The use of dietary supplements is widespread, especially among athletes. Some of the most common reasons for supplementation include increasing muscle mass and strength and enhancing performance.
Popular products include energy drinks, protein powders, and creatine. However, vitamins and minerals also play an essential role in muscle growth and function. They help the body to utilize other nutrients and can reduce the impact of exercise-induced muscle damage.
Most people can obtain enough vitamins and minerals by eating a balanced diet. However, some people might find supplementation beneficial. For example, older people may find it challenging to eat sufficiently nutritious diets, leading to muscle loss and functional decline.
This article explores the most important vitamins and minerals for muscle gain. However, rather than focusing solely on the best vitamins for bodybuilding, we will discuss the most beneficial nutrients for anyone hoping to improve and maintain muscle health.
The Most Important Vitamins for Muscle Health
Consuming enough protein is crucial when it comes to increasing muscle mass. This is part of the reason why protein supplements have become so popular.
Protein is composed of amino acids, which play a vital role in maintaining and building muscle. The amino acid leucine is often considered the most important. The best sources are meat and poultry, but leucine is also found in dairy products, fish, and some legumes and cereals.
Although adequate protein consumption is essential for muscle growth, specific vitamins and minerals are also involved. They help the body metabolize amino acids like leucine and play a key role in keeping the muscles healthy.
Having healthy muscle tissue contributes significantly to one’s overall wellbeing. The muscles are involved in movement, respiration, metabolism, and blood sugar control. Having strong muscles also helps people stay mobile and independent as they age, decreasing the risk of falls and fractures.
Therefore, everyone should consume enough minerals and vitamins for muscle growth, not just athletes. We explore some of the most fundamental nutrients below.
Best Vitamins and Minerals for Muscle Growth
Vitamin D is one of the best-studied vitamins for muscle health. Most of the research has focused on older adults, although there is also some evidence relating to athletes.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with muscle weakness. The precise reason for this is not yet known, but it may be due to altered protein synthesis and inflammation.
Furthermore, scientists have found vitamin D receptors in muscle cells, which appear to diminish with age. This phenomenon may explain the strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and impaired muscle function in the elderly.
However, the extent to which supplementation helps is unclear. A 2011 review looked at 16 trials, 15 of which involved participants aged 50+. The results indicated that only seven trials had positive results, while nine demonstrated no benefits to taking vitamin D.
A 2019 review of eight studies investigated vitamin D supplementation in athletes. Again, the results were inconclusive. The authors found that vitamin D improved lower but not upper limb strength. Meanwhile, there were no improvements in explosive power. It found that athletes who trained indoors experienced the most benefit, which makes sense considering that sunlight is a source of vitamin D.
Finally, a large-scale 2021 review of 54 trials concluded that there is currently no evidence that vitamin D supplements benefit muscle growth. Moreover, its authors suggested that supplementation may have adverse effects on muscle health.
Therefore, it is likely safer and more effective to get plenty of natural vitamin D. Aside from being produced by sunlight on the skin, it can be found in oily fish, beef liver, egg yolk, and some mushrooms.
The B vitamins are eight nutrients with similar biological functions. Many of them are involved in protein metabolism, making them important for muscle health.
Most current research has focused on how vitamin B deficiency could impact muscle loss in aging populations. There is a suggestion that several B vitamin deficiencies could lead to muscle weakness, fatigue, and decreased mobility. However, the evidence regarding supplementation remains inconclusive.
Some of the best B vitamins for muscle health include:
Also known as thiamine, vitamin B1 has a critical role in the nervous system and motor function. Deficiencies have also been associated with a loss of lean muscle mass.
Food sources include yeast, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and pork.
Vitamin B3 is also known as niacin. It has many essential functions in the body, including maintaining neuromuscular health. Deficiencies have been associated with muscle weakness and wasting.
Food sources include yeast, whole grains, leafy greens, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, and legumes.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, has a vital role in amino acid metabolism. Furthermore, it works closely with vitamin B9 and B12 to regulate homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a chemical produced as a by-product of amino acid metabolism. Excessive homocysteine levels have been linked with reduced muscle strength and performance, among other adverse effects.
Food sources include meat, poultry, nuts, and legumes.
Vitamin B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
Vitamin B9 is either known as folate or folic acid. It affects the nervous system and has a role in DNA synthesis, which could impact muscle repair. Like vitamin B6, it is essential for keeping homocysteine within a healthy range. Therefore, deficiencies can cause raised homocysteine levels and muscle loss.
Food sources include leafy greens, citrus fruit, nuts, and legumes.
Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 affects many biological systems. It works with B6 and B9 to regulate homocysteine and affects neuromuscular function. Vitamin B12 deficiencies have been associated with muscle loss and frailty in older adults.
Food sources include meat and, to a lesser extent, dairy products and eggs. Plant-based foods do not naturally contain any B12, so vegans must rely on fortified foods or supplements.
Vitamin A has antioxidant effects, and some people have speculated that it could reduce post-exercise oxidative damage. This process occurs when cells release harmful molecules called free radicals due to intense activity.
Despite the assumption that vitamin A could help, a 2017 study found that it actually reduced the body’s antioxidant response to training. Furthermore, supplementation did not provide additional muscle gain compared with exercise alone.
Conversely, a 2021 study found that low-vitamin A diets were associated with reduced muscle function in mice. The experimental animals ran less and more slowly than age-matched controls consuming a regular diet. However, the low-vitamin A mice did not display a decrease in overall mass.
