Do Runners Even Need Supplements?
Nutritional supplements can help active individuals and athletes experience quicker recovery, improved performance and endurance while replenishing nutrients.
Runners in particular require efficient fuel for their performance but also to support the recovery process. This will differ slightly depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise.
Nutrition from real food should always be a focus first and foremost, however for most individuals and especially active individuals, nutritional supplements will likely be needed to fill in the gaps.
This means that supplementation should do what it suggests, supplement a healthy, balanced, and nutrient-dense diet. Consuming a balanced and varied diet is essential to perform at your best and get the most out of your workouts.
Today we share some of our favourite supplements and nutrients that have been shown to benefit endurance sports like running and that may represent a higher risk of deficiency among athletes and the general population.
Supplements I recommend
Iron is an essential mineral that is responsible for a variety of biological processes that are essential for aerobic and endurance activity.
One of these functions is delivering oxygen to the muscles, which is important for physical activity and movement. Iron is required for the production of new blood cells and is essential for energy production.
The brain also relies on significant amounts of iron and without enough of it, you may experience difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, and irritability (1).
Iron deficiency is one of the most widespread deficiencies in the world and shown to be more common among younger female athletes in particular (2).
Low iron can result in decreased athletic performance as well as lowered immune function and physiologic dysfunction (3).
Vitamin D, an essential vitamin, also known as a prohormone is most commonly referred to for its benefits on immune function, but it has many more! How does it impact exercise performance?
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and strong muscles. Vitamin D is also involved in cardiovascular functions and inflammatory modulations. Meeting the vitamin D requirements may help to reduce the risk of injury, improve muscle strength, and support recovery (4).
You can obtain vitamin D from the sun, depending on the location, and also from foods such as wild fatty fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
However, this is not always enough and athletes may be at a greater risk of having low vitamin D levels.
Over 77% of the general population is considered to be deficient in vitamin D (5).
Low vitamin D status could negatively impact the health and training performance of athletes. This is a greater concern during the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere. The best way to assess if supplementation is needed is to test your serum vitamin D with your doctor.
Protein is often the first macronutrient that comes to mind when referring to athletic performance.
Protein is essential for numerous physiological functions. It is involved in the building and repair of muscle tissue as well as bone remodelling and oxygen transport. Athletes who do not consume enough protein are at a higher risk of injury. Running puts a lot of strain on the body thus optimal nutrition, including protein, is essential to bounce back more quickly and increase strength.
The recommended daily amount of protein that the average person consumes is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (6). However, this will increase the more active you are.
For runners, it is recommended to increase your intake to 1.2 - 1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight. Consuming sufficient amounts of protein will help to maintain lean muscle mass and reduce muscle loss (7).
This can also help to reduce muscle fatigue and muscle soreness, improving recovery time.
Protein powder is a convenient option when protein intake is too low or unable to be met through whole foods alone. Whey protein is a popular dietary supplement as it contains all the branched-chain amino acids the body needs for protein synthesis in order to build lean muscle mass.
CoQ10 is an antioxidant naturally produced by the body, though levels can decrease with age and among those with poor cardiovascular health.
CoQ10 may benefit endurance sports by prolonging exercise capacity and reducing exercise-induced muscle damage (9).
Among trained Olympic athletes, supplementation of coQ10 significantly enhanced physical performance measured as maximum power output over a period of 6 weeks (10).
CoQ10 may be a worthwhile supplement to include for runners in order to increase their physical performance, while improving their time to exhaustion and recovery.
Beetroot increases levels of nitric oxide (NO), which is associated with increased blood flow, mitochondrial efficiency, neurotransmission, blood sugar regulation, and strengthening of muscle contractions (11).
Is beetroot the secret to running faster? The consumption of beetroot has been shown to improve running performance in healthy adults by providing ergogenic effects on cardiorespiratory endurance, resulting in improved physical performance (12)(13).
Another study concluded that just fifteen days of beetroot juice supplementation produced substantial improvements in the time to exhaustion among elite runners (14).
You can obtain the benefits from beetroot by consuming it as part of a balanced diet, and there are many supplements that provide the benefits with the added convenience and potency.
Known as the "anti-stress herbs", adaptogens can provide many benefits involving energy levels, stamina, and exercise performance but also mood, cognitive function, immune function, and stress levels.
More specifically the adaptogen, Cordyceps has been shown to improve tolerance to high-intensity exercise and enhance the body's production of ATP, the energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things (18)(19). Cordyceps can help to improve exercise capacity and resistance to fatigue, enhancing overall aerobic performance (20).
Ashwagandha, a traditional Ayurvedic herb is also a popular adaptogen used to regulate stress levels and that has also been shown to improve the cardiorespiratory endurance and fitness of elite athletes (21).
Adaptogens can serve as beneficial allies for active individuals wanting to enhance their physical and mental performance and possibly even longevity via various mechanisms (22).
Probiotics and Prebotics
If you have been a regular reader of the blog you will know we are big advocates of eating a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics to support a healthy microbiome. Gut health is now at the forefront of health and wellness discussions as it plays such a significant role in general health. Research continually supports the notion that health really does start in the gut!
How may it play a role in exercise and endurance?
The state of the gut may be a major determinant of performance and endurance athletes should not neglect this organ (23).
The status of the gut microbiome is influential on the health and performance of the athlete by being involved in the production, storage, and expenditure of energy as well as inflammation, redox reactions, and hydration status (25).
Probiotics have also become increasingly popular among athletes to treat symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract and gastrointestinal symptoms that are common among endurance athletes.
But it's not just probiotics that are important, let's not forget prebiotics! Prebiotics are the fertilizer or fuel for our probiotics and can be obtained from foods in the diet or supplemented additionally.
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