Supplements for Running
At some point in time, most runners learn the importance of nutrition. It often happens after a long weekend of splurging on foods that contain more fat than healthy nutrients. Lethargic and bloated, they head out for a run only to discover that they don’t have the energy or mental focus for a productive training session. Disappointed in their performance, they get back to healthy eating and perhaps add a supplement or two to their daily regime.
It isn’t necessary to go through that learning process to understand the importance of providing balanced nutrition to an athlete’s body. In order to create the energy, stamina and mental focus that a runner needs for athletic performance, a consistent and adequate supply of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients is required. Without proper nutrition, even the most talented runners will struggle to improve their performance and reach athletic goals.
The Need For Balanced Nutrition
Unfortunately, most runners cannot consume a perfectly balanced diet every day. Even those who place significant emphasis on feeding their bodies nutritious meals and snacks can suffer from nutritional deficiencies. In many cases, runners don’t even realize that they suffer from these deficiencies or that nutritional supplements could significantly improve their performance.
Nutritional deficiencies are important because they hold runners back from beating their personal bests and smashing their competitor’s bests. That is why most runners take at least one supplement. Some supplements are intended to meet basic nutritional needs of the human body while others are intended to improve some aspect of physical performance. In most cases, runners benefit from taking a combination of basic nutritional supplements and performance-enhancing supplements.
How Can Supplements Help
There are some healthy, natural supplements that can help runners feel and look their best during training and on race day. These supplements are taken consistently over time and work best when they are combined with nutritional supplements and a well-balanced diet rich in whole, natural foods. Following are 10 of the best supplements for runners, including nutritional and performance-enhancing options.
Top 10 Supplements for Running
A multivitamin is a pill or gummy that contains a mix of basic vitamins and minerals needed for overall health and wellness. These supplements are not specific to the needs of runners, but they are essential for anyone suffering from nutritional deficits. They are designed to cover inadequacies in a person’s diet, reducing the chances that a nutritional deficiency will occur.
How It Works:
When runners take a multivitamin on a daily basis, they receive a supplemental supply of vitamins and minerals each day. When their daily diet fails to meet some nutritional need of the body, the supplement provides what is needed to sustain energy and efficient functioning.
Runners should select a high-quality multivitamin designed for people with active lifestyles. The best supplements provide at or close to 100% of the daily recommended value for most included vitamins and minerals. Follow package instructions for dosage requirements.
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9. Fish Oil/Omega 3
Fish oil contains two forms of healthy fat that are essential to human health, EPA and DHA. According to the University of Maryland’s Medical Center, there are many benefits to consuming omega-3 fatty acids.
How It Works:
The human body cannot naturally create omega-3 fatty acids, so humans must keep their stores high through diet and supplementation. These fats are digested and spread throughout the body to assist cells as needed.
Runners should try to consume as much omega-3 fatty acids as possible through their daily diets. The American Heart Association recommendation for omega-3 consumption is currently two 3.5 ounce servings of fatty fish per week. This is a minimum recommendation, and runners may benefit from consuming fish three times per week or consuming a high-quality fish oil supplement daily.
Calcium is a chemical element that all living creatures need to remain strong and mobile. This is an essential nutrient that helps muscles function properly without injury and keeps bone strong and resistant to fractures and breaks. It also helps nerve functioning as messages are passed between the brain and the rest of the body.
How It Works:
Runners put their bodies through incredible stress when training to improve personal bests or prepare for races. Calcium-rich foods and supplements ensure that the bones and muscles remain strong and functional, reducing the risk of stress fracture and other injuries common to runners.
Runners should consume a 1,000 mg calcium supplement daily with food. The best results come from taking 500 mg twice daily. Runners over the age of 50 may need to take 1,200 mg to compensate for the natural weakening of bones that comes with age.
7. Co Enzyme Q10
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., CoQ10 is an antioxidant found readily in the heart muscles and throughout the human body. It is essential to the production of energy within cells and is believed to keep the heart and other vital organs fully functional and healthy.
How It Works:
The benefits connected to CoQ10 likely come from the antioxidant’s ability to generate energy for human cells and its critical role in proper oxygen utilization throughout the body. The more energy required by an organ, the more CoQ10 found naturally in cells making up the organ. Runners consume this supplement to promote heart health, keep their bodies energetic and protect their overall health and well being.
The best CoQ10 supplements are in ubiquinol form and offer at least 90 mg per serving. Runners should take one dose daily unless otherwise directed by a doctor.
6. Vitamin B
There are eight B vitamins, and they are all essential to overall health and athletic performance. Though each of these vitamins have their own benefits for athletes, as a group, they are important for the healthy breakdown of food and overall health of the hair, eyes, skin and liver.
