Nutrition Market

Supplements for Runners: Boost Performance and Recovery

Supplements for Runners: Boost Performance and Recovery

Introduction

Proper nutrition is the foundation for runners looking to optimize their performance, recovery, and overall health. While a well-rounded diet should always be the priority, supplements can play a valuable role in filling nutritional gaps and supporting running performance. Supplements for runners can provide targeted benefits, from enhancing endurance and reducing inflammation to supporting bone health and preventing deficiencies.

Research suggests that certain supplements, when used correctly, can give runners an edge in their training and racing. For example, studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased risk of stress fractures in runners due to its impact on bone density (Sayer, 2022). Other supplements like iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins have also been found to support critical functions for runners, such as oxygen transport, muscle function, energy production, and recovery.

However, with so many supplements available on the market, it can be challenging for runners to know which ones are truly beneficial and safe. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the most important supplements for runners based on scientific evidence, discuss their potential benefits and recommended dosages, and provide practical tips for incorporating them into your nutrition plan. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, understanding the role of supplements can help you take your performance and health to the next level.

Vitamin D: Supporting Bone Health and Immune Function

Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for runners, as it plays a vital role in supporting bone health, reducing inflammation, and boosting the immune system (Sayer, 2022). Research has shown that deficiencies in vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of stress fractures in runners due to its impact on bone density (Sayer, 2022). A study by Lappe et al. (2008) found that female navy recruits who supplemented with 2000 IU of vitamin D per day along with calcium had a 20% lower incidence of stress fractures compared to the control group.

The current daily value for vitamin D is set at 800 IU or 20μg for most adults, but individual needs may vary depending on factors such as sun exposure, skin pigmentation, and age (Sayer, 2022). Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is found in some animal foods like fatty fish and egg yolks, is absorbed more readily by the body than vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) from plant sources (Sayer, 2022). Runners who have limited sun exposure, follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or have darker skin may be at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency and could benefit from supplementation (Holick et al., 2011).

Recommended Dosage and Sources

The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 600-800 IU of vitamin D for adults, with an upper limit of 4000 IU per day (Ross et al., 2011). However, some experts suggest that higher doses may be necessary to achieve optimal blood levels of vitamin D, particularly for athletes (Larson-Meyer, 2013). It’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine your individual needs and appropriate dosage.

In addition to supplements, runners can obtain vitamin D through sun exposure (ultraviolet B radiation) and dietary sources such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk and cereals (Holick et al., 2011). However, it can be challenging to meet the recommended intake through diet alone, especially for those with limited sun exposure or dietary restrictions.

Iron: Maintaining Oxygen Transport and Energy Production

Iron is another essential nutrient for runners, as it plays a crucial role in forming haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia, characterised by symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath, which can significantly impact running performance (Sayer, 2022). Distance runners are particularly susceptible to iron deficiency due to factors such as foot-strike haemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells caused by the impact of running), increased iron losses through sweat, and inadequate dietary intake (Peeling et al., 2008).

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron is 18 mg for premenopausal women and 8 mg for men and postmenopausal women (Sayer, 2022). However, runners, especially female endurance athletes, may have higher iron requirements to compensate for the increased losses and demands of training (Sim et al., 2019). Heme iron, found in animal sources like red meat, poultry, and fish, has a higher bioavailability (14-18%) compared to non-heme iron from plant sources (5-12%) (National Institutes of Health, n.d.).

Monitoring Iron Status and Supplementation

Runners should have their iron status regularly monitored through blood tests that measure serum ferritin, the storage form of iron in the body. Ferritin levels below 30 μg/L may indicate iron deficiency, while levels below 12 μg/L suggest iron-deficiency anaemia (Peeling et al., 2008). If iron deficiency is detected, a healthcare provider may recommend iron supplementation to restore adequate levels.

Iron supplements are available in various forms, including ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate. The absorption of iron supplements can be enhanced by taking them with vitamin C-rich foods or beverages, while substances like calcium, tannins (found in tea and coffee), and phytates (found in whole grains and legumes) can inhibit iron absorption (Saunders et al., 2013). It’s essential to follow the recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare provider to avoid potential side effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort.

