If you’re serious about running, you’re probably always looking for ways to boost your performance, endurance and overall health.
Like with virtually any other athletic pursuit, the supplement market is flooded with products that are geared specifically toward runners.
If you’re a runner looking to add a supplemental stack to your already well-balanced diet, then this is the article for you.
Venturing into a nutrition and health store without any prior research is a great way to spend huge amounts of money on supplements that do little or nothing to improve your capabilities as a runner.
In fact, some supplements may cause more harm than good. You’re sure to see big, exciting claims about things like acai, beta carotene and resveratrol, for instance, but try reading the fine print on those bottles. Those bold claims simply aren’t borne out by cold, hard facts.
Since you’re reading this article, it’s safe to say you’ve heard of the internet. The internet is very handy when it comes to research; not always though. There are thousands of supplement sites out there, so we’ve narrowed it down to a few to browse before you buy.
Nutrition is key, but supplements help
With so many products out there and so many promises and claims to wade through, how are you supposed to zero in on supplements that will actually make a positive difference?
Not surprisingly, keeping it simple is the best rule of thumb.
If you care enough about your health to run on a regular basis, chances are you’re also conscientious about what you eat. Therefore, you almost certainly get enough of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you need to be the best runner you can be. Those are the perks of having proper nutrition in your life.
However, still, the modern world is hard to keep up with. You have responsibilities, and enough things to keep your busy without having to think about your meals 24/7. This is completely reasonable and its a big reason why the supplement industry is so huge.
We have done some research of our own, specifically for running enthusiasts and have assembled 5 essential supplements that will benefit runners most.
Essential Supplements for Runners
Keep in mind, these 5 supplements are not anything exotic or fancy! They are very common, natural, found in many foods and safe to take.
This one’s particularly relevant to female runners, who are far more likely to suffer from iron deficiency than their male counterparts.
Prior to menopause, women lose blood every month. Indeed, menstruation ups the odds of being anemic, which means you don’t have enough iron stored in your blood. However, some studies suggest that runners in general may be more susceptible to iron deficiency. It’s unclear why this happens, but it may have something to do with sweating excessively for extended periods of time.
Iron deficiency is bad news for anyone. Most people become aware of it when they feel unusually fatigued on an ongoing basis. Fatigue can wreak havoc on a runner’s ability to keep going and can make even short, simple runs feel like long, difficult ones. Unless you have an iron deficiency, however, supplementing with iron is unlikely to bring many benefits to the table. In fact, excessive iron buildup in the body can destroy tissues and cells.
With all of that being said, if your iron levels are even a little low, you should consider taking an iron supplement. Ferrous sulfate is your best bet. Men should aim for 10 grams per day, and women should aim for 15. Because iron plays a crucial role in delivering oxygen to the muscles, it is believed to help improve VO2max, which can, in turn, boost performance.
As for how and when to take iron supplements, that’s best left to your doctor, so schedule and appointment and get advice tailored to suit your needs.
Like iron supplementation, calcium supplementation is a bit of a mixed bag for anyone, and runners are no exception. Most people understand the correlation between calcium and bone density.
Low calcium levels can lead to osteoporosis, and osteoporosis can spell the end of your running days for good. Therefore, this isn’t something to be taken lightly.
However, the vast majority of people get more than enough calcium in their diets. What’s more is that studies suggest that calcium supplementation may increase your risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks.
Although you’re unlikely to need calcium supplements, chances are good that you could benefit from vitamin D supplements. According to a 2008 study by the Dallas-based Cooper Clinic, 75 percent of runners have vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from food, so a more practical way to keep bones strong and to ward off stress fractures from running may be to add vitamin D supplements into the mix.
If you choose to do so, stick with the D3 variety, which is the natural form of the vitamin, and don’t exceed 4,000 IU, or 100 micrograms, per day.
As one of the only “legal” performance enhancers out there, caffeine is a mainstay among athletes of all stripes. In fact, more than two-thirds of Olympic athletes use it to gain the sharpest competitive edge they can muster. The benefits of caffeine are, indeed, considerable, so it’s easy to see why so many world-class athletes rely on it. In addition to enhancing mental acuity and alertness, boosting the body’s ability to convert fat into usable energy and bolstering coordination and reaction time, caffeine helps to reduce the perception of effort, which makes running feel “easier.”
Interestingly enough, caffeine may also aid in post-running recovery. However, that’s only true when it’s used in conjunction with carbohydrates. Studies have shown that having a drink containing caffeine and carbs following a workout improves your body’s ability to rebuild glycogen stores by a whopping 66 percent.
Like many people, you may have avoided caffeine due to concerns about its diuretic effects. However, exercise actually counteracts those effects, so you can kick concerns about water-electrolyte imbalances, hyperthermia and reduced heat tolerance to the curb.
Regardless of how it is consumed, caffeine is absorbed quickly, and its effects last for hours. Therefore, you should take it immediately before or even during a run. As for dosage, the recommended intake per day is roughly 550 milligrams, which is equal to about five cups of coffee.
Another rule of thumb is to take no more than five milligrams per 2.3 pounds of body weight per day. As far as how you take it, that’s entirely up to you. As mentioned previously, however, drinks containing both caffeine and carbohydrates seem to work best.
2. Whey Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient, and none of us would survive without it. It accounts for about 17 percent of the average person’s body weight, and it plays a crucial role in the body regulation and maintenance processes like fluid balance, hydration and cellular repair.
The recommended daily allowance of protein equals about 0.36 grams for every pound of weight. Most people easily take in more than enough protein in a given day, but runners have more demanding nutritional needs. They can benefit enormously from supplementing with protein, and whey protein is the preferred way to go because it’s absorbed more quickly and easily and doesn’t contain excessive amounts of calories.
With those basics out of the way, how can whey protein boost your abilities as a runner? Its main draw is that it replaces the proteins you break down while running and helps to build lean tissue, which aids in overall muscle recovery. If your protein stores run low, you become more susceptible to injury. You may also become fatigued too easily and can even lose muscle mass.
For most runners, supplementing with about 40 to 60 grams of whey protein per day is sufficient.
As for when to take a protein supplement, doing so prior to a run helps to jump-start the muscle recovery process, which is nice. However, taking it after a workout is ideal. Mix the powder with a smoothie or other food or drink, and take it within 40 minutes of finishing a run.
You’re probably already exclaiming, “Wait – creatine is for bodybuilders! I’m a runner!”
Not so fast. This amino acid delivers crucial benefits to all athletes. Its main claim to fame is its ability to boost muscle recovery and growth. When used by those who engage in cardio-intensive workouts like running, it counteracts the negative aspects of such endeavors, including muscle inflammation and cellular damage.
When consumed daily, creatine supplements may reduce submaximal VO2 levels, which allows your body to use oxygen more efficiently while exercising. It may also help you run more efficiently in hot conditions by improving your body’s sweat rate, heart rate and the way in which water is distributed. [Read More]
Most athletes take creatine in two stages. During the “loading phase,” which typically lasts five days and is designed to establish optimal creatine levels, an average-sized man should aim for about 20 grams per day. During the maintenance phase, about five grams per day should suffice.
Creatine tends to be more effective when taken in conjunction with insulin spikes, so sip a little juice at the same time. The best time to do so is immediately following a workout.
As you can see, you can almost certainly go without the vast majority of supplements that line the shelves of your local health and nutrition store. Still, the supplements outlined above have very compelling benefits for runners, and they are certainly worth investigating.
Prior to adding any of them into the mix, though, check in with your doctor. His or her advice is sure to be vastly superior to anything you’ll run across on the Internet.