How It Works:
When the body has adequate amounts of all B vitamins, it will efficiently turn carbohydrates into glucose to increase and sustain energy levels. These vitamins also help improve breakdown of protein, and runners depend on healthy protein absorption in order to support their muscles and joints.
Many runners who consume a balanced diet and take a multivitamin will maintain a healthy balance of all B vitamins in their system. Those concerned about deficiencies for specific B vitamins can take daily supplements to ensure adequate consumption.
5. Conjugated Linoleic Acid
CLA is a variation of the omega-6 fatty acid known as linoleic acid. It is consumed naturally through meats and dairy products, so vegetarian and vegan runners are at heightened risk of suffering from CLA deficiency. Many athletes and bodybuilders take daily CLA supplements because it is believed to help with fat burning and muscle building.
How It Works:
According to Dr. Oz, CLA is a leading natural fat burner because it helps stop the growth of fat cells and increases the rate of fat burning when adequate amounts are consumed consistently. While scientists are not certain why this healthy trans fat helps the body burn fat quickly, it has become a leading supplement for runners interested in maintaining a healthy body weight.
Runners should take a 1-ounce CLA supplement three times a day with food for best results. Consumption of grass-fed beef and eggs is also recommended.
4. Whey Protein
Whey is a liquid substance that is created naturally through the cheese-making process. The unprocessed liquid is known as whey concentrate and is rich in protein as well as lactose. The concentrate is further processed to isolate the protein, creating whey protein isolate. Many runners use whey protein supplements as after-workout boosts to help with protein synthesis.
How It Works:
Whey protein is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to muscles, so it is considered the best supplement for tired muscles. When consumed on a routine basis, these supplements can increase overall protein consumption to help with lean muscle growth and enhanced muscle strengthening. It can also help muscles recover from the stress of intense workouts, including long runs.
Most runners consume why protein shakes, but there are also some protein pills now on the market. Some runners also enjoy baking or cooking with whey protein powder.
L-carnitine is a natural substance essential to the processing of fat into energy to sustain bodily activities. According to the Medical Center at the University of Maryland, there is scientific evidence that l-carnitine supplements are useful in the treatment of various heart conditions and hardening of arteries throughout the body. Many runners supplement with l-carnitine because it is believed to help with physical performance and may help with weight loss.
How It Works:
The human body creates this substance in the liver and kidneys by synthesizing two amino acids, lysine and methionine. The substance is then transported throughout the body to energize and support cells. Adequate consumption of essential amino acids is typically enough to ensure the body creates and distributes enough l-carnitine.
Runners may take up to 4 grams of l-carnitine daily to help maintain a healthy body weight and build lean muscle.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant obtained primarily from cocoa beans, tea leaves and coffee beans. This is one of the most common supplements taken by runners interested in improving their performance during training sessions and races. Not only does it provide energy for all cells throughout the body, but it helps with mental focus as well.
How It Works:
Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, giving the human body a quick jolt of energy that helps runners push through aggressive training sessions.
Runners can take caffeine pills according to package instructions or use energy drinks, coffee, tea and powdered water enhancements prior to intense workouts. There are many different products on the market to help runners supplement with caffeine when it is needed during long races or training runs.
Creatine is produced in the body through the metabolism of protein. It is distributed throughout the body to energize cells and help muscles perform efficiently. Men’s Health Magazine identifies creatine as a great supplement for runners and other athletes interested in gaining lean muscle mass and sustaining healthy, strong muscles.
How It Works:
The more energy a runner has, the harder they can push their bodies during training sessions or races. The harder the body is pushed, the faster the runner will progress toward better race times and other physical fitness goals. Runners may also use creatine supplements before weightlifting workouts if they are interested in building lean muscle mass and improving overall strength.
Creatine is typically purchased in powder form and mixed with water prior to workouts where increased energy is desired. Some protein powders also contain added creatine and make excellent pre-workout shakes.
Each runner has different nutritional and performance needs and will require a different combination of supplements. Those uncertain about their needs should keep a food log for at least a week or two. This will reveal potential nutrient deficiencies. Runners should also consider their lifestyle, since vegetarians or vegans may have different nutritional deficiencies than those who eat meat.
All runners can benefit from some performance-enhancing supplements, but these are best chosen according to each runner’s needs. Someone trying to gain lean muscle mass may choose different supplements than a runner primarily interested in improving running time without concern for muscle mass.
When selecting supplements, quality is critically important. The best supplements for runners will include the right quantity of essential ingredients without unnecessary filler ingredients. The way that some supplements are processed is also important, since some vitamins, minerals and enzymes are lost when processed excessively or at high temperatures.