Magnesium: Promoting Muscle Function and Bone Health

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including those related to protein synthesis, blood sugar control, blood pressure regulation, nerve function, and muscle contraction (Sayer, 2022). Runners are particularly prone to magnesium deficiencies due to increased losses through sweat and urine, as well as the high demands placed on the muscular and skeletal systems during training (Nielsen & Lukaski, 2006).

Magnesium supplementation has been shown to offer several benefits for runners, including the prevention of muscle cramps, reduction of exercise-induced inflammation, and support for bone health (Sayer, 2022). A study by Veronese et al. (2014) found that higher magnesium intake was associated with a lower risk of fractures in individuals over 65 years old. Additionally, magnesium supplementation has been shown to attenuate bone loss in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis (Castiglioni et al., 2013).

Recommended Intake and Sources

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 400-420 mg for adult men and 310-320 mg for adult women (Institute of Medicine, 1997). However, athletes engaging in intense training may have higher requirements due to increased losses (Nielsen & Lukaski, 2006). Magnesium-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes (Volpe, 2015). However, the bioavailability of magnesium from these sources can vary, and some runners may struggle to meet their increased needs through diet alone.

Magnesium supplements are available in various forms, including magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, and magnesium glycinate. Magnesium citrate and glycinate are generally considered to have higher bioavailability compared to magnesium oxide (Schuchardt & Hahn, 2017). The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for supplemental magnesium is 350 mg per day for adults (Institute of Medicine, 1997). Excessive magnesium intake from supplements can lead to gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhoea.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Reducing Inflammation and Supporting Endurance

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits and support various aspects of health in runners (Sayer, 2022). Omega-3s can help reduce exercise-induced inflammation, decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and improve muscle recovery (Jouris et al., 2011). Additionally, omega-3 supplementation has been associated with improved endurance capacity, reduced perceived exertion during exercise, and enhanced cardiovascular function (Philpott et al., 2018).

The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s may also help alleviate joint discomfort and stiffness, which are common issues among runners (Sayer, 2022). A systematic review by Senftleber et al. (2017) found that omega-3 supplementation could reduce joint pain and improve physical function in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.

Recommended Dosage and Sources

The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least two servings of fatty fish per week to obtain adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (Kris-Etherton et al., 2002). Good sources of EPA and DHA include salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring. However, for runners with higher requirements or those who do not regularly consume fatty fish, omega-3 supplements can be a convenient alternative.

The optimal dosage of omega-3 supplements for runners may vary depending on individual needs and goals. A general recommendation is to aim for a combined intake of 1-3 grams of EPA and DHA per day (Simopoulos, 2007). It’s essential to choose a high-quality omega-3 supplement from a reputable manufacturer and to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dosage.

Vitamin B12: Preventing Fatigue and Supporting Energy Production

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in energy production, red blood cell formation, and nervous system function (Sayer, 2022). Runners who are deficient in vitamin B12 may experience symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and reduced endurance, which can negatively impact their training and performance (Lukaski, 2004). Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common among vegetarian and vegan runners, as the nutrient is primarily found in animal-based foods (Rogerson, 2017).

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 2.4 μg for adults, with slightly higher requirements for pregnant and lactating women (Institute of Medicine, 1998). The body can store excess vitamin B12 in the liver, providing a reserve for several years (Sayer, 2022). However, runners following plant-based diets or those with malabsorption issues may be at a higher risk of deficiency and could benefit from supplementation.

Sources and Supplementation

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal-based foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Some plant-based foods, such as nutritional yeast and fortified cereals, may also contain vitamin B12 (Rogerson, 2017). For runners who struggle to obtain sufficient vitamin B12 from their diet, supplements are available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and sublingual drops.

Vitamin B12 supplements are generally well-tolerated, and there is no established upper limit for intake (Institute of Medicine, 1998). However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate dosage and form of supplementation based on individual needs and preferences.

