Nutrition Market

Supplements for Running: Boost Performance and Recovery

Supplements for Running: Boost Performance and Recovery

Introduction

Running is a high-impact sport that places significant strain on the body, leading to increased nutritional demands that can be challenging to meet through diet alone (Alex Larson Nutrition, n.d.). Supplements for running can help fill nutritional gaps, optimize performance, and support recovery. However, with a plethora of options available, it can be overwhelming to determine which supplements are most beneficial for runners.

This comprehensive guide will explore the key supplements for running, backed by scientific evidence. We’ll discuss the importance of each supplement, recommended dosages, and top product picks. Additionally, we’ll delve into the crucial role of personalisation and testing when selecting supplements to ensure safety, efficacy, and compliance with anti-doping regulations.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned marathoner, understanding the science behind supplements for running can help you make informed decisions to support your training, performance, and overall health. Let’s dive in and discover how targeted supplementation can take your running to the next level.

Key Supplements for Runners

Protein Powder

Protein is a crucial macronutrient for runners, as it plays a vital role in muscle repair, growth, and recovery (Cintineo et al., 2018). Endurance exercise, such as running, can lead to muscle damage and breakdown, making it essential for runners to consume adequate protein to support muscle recovery and adaptations (Kato et al., 2016). Protein powders, particularly whey protein isolate, offer a convenient and easily digestible way to increase protein intake (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

Whey protein isolate is a high-quality, rapidly absorbed protein source that contains all the essential amino acids necessary for muscle protein synthesis (Devries & Phillips, 2015). It has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and support recovery following endurance exercise (Huang et al., 2017). Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Isolate and Momentous Recovery are two recommended options that undergo third-party testing to ensure purity and absence of banned substances (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

The recommended daily protein intake for endurance athletes ranges from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg body weight, depending on training intensity and duration (Vitale & Getzin, 2019). Consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise can help maximize muscle recovery and adaptations (Kerksick et al., 2017).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil, have potent anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit runners (Ochi & Tsuchiya, 2018). Endurance exercise can lead to increased inflammation and oxidative stress, which may impair recovery and performance (Gammone et al., 2018). Supplementing with omega-3s has been shown to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (Jouris et al., 2011; Tsuchiya et al., 2016).

A meta-analysis by Heileson and Funderburk (2020) found that omega-3 supplementation significantly reduced markers of muscle damage and soreness following exercise. The authors suggested a daily dosage of 2-3 g of EPA and DHA for optimal benefits. Kaged Muscle Omega-3 is a high-quality option that provides 1100 mg EPA and 900 mg DHA per serving (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

In addition to reducing inflammation and muscle damage, omega-3s may also improve endurance performance by enhancing oxygen efficiency and reducing heart rate during exercise (Da Boit et al., 2017; Kawabata et al., 2014).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for bone health, immune function, and muscle performance, all of which are crucial for runners (Owens et al., 2018). Vitamin D deficiency is common among athletes, particularly those who train indoors or live in northern latitudes with limited sun exposure (Angeline et al., 2013). Low vitamin D levels can lead to increased risk of stress fractures, impaired muscle function, and compromised immune health (Shuler et al., 2012; He et al., 2016).

Supplementing with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) has been shown to improve bone mineral density, reduce inflammation, and enhance muscle strength and power (Alimoradi et al., 2019; Tomlinson et al., 2015). The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for adults is 600-800 IU (15-20 mcg), but higher doses may be necessary for individuals with deficiency or insufficient sun exposure (Holick et al., 2011). Pure Encapsulations Vitamin D3 Liquid provides 1000 IU (25 mcg) per serving and is a convenient option for runners (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

It’s important to note that excessive vitamin D intake can lead to toxicity, so it’s best to monitor vitamin D levels through blood tests and consult with a healthcare professional before starting supplementation (Marcinowska-Suchowierska et al., 2018).

Iron

Iron is a mineral that plays a critical role in oxygen transport and energy production, making it essential for endurance performance (Sim et al., 2019). Iron deficiency, with or without anemia, can impair aerobic capacity, endurance, and fatigue resistance (Burden et al., 2015). Runners, especially females and vegetarians/vegans, are at higher risk for iron deficiency due to increased iron losses through sweat, foot strike hemolysis, and menstruation, as well as lower dietary iron intake (Coates et al., 2017).

