Last Updated: Aug 26, 2019
Let's take a look at vitamin c supplements from a bodybuilding and weight training point of view, and how they help with the muscle building and/or fat burning process. Making sure you get sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals is important to any weight trainer or bodybuilder, but vitamin C definitely stands out from the crowd a little. Of course all vitamins are important for overall health, but vitamin C is regarded by many fitness experts as the most important of all the vitamins for weight trainers/bodybuilders specifically. Supplementing your diet with extra vitamin C daily may very well make sense to avoid missing out on having optimal levels in the body available at all times.
Before we get into the benefits of supplementing with vitamin C as a bodybuilder and weight trainer, let's get the basics out the way. Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid or L-ascorbate if you want to get real technical, is one of the most important vitamins your body needs to function properly. It's necessary for tissue growth and healing the body among many other important things, and it's also classed as an antioxidant, meaning that it helps to protect your cells, strengthen the immune system, and fight off disease.
You can find vitamin C in fruits like oranges, limes, lemons, bananas, pineapples (and many more) and in vegetables like red, yellow and green pepper/capsicum, broccoli, tomatos, sprouts, and more. Simpy put, it's important to get sufficient amounts of vitamin C in your diet no matter what your activity levels are, however the more intense activities you undertake (such as heavy weight training), the more important this vitamin becomes and you'll likely need more than the average non-lifting dude or dudette (but we'll get to that later).
The real thing is always best, but vitamin C supplements are worth considering for convenience
Of course you could and should increase your natural vitamin C intake daily from real foods such as fruit and vegetables, and that's the ideal way to go as you should be eating these in healthy amounts on a daily basis, but sometimes you can't always get the amount of vitamin C that you may need as a consistently heavy exerciser. Or perhaps you just want to guarantee you're getting enough, as excess vitamin C is not harmful and will simply be flushed out in urine. Here are some of the important benefits of vitamin C that you'll guarantee getting by supplementing with it daily:
1. Protects from free radical damage.
When you perform weight training sessions, free radicals are created in the body. Free radicals are basically metabolic waste products that attack the cells of your body. When free radicals attack your cells like this it is called "free radical damage". Because vitamin c is a strong antioxidant, it will fight these free radicals by either stopping their creation, or by reducing their effects.
2. Reduces cortisol production.
The stress of everyday life or weight lifting triggers a catabolic hormone known as cortisol. In terms of muscle building and fat loss, cortisol is bad for you and something you should try to avoid. Cortisol actually breaks down muscle tissue to use for energy, and tends to promote extra fat storage especially around your stomach. It also reduces the recovery of your muscles after your workouts, and interferes with nutrition transport to your muscles. So, I'm sure you can see why cortisol isn't your best friend, and one of the solid benefits of vitamin c is it reduces the production of this detrimental hormone in your body.
3. Strengthens the immune system.
Getting sick is the last thing a bodybuilder or avid weight lifter wants. You won't be able to train at your peak, or you may not be able to workout at all. Plus, getting sick just...well, sucks. Your diet will probably suffer too during your downtime, and losing a few pounds or kilos isn't going to help your muscular weight gain goals. That's where vitamin C can help, as it's one piece of the puzzle of a strong, healthy immune system.
4. Helps with muscle soreness.
It has been proven that when vitamin c supplements are taken near a workout (ie before and/or after), your muscles won't become as sore over the next few days after an intense workout. If I don't supplement with vitamin c, I notice that my muscles ache just that little bit more than if I had of taken that handy vitamin c supplement. Try it out for yourself and you may see the subtle yet noticeable difference that vitamin c supplements can have on muscle recovery and post workout discomfort/pain.
5. Increases iron absorption.
Vitamin c is proven to increase the absorption of iron in your body. If you must know, iron is used to bind oxygen to hemoglobin in your blood and is vital if you want to perform an intense weight training session with all your energy and maximum output, besides being necessary for general health and well-being.
6. Helps create natural steroid hormones.
You what? Last but not least of the benefits of vitamin c supplements is that it assists in the creation of natural anabolic steroids in the body. The amount of muscle that you are physically able to build relies on how much of this natural steroid hormone you have in your body, so the more the merrier. This is a strange correlation between vitamin c supplementation and muscle building, but do you research and you'll find this to be true.
Now you understand some of the important benefits of supplementing with vitamin C as a gym-goer, you may be wondering how much you should be taking. The daily recommended intake is only 60mg, at least from a random source I last checked, but that is for average everyday people who aren't giving their all in the gym week in week out like the warrior that you are.
As a bodybuilder/lifter you require a higher amount of vitamins and minerals because you're a nutcase who walks into your nearest fitness establishment every other day with a strange singular focus on your body's total destruction that day and systematically tearing down as much of your muscle tissue as possible. If you're doing that, as you should be if you want to get the best size and strength gains possible, 60ms a day isn't going to cut it. As consistent heavy lifters, a daily dosage of at least 200-1000mg, but no more than 2000-3000mg, is generally the recommendation.
Don't stress too much about taking too much of this great vitamin, as large amounts of vitamin C is proven to be safe as it is water-soluble, meaning that your body flushes out any excess amounts of the vitamin through urine or sweat. If you're taking a multivitamin supplement, then don't forget to take the amount of vitamin C in your multivitamin into account. However, don't be silly and go overboard, as too much of anything is never a good thing, and in theory, whilst real difficult, it is possible to overdose on it. Also, avoid taking your vitamin C supplement on an empty stomach, as this could lead to indigestion issues.
Also, split your total daily intake into 2-3 dosages over the day, as it's not recommended to take too much in one go. Limit your intake to 1000mg in the one go. As an example, if you aim to take 1500mg of vitamin C supplements a day then you would split it up into 3 doses of 500mg: 1 in the morning, 1 before or after your workout, and 1 after your workout as an example. The timing doesn't matter too much though.
Unlike choosing other weight lifting supplements, which you'll need to have your careful objective scientist hat on for to avoid the endless BS out there, picking a good vitamin C supplement is easy as it's hard to get this supplement wrong. How do you find a good vitamin C product? Choose a reliable, well-known brand, and make sure it does not have additives like sugar, soy, wheat, or any artificial BS etc. Nature's Way are a safe bet and well-regarded in the industry, as they produce great value yet high quality supplements. This one has 1000mg capsules, so taking one (or 2 if you really want to) of these per day should be all you need. Can't go wrong for the price:
Cheap and Good Quality; 'nuff said.
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)