Quick Health Scoop
- Four key nutrients—vitamin B12, CoQ10, magnesium, and iron—play major roles in converting the food you eat into usable energy.
- Vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal origin.
- CoQ10 helps turn carbohydrates and fats into energy your body can use
- Magnesium is an essential mineral that is needed to convert carbohydrates and fats into energy your body can use.
- A lack of iron in your diet can lead to tiredness and fatigue.
- While caffeine can help you stay alert and focused on a task for a short period; this chemical will not provide your body with the energy that it needs to fuel your body’s processes.
Energy is all around us. Every moment, it’s being turned and churned from one form into another, including in your body. Making sure you have enough energy to get through the day starts by eating a nutrient dense, well-balanced diet with a good assortment of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats (the kind found in seafood, not the saturated kind), and whole grains. While caffeine, a chemical found naturally in coffee and tea, will help you stay alert and focused for a short period of time, it will not give you the energy your body needs to get through your day. For that, your body requires certain nutrients to convert the food you eat into energy your body can use. When people talk about “vitamins for energy,” they’re really referring to something much larger than a quick caffeine fix. Four key nutrients—vitamin B12, CoQ10, magnesium, and iron—play major roles in converting the food you eat into usable energy. It’s important to get the right amount of these nutrients from food or supplements to keep your body running.
Why You Need Vitamin B12 for Energy
Vitamin B12, like some of the other B vitamins, is an important player in “energy metabolism” in that it helps break down the food you eat into energy your body can use all day long. Vitamin B12 acts as a cofactor (required by enzymes to kickstart a reaction) in reactions converting food, especially fats and protein, into usable energy to fuel various processes in your body. Because of this, vitamin B12 is often marketed as one of the best vitamins for energy.
While vitamin B12 is needed in converting food into energy, it’s also crucial to get enough of this essential vitamin for nerves to work properly and for normal nervous system function, including brain function, where vitamin B12 is needed to make certain neurotransmitters like serotonin.1 Vitamin B12 is also a cofactor in making SAM-e, a compound that supports a healthy mood.
Vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal origin. Good food sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Brie cheese
Certain people, such as strict vegetarians or vegans, older adults, and those who take medications for reducing stomach acid production, are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Because vitamin B12 is only present in foods of animal origin, those who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets should take a daily vitamin B12 supplement. Older individuals and those on medications to reduce stomach acid production may not absorb enough vitamin B12 from food in the GI tract, as an acidic environment is needed to release vitamin B12 from food to be absorbed.2 Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include tingling and numbness of the hands and feet, nerve damage, and memory loss.3 Since vitamin B12 found in supplements is not bound to food; it’s recommended that older adults and those on certain medications take a daily vitamin B12 supplement.3
Read More: A Guide to the B Vitamins
CoQ10 Helps Turn Carbohydrates & Fats Into Energy Your Body Can Use
If you’re big into researching for vitamins to take for energy, you’ve probably heard of CoQ10. While it’s often touted as one of the best vitamins for energy, CoQ10 is not actually a vitamin but a vitamin-like compound that can be made in the body and obtained from food and supplements.
CoQ10 is a coenzyme (hence the “Co”)—molecules essential to kickstarting a biological process in the body. CoQ10 – which is present in nearly every cell in your body – is needed to convert carbohydrates and fats into energy in the form of ATP (energy your cells can use) in your cells’ mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of each cell). ATP is then used to power muscles in the hardest-working parts of your body, such as in the heart, liver, and kidneys.
The best food sources of CoQ10 are beef, chicken, and fish. CoQ10 can also be found in:
- Canola and soybean oils
Although CoQ10 can be synthesized in the body, certain factors such as older age, existing health conditions, and the use of statin drugs may deplete your body’s supply of this important compound. Certain cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) are known to inhibit the body’s production of CoQ10, which is why supplementation is often suggested for statin users to help replenish CoQ10 levels.4 Adding a CoQ10 supplement to your daily routine can be a great way to replenish CoQ10 levels to support cellular energy production.
Magnesium is an Essential Mineral That is Needed to Convert Carbohydrates & Fats Into Energy Your Body Can Use
The essential mineral magnesium is required for over 300 biological reactions in the body, including energy production from carbohydrates and fats into ATP (energy the body can use). Many of the enzymes involved in energy production are dependent on magnesium. Magnesium also plays a major structural role in bones and teeth and helps your muscles relax.
