your fitness goals this year!

  3. Oh wow. I just cringed at your story! Biting in to a fish oil supplement is terrible I'm sure. I've noticed the capsules don't seem to settle well and I always get little fish burps after and those are hard enough!

    Im not brave enough to try the stuff straight yet unfortunately, although I want to since its so better priced. I heard the cinnamon flavored fish oils that are emulsified in to creams arent too bad..but I can't think of anything less appealing than some cinnamon fermented fish

    Thanks for the response! And good luck to you as well.

    1. Ah, a small point of confusion I see. Udo's Choice is a PLANT BASED blend of omega 3-6-9 fatty acids. You won't end up with fishy oatmeal! And because it is plant based, Udo's is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Very nice and informative post. Thank you for sharing this. Actually my doctor once told me that aside from vitamin C, cyclists or even athletes also need other vitamins such as b12 and vitamin d3. Do you have any idea on the benefits of these vitamins as well?

    1. B12 will cure pernicious anemia - a condition where your intestines cannot absorb B12 in sufficient quantities. Of course, this means you're actually getting B12 in your food in the first place. And the only way that will happen is by eating meat.

      A strict vegetarian, and particularly vegans, absolutely must supplement with B12. There is no other way. They either need to specifically search out B12 fortified foods - like some soy milk - or take B12 pills.

      Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the building of your red blood cells. More red blood cells means more oxygen transport for athletes. That's why EPO has been used for performance enhancement, because it specifically boosts the production of red blood cells. But even in that case, if you were deficient in B12, you could take all the EPO you wanted and wouldn't get a performance boost.

      Bottom line - do it naturally and eat meat! Think Paleo here my friends. But if you absolutely must be vegetarian/vegan, then you must supplement.

      Vitamin D3 is the other supplement most people - not just athletes - who live relatively far from the equator (north or south) should consider taking. Deficiencies have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, over 30 types of cancer, and autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But athletes should know that vitamin D acts directly on specific receptors in muscle fibres to make them stronger and prevent injury.

      Specifically, Vitamin D acts on your Fast Twitch (Type II) muscle fibres. These are the fibres used for strength and speed. See my post Getting To Know Your Muscle Physiology. Keeping these fibres strong of course will benefit athletes, but even in older people, this could improve your stability and prevent falls.

      The best approach to finding out if you should take Vitamin D3 supplements is to have your blood level checked - it should be greater than 75 nmol/L. Your physician who interprets the results should tell you specifically how much to supplement.

      I've never been tested, but still I take 3,000 IU/day of D3. In a simple capsule form - I don't think it's necessary to explore the nasal delivery that Valerie linked to in her comment above. I live in the Edmonton area of Canada, so I know I don't get a whole lot of sun throughout most of the year. Maybe I can cut the supplement back in the summer, when I'm out riding 3+ hours with minimal sunscreen (sunlight is the most effective way for your body to build its own Vitamin D requirements - you can't overdose that way, but do need to be mindful of sunburn). But given the research that has recently been done, I'd suggest most people won't go wrong with 1,000 IU/day - of course discuss this with your own physician...

  5. Indepth information. Thanks for this nice article.