Runners are among the healthiest and fittest people on the planet. Walking for 30 minutes three days a week will be good enough to keep you out of the doctor’s office. Avid runners will pound the pavement or the treadmill for 30 minutes to one hour five to six days per week. Many will log in 25 to 30kms in seven days.
As great a fitness activity that running is, it can also result in wear and tear on your body. The constant pounding of feet on concrete roads or a rubberized conveyor belt will send powerful forces throughout the body. Even the best trained and most experienced runners will eventually feel the impact of running on their bones, muscles, and tendons.
Scheduling time in the week for regular running sessions is great. It will improve your form, technique and build strength and conditioning. However, consistent running alone will not help improve your performance or level of health and fitness.
To get the most out of any fitness activity, you must always make sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs to perform at a high level. In addition to actual training, runners should likewise focus on getting the right nutritional support from food and supplements.
Why Runners Should Not Depend On Food Alone For Their Nutritional Needs
Food provides runners energy in the form of calories. It also gives much-needed macronutrients in the form of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates because they also contain valuable vitamins, and minerals.
Protein sources such as salmon are rich in niacin, vitamin B-12, vitamin C, and selenium, a powerful anti-oxidant. It is also high in essential fatty acids or Omega 3s which are good for the heart. Avocados, nuts, tuna, and mackerel are likewise good sources of healthy fats.
Unfortunately, food is not enough to give the runner balanced nutritional support for a number of reasons:
- Food is heavily processed and has lost most of its nutritional value.
- Cooking will further cut down the nutritional content of most types of food.
- Constant eating can be inconvenient for runners who are holding full-time jobs or going to school.
The best option for runners to keep up with their nutritional regimen is to take supplements.
Why Runners Need To Take Supplements
The supplement market includes vitamins, minerals, and synthesized versions of macronutrients and other substances. These supplements are formulated to address a specific need or deficiency.
Runners who train at least three days a week will often experience the following symptoms over time:
- Joint pain in the knees, ankles, and hips.
- Lower back pain.
- Low energy levels from nutritional deficiency.
- Difficulty sleeping because recovery is slower.
- Muscle pain and stiffness.
Proper nutrition can alleviate these symptoms. However, as we discussed earlier, food alone will not be enough to provide the runner everything he/she needs to recover and perform at optimum levels.
That is why for many runners, including supplements in their nutrition program is the best solution. Regular intake of supplements has many benefits for runners:
- Supplements are measured in precise dosages. You can easily keep track of your macros, vitamins, and minerals.
- It is also easier to adjust the dosage with supplements.
- Supplements are convenient and easy to carry around. There will be no excuses!
- There are supplements that have been manufactured to target specific individual needs: burn fat, increase strength, improve mental focus and alleviate joint or muscle pain.
- Many of the recommended supplements are low in calories and can help runners keep their weight in check.
A nutrition program that combines healthy food and the right supplements will take your training to a whole new level.
5 Best Supplements For Runners
Before taking any supplement, consult first with your doctor. You may be asked to undergo blood tests and other medical exams to find out if you are allergic to certain ingredients.
There are many different kinds of supplements on the market but not all of them are beneficial for runners.
Our criteria for selecting the supplements on this list are based on the demands of running and its effects on the body.
Here are the 5 best supplements for runners:
As an aerobic activity, oxygen is the primary source of energy for running especially for those who engage in the long-distance variety. To become a good runner, you must teach your body to become efficient in managing its energy resources.
Protein consumes the largest amount of calories among the macronutrients. This is why during a long distance run the body uses up muscle protein more than carbohydrates. The presence of oxygen in the body downplays the importance of carbohydrates as an energy source.
Thus, you lose muscle protein when you run. Protein contains amino acids which comprise your bones, skin, and organs. If you don’t have enough muscle protein, you risk having weak bones and a compromised immune system.
Whey protein is an important supplement for runners because it is quickly absorbed by the body. Whey has a high PER or Protein Efficiency Ratio; higher than eggs which make it an almost perfect source of protein.
Whey protein is the best post workout drink for runners although you can also take whey as a pre-workout drink. Drink it one hour before a run. Mix one scoop of whey protein with water; add glucose powder or eat with a slice of watermelon as a fast-acting source of carbohydrates.
Vitamin D is known for helping your body absorb calcium and thus, strengthen your bones. Studies have also shown that vitamin D has other benefits:
- Improves muscular force contraction;
- Improves neural function;
- Strengthens immune system;
- Reduces inflammation;
- Strengthens heart function;
- Lowers risk of stress fractures.
These benefits are all important for runners. However, a 2008 study by The Cooper Clinic in Dallas showed that 75% of runners who average 20 miles (32kms) per week were deficient in vitamin D.
Another study by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism revealed that people who took vitamin D regularly could outperform those who are deficient in various athletic endeavours such as running and jumping.
The recommended dosages of vitamin D are as follows:
- Children and Adults below 70 years of age: 600IU per day
- Adults 70 years and older: 800IU per day
This is oil extracted from fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. Fish oil is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which is good for heart health and helps speed up recovery.
Running is a fun sport until you start feeling pain and stiffness in your muscles and joints. This is the result of inflammation. When your body detects stress and discomfort in an area, it sends protein and water to help you manage pain. However, this process leads to inflammation.
Fish oil is a proven anti-inflammatory. It can help reduce swelling, soreness, and pain in muscles and tendons.
Doctors recommend taking 1,000mg to 1,200mg of fish oil per day.
Runners are constantly at risk of getting stress fractures because of the constant pounding they get in the knees, hips, and feet. It doesn’t matter if you are wearing the most expensive running shoes with the best shock absorbing capabilities. Your bones will give out unless you take good care of them.
This is why runners should have calcium together with vitamin D in their supplement program. Calcium is a mineral found in the body and is responsible for making your teeth and bones strong. Runners need to take a bit more calcium to keep their bones sturdy and more durable.
The recommended dosage of calcium for men and women is 1,000mg per day. Older people will need to take 1,200mg every day.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical role in several of your body’s key functions:
- Like vitamin D, helps the body absorb calcium to build stronger bones;
- Improves energy while running;
- Helps relax the bronchial muscles and stabilize breathing, reduces the risk of acquiring asthma;
- Reduces the risk of getting muscular cramps;
- Prevents irregular heartbeat;
- Aids in the production of collagen which strengthens your tendons and ligaments
Doctors recommend the following dosages of magnesium per day:
- Males 14 to 18 years old – 410mg
- Males 19 to 30 years old – 400mg
- Males 31 and up – 420mg
- Women 14 to 18 years old – 360mg
- Women 19 to 30 years old – 310mg
- Women 31 and up – 320mg
There are other supplements that you could take to improve your running such as vitamin B and L-Carnitine.
A popular question is “does pre-workout help with running?”
Pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that increase muscle force contraction, mental focus, metabolism and in some cases, aggression. However, pre-workout supplements may also have a diuretic effect which could lead to cramping during a run.
If you want to take a pre-workout drink to help you stay alert and focused, stick with caffeine. One cup or 6oz of brewed Robusta coffee will give you 200mg of caffeine which is just about right. You can also take caffeine in a pre-workout supplement capsule form.
The 5 supplements in our list are the most important and have the biggest benefits to your running program. Keep in mind that supplements are only meant to address deficiencies or augment intake of certain vitamins and minerals. They are not intended to replace whole food from your diet.