Calcium: Maintaining Strong Bones and Muscle Function

Calcium is a vital mineral that plays a crucial role in bone health, muscle contraction, nerve function, and blood clotting (Sayer, 2022). Runners require adequate calcium intake to maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of stress fractures and osteoporosis (Tenforde et al., 2015). Additionally, calcium is essential for proper muscle function and contraction, which are critical for running performance (Pu et al., 2016).

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg for adults aged 19-50 years and 1,200 mg for adults over 50 years (Institute of Medicine, 2011). Runners, particularly female athletes, may have higher calcium requirements due to increased bone turnover and the risk of relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) (Mountjoy et al., 2018).

Dietary Sources and Supplementation

Calcium-rich foods include dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach), and fortified foods (plant-based milks, cereals) (Sayer, 2022). Runners who struggle to meet their calcium needs through diet alone may benefit from supplementation. Calcium supplements are available in various forms, including calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.

When considering calcium supplementation, it’s essential to note that the body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium at a time (Institute of Medicine, 2011). Therefore, it’s recommended to split larger doses into smaller amounts taken throughout the day. Additionally, vitamin D is necessary for optimal calcium absorption, so runners should ensure they have adequate vitamin D levels (Holick, 2007).

Zinc: Supporting Immunity, Sleep, and Cell Repair

Zinc is a trace mineral that plays a vital role in numerous bodily functions, including immune system support, wound healing, protein synthesis, and cell division (Sayer, 2022). For runners, zinc is particularly important for maintaining a strong immune system, promoting quality sleep, and supporting muscle recovery and repair (Prasad, 2013).

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women (Institute of Medicine, 2001). However, runners may have higher zinc requirements due to increased losses through sweat and the demands of training on the immune system and muscle tissue (Chu et al., 2018).

Zinc Deficiency and Dietary Sources

Zinc deficiency can impair immune function, increase the risk of infections, and delay wound healing (Prasad, 2013). Runners who follow restrictive diets or have inadequate dietary zinc intake may be at a higher risk of deficiency. Good dietary sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains (Sayer, 2022). However, the bioavailability of zinc from plant-based sources is lower due to the presence of phytates, which can inhibit zinc absorption (Lönnerdal, 2000).

Zinc supplements are available in various forms, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, and zinc citrate. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for zinc is 40 mg per day for adults (Institute of Medicine, 2001). Excessive zinc intake from supplements can interfere with the absorption of other minerals, such as copper, and cause gastrointestinal side effects (Maret & Sandstead, 2006).

In conclusion, while a well-rounded diet should always be the foundation of a runner’s nutrition plan, certain supplements can provide targeted benefits to support performance, recovery, and overall health. Vitamin D, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium, and zinc are among the most important supplements for runners based on scientific evidence. However, individual needs may vary, and it’s essential for runners to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the appropriate use and dosage of supplements. By incorporating evidence-based supplements into a balanced nutrition plan, runners can optimize their training, reduce the risk of deficiencies, and achieve their performance goals.

Conclusion

In summary, a well-rounded diet should always be the foundation of a runner’s nutrition plan. However, certain supplements can provide targeted benefits to support performance, recovery, and overall health. The most important supplements for runners based on scientific evidence include vitamin D for bone health and immune function, iron for oxygen transport and energy production, magnesium for muscle function and bone health, omega-3 fatty acids for reducing inflammation and supporting endurance, vitamin B12 for preventing fatigue and supporting energy production, calcium for maintaining strong bones and muscle function, and zinc for supporting immunity, sleep, and cell repair.

It is essential to note that individual needs may vary, and runners should consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the appropriate use and dosage of supplements. Factors such as age, gender, training intensity, dietary preferences, and health status can influence a runner’s nutritional requirements. By working with a qualified professional, runners can develop a personalised supplement plan that complements their overall nutrition strategy and helps them achieve their specific performance and health goals.

