Running can take a lot out of you and put a lot of strain on your body. Your body requires a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for endurance, energy, strength, performance, and recovery. To help your body be at its best when you run, and to help it recover afterwards, proper nutrition and hydration are key.
The bulk of your nutrients should always come from a healthy, well-rounded diet, but supplements can also play a role in correcting deficiencies and supporting optimal health and performance. With the right diet and supplement routine, you can help ensure that your body has what it needs to keep going stride after stride and mile after mile.
Do runners really need supplements?
Do you really need to take supplements if you are a runner?
This is a common question, and you aren’t alone if you have some confusion about it. There is a lot of buzz out there surrounding supplements for athletes, gym goers, and runners. It can be difficult to sort through all the advice, advertising, and opinions to know what’s just a marketing gimmick, what really works, and what is actually useful or effective.
So here’s the bottom line: supplements aren’t necessary for all runners. You don’t have to take supplements to be at your best, or to perform and recover well. Supplements should really only be used when you can’t get enough of certain nutrients from your diet and you need to fill in the gaps.
The majority of your nutrients always should come from your diet, and from healthy, whole foods. Foods like leafy greens, colorful vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, berries, and meat all provide a wide range of nutrients that fuel your body and help keep you strong and healthy.
But it can be hard to have a perfectly balanced diet all of the time, especially when you are putting a lot of strain on your body and it’s requiring a lot of nutritional support (as is the case when you are a runner).
And that is where supplements can come in handy. Supplements can help to fill in the gaps, and boost levels of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that you might find yourself in need of.
But more is not better when it comes to taking supplements. It is important to do your best to eat a nutrient-dense diet and only use supplements as what they should be: a way to supplement, support, and enhance your diet, not replace it.
Determining what supplements are right for you
Every individual is different, and their nutritional needs are different as well. Your age, gender, body type, fitness level, activity level, and so much more can influence what your body needs more of, and what will help it to function at its best.
Running is one of the things that puts specific demands on the body, causing runners to have some unique nutritional requirements. So if you are a runner, you will want to pay particular attention to your nutrition and diet.
Work with a doctor or nutritionist to create a plan that is right for your body and your lifestyle. They can help you to test your levels of specific nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and more. This can help you find out what you might be low in, and what could use some support. Discuss your dietary habits with your healthcare provider and ask for guidance on what, if any, supplements might be helpful for you and your own health goals.
Working with a doctor or nutritionist ensures that the way you eat and supplement is helping you be the best runner you can be.
What are the best supplements for runners?
There are a wide variety of supplements that you might choose to take if you are a runner. The list below includes some common, research-backed supplements that have been shown to be beneficial for endurance, recovery, strength, and overall health.
Just remember that supplements for runners shouldn’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach. What’s right for one person might not be right for another. Everyone is different, and you should always consult with a doctor before beginning any new supplements.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D does a wide range of important things in the body, but unfortunately many of us don’t have enough of it. Everyone, runners included, should be taking steps to ensure that they have adequate vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D plays important roles in things like bone health, immunity, inflammation, and more. It is thought to help with recovery and performance, helping runners to perform better and prevent injuries.1
Vitamin D deficiency is common among athletes, which can be quite dangerous for many reasons. It can put you at risk for things like stress fractures, illness, and issues with recovery. Plus, it may impair your athletic performance.2
Ever had stomach problems before, during, or after long runs? You aren’t alone! A recent study reported that 43% of marathoners had digestive symptoms before their races, and 27% had symptoms during the race.3
But you don’t have to suffer through it—there is hope. Probiotics can help to ease gastrointestinal issues that may be getting in your way.4 If you keep having to bench yourself due to GI issues, a probiotic may be a good choice to get your digestive system back on track.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega 3s are a healthy type of fat found in things like fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. They are known for their inflammation-fighting properties, and it turns out that they can have a lot of benefits for athletes and runners.
There have been several studies suggesting that omega 3s can be beneficial for runners in helping to improve endurance, reduce soreness, enhance recovery, and stimulate immune function.5
Protein is a very popular supplement when it comes to fitness enthusiasts. This makes sense, because intense exercise like running works our muscles very hard, and there is a lot of repair and rebuilding that is required afterwards. And that is something that protein can help with.
Research supports the idea that protein intake can play a role in optimizing performance and supporting recovery.6
There are a variety of ways to get your protein needs met, from healthy food sources of protein to protein bars, powders, and more. Whey protein is a common type of protein used as a supplement, with many research-backed benefits for runners and other athletes.7
Our need for the mineral magnesium goes up the more physically active we are. Without it, we can have reduced aerobic capacity and fitness performance. Many runners may benefit from supplementing with additional magnesium if they are low in it.
Studies suggest magnesium may help runners in numerous ways, including aiding muscle performance, boosting energy production, preventing lactic acid build up, maintaining adequate blood sugar levels, and more.8 9
The mineral zinc is involved in a wide range of processes in the body, including those that help us metabolize energy, make muscle, and regenerate muscle tissue.10 Zinc helps the body do a lot of the things it needs to do when we exercise, and our bodies tend to use a lot of it when we do activities like running.
Many athletes have low zinc levels, which is problematic. If you are deficient, it can get in the way of optimal sports performance and overall health.10 11 As with many other supplements, we don’t need extra zinc; we just need to make sure we have an adequate amount.
7. B vitamins
B vitamins are essential for producing energy in the body, and they are also used to produce and repair cells. When we are exercising a lot (and putting stress on the body), we tend to need more B vitamins. And oftentimes we might not have enough of them to go around.12
Research shows that active people who are low in B vitamins may perform worse during exercise, and they may not recover as well afterwards.12 So upping your B-vitamin intake with a supplement may be worth your while if you are low in these important nutrients.
Caffeine is a well-known, well-used, well-studied performance-enhancing substance.
When used safely and in moderation, caffeine can be useful to stimulate your body and mind to be more effective during a workout. Just be cautious of too much; it is safe as a regular part of your diet, but don’t go crazy with caffeine intake. Moderate amounts (3-6 mg/kg of body weight) are generally recommended for performance-enhancing use.13
Other supplements for runners:
Other common supplements that are popular for runners include L-glutamine, L-carnitine, electrolytes, nitrates (beets/beetroot juice), CoQ10, and more. Speak with your doctor or nutritionist to find out what might be best for you.
Choosing a high-quality supplement
Not all supplements are created equal. There are so many different brands out there to choose from, but unfortunately many are very low quality and can be ineffective, or even harmful.
Make sure to do your research and find brands you can trust. Read labels and inquire about how they source their nutrients and how they make their supplements. Look for brands that don’t use unhealthy fillers and that use nutrients from healthy sources like whole plant foods.
The best supplements for runners can’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach. While vitamin D, probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and caffeine are all commonly used and often effective, everyone is different and has unique nutritional needs.
Instead of buying a bunch of supplements and throwing them into your body at random, you’ll want to take time to identify what is right for your unique body, and only use supplements that will boost your health and support optimal nutrition for your lifestyle.
And remember, make sure your diet does the bulk of the work of fueling your body with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. More is not better, so avoid excessive supplementation.
Finally, remember to always consult with a medical provider to assess your diet and discuss possible supplements to support you.
About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
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