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Should Athletes Take A B12 Energy Shot?

Are you wondering if a B12 energy shot will give you an edge at your next hard practice or competition? 

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin widely available in checkout lines and taken as a B12 energy shot. Easy accessibility and slick marketing may trigger your impulse purchase; especially if you’re feeling lethargic or low energy. 

But are they worth the hype? What is the benefit and what are you actually purchasing? Most importantly, what is the cause of your fatigue?

As a sports dietitian: I’m here to guide you!

Let’s take a closer look at the role of vitamin B12, food sources, who may be at risk for deficiency, and how to supplement safely.

Role of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has a lot of important jobs for anyone but especially for athletes!

Vitamin B12 is a B-complex vitamin essential for:

  • making new cells
  • repairing damaged cells
  • proper nerve function
  • brain function (1)

While it does not provide energy to the body directly; it is responsible for making red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body and releasing energy from the foods we eat to fuel cells with energy. (2) {Kind of a big deal for athletes, I would say!?}

Athletes do have higher needs for certain vitamins and minerals, but research is unclear if athletes have an increased need for vitamin B12. (1) Believe it or not, vitamin B12 is often over-supplemented by athletes taking multivitamins…and reaching for energy drinks or a B12 energy shot during the day.

Reasons for increased needs in athletes:

  • stress related to physical demands (Yes, exercise is stress on the body!)
  • biological adaptations
  • increased turnover (athletes use more vitamins)
  • genetics
  • reduced absorption

Early detection of deficiency can be difficult to recognize because symptoms overlap with many other conditions and are normalized in athletes.

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • decreased appetite
  • joint pain
  • shortness of breath
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • MORE!

Late signs of deficiency can include anemia, neurological, and psychiatric symptoms. It is important to test to avoid irreversible damage. (3) (4)

The ‘Food First’ approach should be the first line of defense. Including foods high in vitamin B12 also has athlete-specific performance benefits.

Food Sources of Vitamin B12

  • meats
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • poultry
  • milk and milk products
  • eggs
  • cereal (fortified)
  • nutritional yeast (fortified)

Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods and fortified foods. 

Not every athlete has the same needs for any nutrient, including vitamin B12. 

Certain athlete populations may be at an increased risk and may need to supplement their diet after food intake analysis and regular testing. Let’s explore who might benefit from a B12 supplement. 

Athletes at Higher Risk

Vegetarian and vegan athletes who do not regularly consume fortified foods are at an increased risk for deficiency and should test levels regularly.

Aging athletes, especially those over the age of 60, are also at risk for deficiency with age-related atrophic gastritis, low stomach acid, and inadequate amount of a certain protein needed to absorb B12 (intrinsic factor).

Long-term use of certain medications such as metformin and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) also increases the risk of B12 deficiency. (3) (4)

Finally, those with reduced absorption such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, weight loss surgery, or intestinal surgery are at an increased risk.

These athletes would benefit most from consulting a sports dietitian, and regular testing, and may benefit from supplementation. Athlete Blood Test offers athlete-specific reference ranges and genetic performance biomarkers. This provides valuable insight, especially for the vegan or vegetarian athlete with a genetic tendency to inadequately process or absorb vitamin B12.

Not all supplements are created equal, and it is best to consult with a sports dietitian before taking a sports or nutritional supplement. Let’s discuss some supplement considerations.


Vitamin B12 can be easily supplemented with oral, sublingual (under the tongue), nasal sprays and gels, and topical forms. If you have a severe deficiency, you should talk to your doctor about therapeutic injections or prescription pills.

Methylcobalamin is the active form of vitamin B12 and is generally the preferred supplement form over cyanocobalamin. It does not have to be converted but also has a shorter shelf life and may be pricier than others.

Buyer Beware: Popular B12 energy shot products commonly purchased in the checkout line are indicated with a ‘Supplement Facts’ label. These products are not regulated for product accuracy, safety, and labeling. (5) Because of this – I do not recommend a B12 energy shot, especially if you do need to supplement vitamin B12.

Athletes should choose NSF Certified for Sport or Informed-Sport supplements. This helps ensure the efficacy and quality of the product being taken and minimizes the risk of positive drug testing for steroids and other banned substances. (No pass, no play!)

PRO TIP: It is also worth noting high doses of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) may destroy vitamin B12. Athletes should avoid taking vitamin C supplements, products with added high amounts of vitamin C, or fruit juice when taking vitamin B12. (6)

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in athlete performance, but a B12 energy shot should not be the first play of the game. Both vitamin deficiencies and over-supplementation can be detrimental to your training and health. Include high-quality food sources first, and consult a sports dietitian for guidance on regular micronutrient testing, diet evaluation, and appropriate supplementation. 

 Other reasons you’re feeling tired

As a dietitian, it is important to me that you consider all of the reasons that you’re feeling tired so that we can find the best possible solution for you and your performance in practice and competition. 

In my practice, some of the common reasons that my athletes are feeling tired include:

  • inadequate fueling (not enough food)
  • dehydration (not enough fluid and electrolytes)
  • lack of recovery
  • improper food type, timing, and amount

As you can see, nutrition has a lot of nuances–much like your sport does! Just like your coach can help you to improve your performance and strategy, a sports dietitian can help you navigate your nutrition with confidence.

Teenage athletes are especially vulnerable to not eating enough food because they are growing up while competing in multiple sports at the same time. Fatigue is often an accepted symptom – lack of sleep, growing, sports activities, and inadequate fueling.

Consult with a dietitian if you or your child are struggling with fatigue throughout the day or during your sports activities.

To take the B12 energy shot (or not)?

Vitamin B12 is important for your performance and daily needs can be met easily by consuming food alone, but some athletes are at an increased risk for deficiency. Supplementation may be needed but should not come from a B12 energy shot.

Every athlete has unique needs. Test your level regularly and consult with a sports dietitian to make sure you are fueling your individual needs for performance.


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Meet Jena Brown

Jena founded Victorem Performance Nutrition to help endurance athletes define and achieve their own brand of victory. Over the course of 15 years, she has partnered with hundreds of athletes by leveraging data-informed custom nutrition plans and non-restrictive nutritional counseling.

Order supplements through my Fullscript store.