New research of US population data shows that almost 55% of Americans are not consuming enough magnesium through food alone.5 Good food sources of magnesium include:
- Black beans
- Peanut butter
- Baked potatoes with the skin
- Cooked brown rice
If you don’t consume a lot of the foods above, you may want to add a magnesium supplement to your daily routine. Magnesium is available in various forms as a supplement, including magnesium oxide, citrate, and glycinate. Each form has varying levels of absorption. For example, magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate are more highly absorbable than magnesium oxide.6-7 Check the Supplement Facts panel on your magnesium supplement to see which form of magnesium your supplement offers.
Lack of Iron in Your Diet Can Lead to Tiredness and Fatigue
Iron is a key nutrient and essential mineral needed for many biological processes, including energy production. Like magnesium, certain enzymes involved in energy metabolism are dependent on iron to convert food into energy as ATP. Iron is also required to make healthy red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body.
Iron-deficiency anemia—one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world—occurs when not enough iron is present to support normal red blood cell production. About 6% of the US population has iron-deficiency anemia. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia may include tiredness and fatigue, rapid heart rate, and rapid breathing after exercising. In iron-deficiency anemia, the lack of iron in red blood cells decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to muscles and impairs energy production in muscle cells, leading to fatigue.8
Iron is found in both animal- and plant-based foods (as heme and nonheme iron). Heme iron from animal sources is more readily absorbed than nonheme iron; therefore vegetarians and vegans need to eat a variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, iron-fortified cereal, and green leafy vegetables to get the right amount of iron per day.
Some good food sources of iron include:
- Raisin bran cereal
- White beans
Many stand-alone iron supplements are formulated to address iron deficiency anemia, so talk to your healthcare provider before adding an iron supplement to your routine. If you are not at risk for iron deficiency, most multivitamins formulated with iron contain the recommended amount needed daily.
Turning to Vitamins for Energy Instead of Caffeine
There’s nothing wrong with a quick caffeine fix. While this chemical affects everyone differently, many of us enjoy a cup or two (or several) cups of coffee or tea throughout the day. Caffeine works as a stimulant to your nervous system—including your brain—helping you stay alert and focused for a short period of time.9 But how much is too much caffeine?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cited up to 400 mg caffeine/day (about 4 cups of coffee) is generally not associated with negative side effects in healthy people.10 However, some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and may experience side effects like insomnia, jitters, fast heart rate, upset stomach, and nausea.10 While caffeine can help you stay alert and focused on a task for a short period; this chemical will not provide your body with the energy that it needs to fuel your body’s processes and keep you going. For that, you need to eat well and make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to help your body convert the food you eat into usable energy (in the form of ATP) every day.
It all starts with what you eat, but we know it’s hard to focus on a healthy diet every day. Supplements, including a daily multivitamin, can help bridge any nutrient gaps that may be missing from your diet. If your diet lacks any of the nutrients and vitamins for energy described above, talk to your healthcare provider about adding a new supplement to your daily routine.
So, next time you need a little pick me up, enjoy your cup of coffee or tea and carve out some me-time. But also remember that maintaining a balanced diet and supplementing any nutrients that are lacking will help keep you healthy and thriving every day.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Consult your health care provider for more information.
1 Scalabrino G. The multi-faceted basis of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) neurotrophism in adult central nervous system: Lessons learned from its deficiency. Prog Neurobiol. 2009;88(3):203-220.
2 Kozyraki R, Cases O. Vitamin B12 absorption: mammalian physiology and acquired and inherited disorders. Biochimie. 2013;95(5):1002-1007
3 Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Vitamin B12. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 1998:306-356.
4 Potgieter M, Pretorius E, Pepper MS. Primary and secondary coenzyme Q10 deficiency: the role of therapeutic supplementation. Nutr Rev. 2013;71(3):180-8.
5 Blumberg, J. B., et al. "Impact of Frequency of Multi-Vitamin/Multi-Mineral Supplement Intake on Nutritional Adequacy and Nutrient Deficiencies in U.S. Adults." Nutrients 9.8 (2017).
6 Walker AF, Marakis G, Christie S, Byng M. Mg citrate found more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomized, double-blind study. Mag Res 2003;16:183-91.
7 Ranade VV, Somberg JC. Bioavailability and pharmacokinetics of magnesium after administration of magnesium salts to humans. Am J Ther 2001;8:345-57.
8 Beard JL. Iron biology in immune function, muscle metabolism and neuronal functioning. J Nutr. 2001;131(2S-2):568S-579S; discussion 580S.
9 Rogers PJ. Caffeine, mood and mental performance in everyday life. Nutr Bull 2007.32:84–89.
10 US Food & Drug Administration. “Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?” Accessed on 14 October 2020. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much.