Supplementing with iron can help correct deficiency and improve endurance performance (Hinton & Sinclair, 2007). However, it’s crucial to have iron levels tested before starting supplementation, as excessive iron intake can lead to adverse health effects (Mettler & Zimmermann, 2010). The recommended daily iron intake is 8 mg for adult men and 18 mg for adult women (Institute of Medicine, 2001). Gnarly Nutrition Baseline Iron provides 25 mg of iron bisglycinate, a highly bioavailable form, along with vitamin C to enhance absorption (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

It’s important to note that iron supplements should be taken on an empty stomach or with vitamin C-rich foods to maximize absorption, and separate from calcium and caffeine, which can inhibit iron uptake (Zijp et al., 2000).

Magnesium

Magnesium is a crucial mineral involved in energy production, muscle and nerve function, and bone health (Zhang et al., 2017). Magnesium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and impaired exercise performance (Veronese et al., 2014). Endurance athletes, including runners, may be at increased risk for magnesium deficiency due to increased losses through sweat and urine (Nielsen & Lukaski, 2006).

Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to improve exercise performance, reduce muscle damage, and enhance recovery (Kass & Poeira, 2015; Veronese et al., 2014). The recommended daily magnesium intake is 400-420 mg for adult men and 310-320 mg for adult women (Institute of Medicine, 1997). Transparent Labs ZMO provides 144 mg of magnesium bisglycinate per serving, along with zinc and oyster meat powder for enhanced absorption (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

It’s important to choose a bioavailable form of magnesium, such as magnesium bisglycinate or citrate, as some forms (e.g., magnesium oxide) have poor absorption (Schuchardt & Hahn, 2017). Dividing the dosage throughout the day can help minimize gastrointestinal discomfort.

B Vitamins

B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12 and folate, play essential roles in energy metabolism, red blood cell production, and nervous system function (Woolf & Manore, 2006). Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and neurological symptoms, which can impair athletic performance (Lukaski, 2004). Vegetarian and vegan runners may be at higher risk for B12 deficiency due to limited dietary sources (Rogerson, 2017).

Supplementing with vitamin B12 can help correct deficiency and improve endurance performance (Borrione et al., 2008). The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg for adults (Institute of Medicine, 1998). Cymbiotika Liposomal B12 & B6 Liquid provides 1250 mcg of B12 and 13 mg of B6 per serving in a highly bioavailable liposomal form (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024).

Folate, another important B vitamin, works synergistically with B12 in red blood cell production and homocysteine metabolism (Woolf & Manore, 2006). Adequate folate intake may help reduce the risk of anemia and improve endurance performance (Herrmann et al., 2003). The recommended daily folate intake is 400 mcg for adults (Institute of Medicine, 1998).

Beetroot and Nitrates

Beetroot juice and nitrate supplements have gained popularity among endurance athletes due to their potential to enhance performance (Jones et al., 2018). Nitrates are converted to nitric oxide in the body, which can improve blood flow, muscle oxygenation, and exercise efficiency (Domínguez et al., 2017).

A systematic review by McMahon et al. (2017) found that beetroot juice supplementation improved endurance exercise performance, particularly in time trials lasting 5-30 minutes. The typical dosage used in studies is 300-600 mg of nitrate, consumed 1.5-3 hours before exercise (Domínguez et al., 2017).

It’s important to note that the ergogenic effects of beetroot and nitrate supplements may be influenced by individual factors such as training status, diet, and genetics (Jones et al., 2018). Some runners may experience gastrointestinal discomfort or beeturia (red urine) with beetroot juice consumption (Clifford et al., 2017).

Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most widely used ergogenic aids among athletes, with well-established benefits for endurance performance (Guest et al., 2021). Caffeine can reduce perceived exertion, improve mental alertness, and enhance fat oxidation during exercise (Grgic et al., 2020).

A meta-analysis by Southward et al. (2018) found that caffeine supplementation improved endurance exercise performance by 2.3-4.7%, with doses ranging from 3-6 mg/kg body mass. The effects were most pronounced in time trials and events lasting 1-2 hours. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming caffeine 30-60 minutes before exercise for optimal benefits (Guest et al., 2021).

Caffeine can be consumed through various sources, such as coffee, energy gels, and tablets. However, it’s essential to be aware of individual tolerance and potential side effects, such as anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal distress (Guest et al., 2021). Athletes should also be cautious of caffeine’s diuretic effect and ensure adequate hydration (Killer et al., 2014).