Therefore, the effects of vitamin A on muscle remain unclear. Further research is necessary to determine whether supplementation is beneficial or detrimental.
The role of vitamin C in muscle growth is also somewhat mysterious. On the one hand, there is evidence that higher dietary intakes are associated with increased skeletal muscle mass. Experts have suggested this may be due to the nutrient’s antioxidant effects.
However, research into vitamin C and E for muscle growth has found supplements ineffective. In fact, there is evidence that they may even have harmful effects, impairing muscle gain in the long term.
Therefore, it may be wise to avoid supplements and focus on dietary sources instead. Some examples include citrus fruit, strawberries, bell peppers, and leafy greens.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E has antioxidant properties and could help to mitigate exercise-induced muscle damage.
There is evidence that vitamin E deficiency could lead to muscle fiber degradation. It also seems that exercise reduces the vitamin E content of muscle, meaning that intensive training could increase one’s requirements.
Some sources suggest that vitamin E could help prevent age-related muscle loss and promote regeneration. However, clinical trials are limited, and, as we mentioned above, supplementation could be counterproductive.
Food sources include plant-derived oils, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, avocado, bell peppers, asparagus, and mango.
Magnesium is a mineral with many essential biological functions. It is involved in muscle function, and higher intakes are associated with increased muscle mass in the limbs.
Research shows that magnesium depletion in athletes is associated with muscle cell damage, possibly due to increased inflammation and oxidative stress.
Magnesium supplements may prove helpful for elderly or alcohol-dependent individuals with deficiencies. However, there is little evidence supporting supplementation in healthy and physically active individuals.
Food sources include leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Selenium is another mineral with a vital role. In fact, approximately 28-46% of the body’s selenium is stored in skeletal muscle. It is a component of specialized proteins called selenoproteins, and deficiencies are associated with poor muscle function, pain, and weakness.
Food sources include pork, beef, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, beans, and nuts (especially Brazil nuts).
Calcium is most often associated with bone health, but it is important for the muscles too. It acts as an intercellular signaling molecule and is necessary for muscle contraction. Some research suggests that it is also needed for healthy muscle development and growth.
Food sources include dairy products, tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, and leafy greens.
The benefits of iron for the muscles are two-fold. Firstly, it is a crucial component of hemoglobin, the protein that helps red blood cells transport oxygen around the body. An adequate oxygen supply is essential during exercise, so consuming plenty of iron is a must for active individuals.
Furthermore, research on mice has found that iron deficiencies are associated with slow growth and decreased work capacity. Likewise, there is evidence that iron deficiency in older adults can lead to poor muscle function, with supplements improving performance.
However, it is possible to have too much iron, and very high levels could increase oxidative stress in muscle tissue. According to a 2019 publication, this could have severe implications for health, including impaired neurological and endocrine function.
Food sources include red meat, liver, legumes, dried fruit, and leafy greens.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids have many beneficial effects, including on the muscles. There is a reasonable amount of research on these nutrients, and the evidence is positive overall. For example, a 2020 meta-analysis of 10 articles found omega 3 could increase protein synthesis, muscle mass, strength, and performance.
The suggestion is that omega 3 fatty acids work by altering cell membranes to facilitate more efficient amino acid uptake. Research indicates they could also slow protein breakdown and potentially prevent muscle loss during periods of inactivity or calorie restriction.
Food sources include oily fish, fish liver oil, nuts, seeds, and plant-derived oils.
Best Supplements for Muscle Growth
Although the muscle-building vitamins and minerals listed above are beneficial, supplements may not be the best solution. As we mentioned, the research into supplementation has so far proven inconclusive. In some cases, supplements have even adversely affected muscle growth.
Therefore, most experts agree that getting adequate nutrition from food is better than relying on supplements. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein, whole grains, legumes, and fresh fruit and vegetables is recommended.
However, some people struggle to get enough nutrition from food. For example, people with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease might have difficulty absorbing certain nutrients.
Likewise, people with restrictive diets due to food intolerances, allergies, or lifestyle choices may be prone to deficiencies.
Older adults can also struggle to get all the nutrients they need because of challenges preparing food or dental problems. This is one reason why muscle loss is so prevalent among the elderly.
Therefore, the benefits and risks of supplementation should be weighed on a case-by-case basis. And for those who do decide to go down this route, there are some important considerations.
The supplements industry is poorly regulated, and it is essential to conduct thorough research before buying. Look for brands with clean ingredients and detailed lab reports for their products. Customer reviews are another way to gauge a company’s legitimacy and track record.
We have listed some top-rated brands in our Best Multivitamins Supplements Review. All of these companies have stellar reputations and offer a range of products to suit every need. Look for multivitamin supplements that contain the essential minerals for muscle growth too. It may also be worth considering omega 3 supplements and protein powder if you need to consume more.
Best Minerals and Vitamins for Muscle Growth
Whether you’re looking for vitamins for working out or generally improving muscle health, there are plenty of options. Minerals and omega 3 are essential, too, as is consuming adequate amounts of protein.
The best way to achieve optimal nutrition is by eating a healthy diet. However, supplements may be a viable option for people who struggle with this.
That said, supplementation is not without risk, and the research into its benefits is inconclusive.
We recommend that anyone considering it discusses their options with a professional dietician or nutritional therapist. Consumers should also perform due diligence to find a safe and reliable brand.