When it comes to building muscle, fueling your body with vitamins like A, C, and B is just as important as proper form.
If you’re making a beeline toward the pre-workout supplements and protein powder to build muscle, slow your roll. Bodybuilding supplements might have their place for some folks, sure. But everyone needs a strong foundation of the vitamins necessary for muscle strength and recovery.
So let’s go back to basics. Whether you get your fill through nutrient-rich foods or supplements, these are the best vitamins and minerals for muscle growth.
Protein often steals the show in the world of sports nutrition. But without these muscle-supporting micronutrients, you’d be taking the daily struggle bus to the gym.
Did you know that muscle weakness and cramps are signs of vitamin D deficiency? That doesn’t mean a bad day at the gym = a deficiency, but it *does* point to the vital role this micronutrient plays in muscle health.
Research has also linked healthy vitamin D levels with stronger muscles and better posture.
Here’s how you can get more vitamin D:
- Soak up some sunshine (but put on that SPF first!).
- Nosh on vitamin D-rich foods like salmon, eggs, and fortified cereals.
- If you think you need vitamin D supplements, ask a healthcare professional to check your levels.
In the world of micronutrients, vitamin A is a total all-star. It doesn’t directly strengthen your muscles, but it keeps your bones and immune system on point (no more calling in sick to the gym!).
Basically, if you’re not getting enough A, you’re not gonna perform your best barbell workouts at the power rack.
You can find vitamin A in lots of orange foods, including:
If you have cystic fibrosis or a gastrointestinal disorder that reduces nutrient absorption, you might need to take a vitamin A supplement. Still, you can get too much of this stuff, so talk with your doctor about dosage.
First things first: Iron is a mineral, not a vitamin. But that doesn’t mean your muscles don’t crave it!
When you lift weights, your body uses a lot of oxygen. Iron helps your body make hemoglobin, which shuttles oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. So basically, iron helps keep energy high, muscle pumped, and breath control on point.
Most folks get enough iron from their daily eats, including:
If you have anemia or don’t eat animal products, you might benefit from an iron supplement. Just talk with your doc about the ideal dosage since too much iron can have negative effects.
Vitamin C helps you absorb iron, which is a #win for your weightlifting sesh. Healthy iron levels = more power to pump the other kind of iron.
Vitamin C is also hella helpful for your immune system. Shortening the duration of a cold isn’t as sexy as a mid-workout surge of energy, but it’s still essential. Sniffles, a sore throat, and an achy head are major buzzkills when you’re trying to push yourself to complete one more round of reps.
Crushing your vitamin C quota is easy. You can find this vitamin in:
- fruits and fruit juices
- multivitamins and vitamin C supplements
Most folks need 75 to 120 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day.
Vitamin E has a reputation for soothing and smoothing skin — but it can also indirectly support muscle growth.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, a type of substance that helps you stay healthy by mopping up damaging free radicals that come from stress and overexertion, among other things.
But limited research suggests that taking vitamin E supplements can actually interfere with strength training gains, so stick to vitamin E-rich foods like nuts and roasted sunflower seeds.
The B-complex crew is a powerhouse for everything from brain function to stress hormone regulation. So, what can B vitamins do for muscle gains?
Well, science suggests vitamin B12 can dial down fatigue while offering a helping hand to hemoglobin (remember the oxygen transporter?). It’s a one-two punch for keeping your energy up while you pump iron.
But, as with other vitamins and minerals, the best way to get vitamin B12 is through food. Some options:
- animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs
- whole grains
Like vitamin B12, biotin (aka vitamin B7) hails from the B-complex base. This bad boy helps transform the nutrients you eat into white-hot energy for your weight training session.
You can get biotin from foods like:
Many multivitamins and B-complex supplements also contain biotin. Sometimes biotin is sold as a “hair, skin, and nails” supplement too.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, about 50 percent of Americans don’t get enough magnesium. Adult males should aim for 400 mg of magnesium per day. Non-pregnant females need only 310 mg.
If you fall into the deficient camp, you might be undermining your muscle-building efforts. This tiny mineral plays a role in muscle contraction, heart rate regulation, and energy production.
The easiest way to boost your intake is to eat magnesium-rich foods like:
- roasted pumpkin seeds
- dry-roasted almonds
- chia seeds
Of course, magnesium supplements are an option. Talk with a healthcare pro about the best option for you, since it comes in various forms.
You probably already know that calcium strengthens dem bones. But this mineral does so much more for muscle-pumping workouts, including:
- supporting muscle movement 💪
- keeping blood vessels in tip-top shape
- helping to regulate blood pressure
Contrary to what those “Got Milk?” dairy ads imply, you don’t need milk to quench your calcium needs. You can get your recommended daily 1,000 to 1,300 mg from foods like:
- canned sardines
- chia seeds
- white beans
- orange juice
- calcium-fortified cereals
Calcium supplements are also an option if you need a boost beyond food, but get the A-OK from a healthcare pro first.
Research suggests that zinc plays a role in post-exercise skeletal muscle regeneration — in other words, it helps repair muscle fibers after a hard lifting session. We need more studies to understand precisely how zinc might maximize your workouts, but it’s an essential mineral either way.
Your body can’t make zinc, so the task of meeting zinc needs is left to you and your chompers. You can get it from a vast array of foods, such as:
While zinc deficiency is a thing, it’s rare. Over-zincing can cause toxicity, so talk with a healthcare pro before taking zinc supplements for muscle growth.
There’s a reason potassium is such a popular ingredient in sports drinks. This electrolyte keeps your muscles contracting properly and your hydration levels in the safe zone — both good things in terms of maxing out your swole stats.
Potassium can be found in lots of foods, but many Americans don’t get enough of it. You can hit your quota with foods like:
- lentils and soybeans
- milk and yogurt
- chicken and turkey breast
Talk with a healthcare pro if you think you need a supplement to get all the potassium your muscles need.
Vitamins aren’t a one-way ticket to Swole City. You can turbo-charge your muscle growth by incorporating these tips into your regimen:
- A well-balanced diet. There’s no magic muscle-building food, but a healthy diet helps set the stage for future flexes. Your body runs best on a diverse array of whole foods — meats, veggies, fruits, healthy fats, and whole grains.
- Higher protein intake. Protein helps build and maintain muscle tissue. Nosh on protein-stuffed snacks an hour before *and* after your weightlifting workouts.
- Proper hydration. Water is life. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 16 to 20 ounces of liquid before each workout.
- Heavy lifting. Here’s what you’ve been weight-ing for! There’s nothing like lifting to pump up your muscles.
- Isolation exercises. Targeting one muscle group at a time can help you maximize gains where you want ’em most. Think pull-ups for your lats and walking lunges for your glutes. 🍑
If you want bigger, better muscles, you need to fuel that growth. Vitamins like A, C, and B keep your body running on all cylinders, boosting #gainz, energy, and recovery.
Think of solid nutrition as the foundation for a healthy body. Build on that with weightlifting, isolation exercises, and good hydration for full muscle-building potential.
Finally, have patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Schwarzenegger.