Creatine

Creatine is a widely researched supplement known for its benefits in strength and power sports, but it may also offer advantages for endurance athletes (Rawson et al., 2018). Creatine supplementation can increase muscle creatine stores, enhance high-intensity exercise performance, and improve recovery (Kreider et al., 2017).

A review by Rawson et al. (2018) suggested that creatine supplementation may benefit endurance athletes by improving glycogen resynthesis, reducing muscle damage and inflammation, and enhancing thermoregulation. The typical creatine loading protocol involves consuming 20 g/day (divided into four doses) for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5 g/day (Kreider et al., 2017).

Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate provides 5 g of creatine per serving and is third-party tested for purity (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024). It’s important to note that creatine supplementation may cause minor weight gain due to water retention in muscle cells (Buford et al., 2007). Adequate hydration is crucial when supplementing with creatine.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are essential minerals that regulate fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nerve function (Sawka et al., 2007). During prolonged or intense running, significant amounts of electrolytes can be lost through sweat, leading to imbalances and impaired performance (Baker, 2017).

Supplementing with electrolytes during and after exercise can help maintain fluid balance, prevent dehydration, and enhance endurance performance (Sawka et al., 2007). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 500-700 mg of sodium per liter of fluid during prolonged exercise lasting more than 1 hour (Sawka et al., 2007).

DripDrop ORS Hydration Solution provides a balanced blend of electrolytes and is recommended for long-distance runners who lose substantial amounts of sweat (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024). It’s important to individualize electrolyte intake based on sweat rate, exercise duration, and environmental conditions (Baker, 2017).

Other Notable Supplements

In addition to the key supplements discussed above, several other supplements may offer benefits for runners:

  • Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that can increase muscle carnosine levels, which may improve high-intensity exercise performance and delay fatigue (Trexler et al., 2015). It may be particularly beneficial for middle-distance runners and sprinters (Baguet et al., 2010).

  • Sodium phosphate: Sodium phosphate supplementation has been shown to enhance aerobic capacity, endurance performance, and oxygen delivery to working muscles (Buck et al., 2013). It may also help buffer lactic acid accumulation during high-intensity exercise (Folland et al., 2008).

  • Tart cherry juice extract: Tart cherries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as anthocyanins, which may aid in exercise recovery and performance (Vitale et al., 2017). Tart cherry juice supplementation has been shown to reduce muscle soreness, inflammation, and oxidative stress following endurance exercise (Howatson et al., 2010; Levers et al., 2016).

  • L-glutamine: L-glutamine is an amino acid that plays a role in immune function, muscle recovery, and glycogen resynthesis (Gleeson, 2008). Supplementing with L-glutamine may help reduce muscle soreness and support recovery after intense or prolonged running (Street et al., 2011).

The Importance of Personalization and Testing

While the supplements discussed in this article have demonstrated benefits for runners, it’s crucial to recognize that individual needs may vary based on factors such as diet, training status, age, sex, and health goals (Alex Larson Nutrition, n.d.). A one-size-fits-all approach to supplementation may not be optimal for every runner.

Personalized nutrition services, such as those offered by Elo Health, can provide tailored supplement recommendations based on biomarker testing and health coaching (Elo Health, n.d.). This approach takes into account an individual’s unique physiology, nutrient status, and performance goals to develop a targeted supplementation plan.

In addition to personalization, third-party testing is essential to ensure supplement quality, safety, and purity (Garage Gym Reviews, 2024). Third-party certifications, such as NSF Certified for Sport and Informed Choice, provide assurance that supplements have been independently tested for banned substances and contaminants. This is particularly important for competitive runners who undergo drug testing.

Conclusion

In conclusion, supplements can be a valuable tool for runners looking to optimise their performance, recovery, and overall health. By addressing nutritional gaps and supporting the body’s increased demands during training, targeted supplementation can help runners reach their full potential. Key supplements backed by scientific evidence include protein powder for muscle repair and growth, omega-3 fatty acids for reduced inflammation and muscle soreness, vitamin D for bone health and immune function, iron for oxygen transport and energy production, magnesium for muscle function and recovery, B vitamins for energy metabolism and red blood cell production, beetroot and nitrates for improved blood flow and exercise efficiency, caffeine for enhanced endurance and mental alertness, creatine for muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment, and electrolytes for fluid balance and hydration.

