Niacin or vitamin B3, is one of the B-complex vitamins that are popular as sports supplements. When taken in the proper dosage, niacin allows energy to enter. the muscles, which enhances performance. Niacin comes in three forms: nicotinic acid, niacinamide and nicotinamide. It can be bought over the counter or be prescribed by a physician if the person is deficient.
What Is Niacin?
Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that’s absorbed through the small intestine and stored in the liver. Excess niacin is excreted through the urine. It is a coenzyme, which means it helps enzymes break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Niacin is an important component of sports nutrition because it increases circulation and lowers levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that forms plaque in the arteries and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Studies show that if it’s taken with statins, or cholesterol lowering drugs niacin can increase the level of the “good” or HDL cholesterol. This cholesterol removes the LDL from the blood stream and takes it to the liver. Like other B vitamins, niacin promotes the health of the nervous system, which also improves athletic performance. It’s also important in the synthesis of stress hormones.
Niacin in the Diet
Most foods have small amounts of niacin, though it is more abundant in lean meats, fish, and poultry. These foods are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts into niacin. An athlete who ingests too much starch and sugar will deplete their stores of niacin. Antibiotics also lower the levels of this vitamin. A true niacin deficiency, known as pellagra, is rare in developed countries.
As with other sports supplements, too much niacin can lead to uncomfortable side effects. In the case of niacin the person experiences tingling and itching and the notorious flushing of the skin known as the niacin flush. A headache may also accompany too much niacin as the lumen in the blood vessels in the head are enlarged. Liver damage can also occur. Niacinamide, a synthetic type of niacin, brings the benefits of the supplement without the side effects.
Niacin is taken in doses called niacin equivalents. Nutritionists suggests that men take about 16 milligrams/NE per day, while women take 14 milligrams/NE per day. Since an athlete’s stores of niacin can be expended by the intense activity they engage in, experts in sports nutrition recommend that they increase their intake of niacin by about 10 percent.
Taking too much niacin also prevents the release of fatty acids from fat tissue. This causes the muscles to rely on glycogen for energy, which reduces their performance.