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Your Body on B12

There's one vitamin that sports nutrition experts often recommend to runners: vitamin B12.

It can be a daunting task to identify which vitamins and minerals help your running performance. But there’s one vitamin that sports nutrition experts often recommend to runners: vitamin B12.

Cobalamin, or B12, is the most complex of all vitamins. B12 helps runners convert carbs into energy and is involved in the metabolism of practically every cell. B12 also plays a key role in red blood cell and DNA production, aiding in cognition, memory and nervous-system function. Without B12, your blood runs thin on red blood cells, energy production stalls and you’d probably have a hard time remembering how to get home.

Yet B12 supplements remain controversial. There are two theories: more B12 increases energy production, since endurance running breaks down cells and depletes vitamin B12, and more B12 means more red blood cells produced for oxygen delivery. Sparse and non-specific research to date has not defined exactly what supplementing with B12 can do, so proponents of supplements continue to assume B12 tablets or injections add more red blood cells and speed up recovery.

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) note you need four to six micrograms of B12 per day, and we store between two and five milligrams – 1,000 times more than our daily need – in our liver and muscles. If you eat meat or dairy products, you’d be hard pressed to miss the DRI. Several studies have confirmed marginal, if any, losses during activity, yet energy boost anecdotes commonly involve B12 alone or with its B-complex brothers.

There is no hard evidence of B12 supplementation benefits at levels several hundred times the DRIs. While deficiency causes anemia, anxiety, insomnia and lethargy, super-doses purport to cure all these while offering boundless energy. B12 is at times an unofficial treatment component for depression and for poor memory. Relatively safe at high doses, it’s difficult to convince B12 users the energy surge they feel, or a better ability to remember a running route, is the sole result of B12 alone or the placebo effect, much less whether these effects last beyond a few minutes of taking the vitamin.

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Apart from those physiologically needing B12 shots to compensate for poor intestinal absorption, deficiency is rare. Of animal origin, B12 is especially high in liver and shellfish. Scallops are a particularly good source-just 120 grams will give you a third of what you need in a day. But pay close attention to how you feel afterward: whether your scallops give you a boost is up to you to decide.

RECIPE

By Margaret Webb, author of Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms, winner of a 2009 National Culinary Book Award.

Sexy Scallops

My partner makes these scallops as a great wintertime appetizer. For a homey presentation, serve them right in the pan you cooked them in. Of course, you can also serve three or four scallops per person on individual plates, but the frying pan will also keep the scallops warm. Or, for a delicious carbo-load dinner, serve the scallops and sauce over pasta. (Note: the cream must be 18% or it will separate.)

Serves 3 to 4

3 tbsp                 olive oil

1 tbsp                 red pepper flakes

1 tbsp                 sea salt

12                      large scallops

3                        cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup              18% cream

1/4 cup              dry white wine

1 cup                 chopped cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the pan evenly with the red pepper flakes and sea salt. Sear the scallops on one side to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic; flip scallops over and brown the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cream and wine and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to reduce the liquid slightly. If the scallops are too large, halve them once they are cooked. Top with cilantro. Serve with thick slices of baguette for dipping in the sauce.

Nutritional info per serving:

Calories: 180

Fat: 14 g

Carbohydrates: 3.4 g

Protein: 8.7 g

Sodium: 620 mg

Fibre: 0 g