However, it is crucial to recognise that individual needs may vary based on factors such as diet, training status, age, sex, and health goals. A personalised approach to supplementation, such as that offered by nutrition services like Elo Health, can provide tailored recommendations based on biomarker testing and health coaching. This ensures that each runner receives a targeted supplementation plan that takes into account their unique physiology, nutrient status, and performance goals. Additionally, third-party testing is essential to guarantee supplement quality, safety, and purity, especially for competitive runners subject to drug testing. By prioritising personalisation and testing, runners can make informed decisions about their supplement choices and maximise the potential benefits for their training and performance.

Key Highlights and Actionable Tips

  • Caffeine, beetroot, and sodium phosphate can enhance performance in both sprinters and distance runners when taken before exercise.
  • Beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate may provide additional benefits for sprinters by buffering lactic acid production.
  • Protein powder, tart cherry juice extract, creatine, glutamine, and omega-3s are good supplements for runners’ recovery.
  • Elo Health offers personalized protein, smart supplements, and 1-on-1 dietitian support to optimize post-workout nutrition.

What are the best supplements for long-distance runners?

For long-distance runners, supplements like caffeine, beetroot, and sodium phosphate can help improve endurance when taken before exercise. Protein powder, tart cherry juice extract, and omega-3s are beneficial for optimizing recovery after long runs. Creatine and glutamine may also support recovery, especially for runners who engage in strength training alongside their endurance work.

How much protein do runners need after a workout?

To maximize recovery, experts recommend consuming 20-40 g of high-quality, complete protein within two hours of exercise. This stimulates muscle protein synthesis, aiding both recovery and future performance. Protein supplements like Elo Smart Protein offer a convenient way to meet post-run protein needs.

Can supplements help prevent running injuries?

While no supplement can completely prevent running injuries, some may help reduce risk factors. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory benefits that can reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness. Tart cherry juice extract has also been shown to reduce inflammation and accelerate strength recovery after strenuous exercise. Adequate intake of nutrients like calcium and vitamin D is important for maintaining bone health.

Are there any supplements sprinters should consider?

In addition to caffeine and beetroot, which benefit all runners, sprinters may see additional gains from beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation. These supplements help buffer lactic acid buildup in the muscles during high-intensity sprinting efforts. Creatine can also be beneficial for sprinters looking to increase power output and speed.

How can I ensure the supplements I take are safe and effective?

When choosing supplements, look for products that have undergone third-party testing to ensure purity and potency. Avoid supplements with proprietary blends that don’t disclose ingredient amounts. It’s also a good idea to choose supplements tailored to your individual needs, such as those offered by Elo Health, which factor in your goals, diet and even blood nutrient levels. Always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen.

References

Domínguez, R., Cuenca, E., Maté-Muñoz, J. L., García-Fernández, P., Serra-Paya, N., Estevan, M. C. L., … & Garnacho-Castaño, M. V. (2017). Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A systematic review. Nutrients, 9(1), 43. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9010043

Elo Health. (n.d.). The all-time best supplements for runners according to science. Retrieved from https://www.elo.health/articles/the-all-time-best-supplements-for-runners/

Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D. M., … & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4

Jones, A. M. (2014). Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S35–S45. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0149-y

Kerksick, C. M., Wilborn, C. D., Roberts, M. D., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S. M., Jäger, R., … & Kreider, R. B. (2018). ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 38. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y

Rawson, E. S., Miles, M. P., & Larson-Meyer, D. E. (2018). Dietary supplements for health, adaptation, and recovery in athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), 188-199. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/28/2/article-p188.xml

Vitale, K. C., Hueglin, S., & Broad, E. (2017). Tart cherry juice in athletes: a literature review and commentary. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(4), 230-239. https://doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0000000000000385

Warren, G. L., Park, N. D., Maresca, R. D., McKibans, K. I., & Millard-Stafford, M. L. (2010). Effect of caffeine ingestion on muscular strength and endurance: a meta-analysis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(7), 1375–1387. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181cabbd8

Wiles, J. D., Bird, S. R., Hopkins, J., & Riley, M. (1992). Effect of caffeinated coffee on running speed, respiratory factors, blood lactate and perceived exertion during 1500-m treadmill running. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(2), 116–120. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.26.2.116



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