Incorporating evidence-based supplements into a balanced nutrition plan can help runners optimise their training, reduce the risk of deficiencies, and support their overall well-being. However, it is crucial to remember that supplements should never replace a well-rounded diet based on whole, nutrient-dense foods. By prioritising a balanced approach to nutrition that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, runners can lay the foundation for optimal health and performance, with supplements serving as a targeted way to fill any potential gaps and support their specific needs.

Key Highlights and Actionable Tips

  • Choose running supplements that address your specific needs, such as increasing endurance, supporting hydration, reducing fatigue, or aiding recovery.
  • Look for science-backed ingredients in supplements, such as creatine for muscle performance, omega-3 fatty acids for anti-inflammatory support, and electrolytes for hydration.
  • Prioritize supplements from reputable brands that undergo third-party testing to ensure safety, quality, and purity.
  • Consider your budget when selecting supplements, and look for subscription options or bulk purchases to save on costs.
  • Consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine the right supplements for your individual needs and training goals.

What are the best supplements for long-distance runners?

Long-distance runners may benefit from supplements that support endurance, hydration, and recovery. Some key supplements to consider include:

  • Electrolyte supplements: These help replace essential minerals lost through sweat during long runs, supporting hydration and preventing muscle cramps.
  • Protein powders: Protein aids in muscle repair and recovery after long runs, helping to reduce soreness and support muscle growth.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These anti-inflammatory nutrients may help reduce joint pain and support overall health for endurance athletes.
  • Iron supplements: Long-distance runners, especially females, may be at risk for iron deficiency, which can lead to fatigue and impaired performance. Iron supplements can help maintain healthy levels.

How can I ensure the safety and quality of running supplements?

To ensure the safety and quality of running supplements, look for products from reputable brands that undergo third-party testing. Third-party testing verifies that the supplement contains the ingredients listed on the label in the correct amounts and is free from contaminants or banned substances. Look for certifications such as NSF Certified for Sport or Informed-Choice, which indicate that the supplement has been independently tested. Additionally, consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine the right supplements for your individual needs and to ensure they do not interact with any medications you may be taking.

Can running supplements replace a balanced diet?

No, running supplements should not replace a balanced diet. While supplements can help fill nutritional gaps and support specific training needs, they are meant to complement a healthy diet, not replace it. Runners should prioritize consuming a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, to meet their energy and nutrient needs. Supplements can be beneficial for addressing specific deficiencies or supporting training goals, but they should not be relied upon as the sole source of nutrition.

How do I determine the right dosage of running supplements?

The right dosage of running supplements varies depending on the specific supplement, your individual needs, and your training goals. It is essential to follow the recommended dosage instructions provided by the manufacturer on the product label. However, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine the appropriate dosage for your specific needs. They can take into account factors such as your age, gender, weight, health status, and any medications you may be taking to ensure the supplement is safe and effective for you. Additionally, starting with a lower dosage and gradually increasing it can help you gauge your tolerance and avoid potential side effects.

Are there any potential side effects of taking running supplements?

Yes, like any dietary supplement, running supplements can cause potential side effects. Some common side effects may include digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea, as well as headaches, nausea, or skin irritation. Certain supplements, such as caffeine or beta-alanine, may cause jitteriness, tingling sensations, or sleep disturbances if taken in excessive amounts. Iron supplements can cause constipation, while high doses of vitamin D can lead to toxicity. It is essential to follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult with a healthcare professional to minimize the risk of side effects. If you experience any adverse reactions after taking a supplement, discontinue use and seek medical attention if necessary.

References

Castiglioni, S., Cazzaniga, A., Albisetti, W., & Maier, J. A. (2013). Magnesium and osteoporosis: Current state of knowledge and future research directions. Nutrients, 5(8), 3022–3033. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5083022

National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Iron – Health Professional Fact Sheet. Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/

Prasad A. S. (2013). Discovery of human zinc deficiency: Its impact on human health and disease. Advances in Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 4(2), 176–190. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.003210

Sayer, A. (2022, December 7). 7 Best Supplements For Runners. Marathon Handbook. https://marathonhandbook.com/7-best-supplements-for-runners/



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