The Best Supplements You Can Take as a Distance Runner
Many long distance runners routinely put their bodies under significant stress, completing hours of endurance training every week in the name of improving their stamina, speed, and overall performance.
Long training hours can put significant energy demands on your body, quickly burning through stored fats, sugars, and proteins.
Paying careful attention to diet is, therefore, very important for ensuring that your body has the tools it needs to create sufficient energy to keep your body moving, and to benefit from your training.
Another key factor of a distance runner’s diet is vitamins and minerals, certain of which can boost your performance in a variety of ways, helping to enhance energy, muscle growth, and recovery.
Although you can get much of what your body needs from your diet, certain vitamins and minerals are only present in food in trace quantities. Distance runners hoping to make a noticeable improvement to their performance are, therefore, unlikely to get a sufficient dose of these micronutrients from diet alone.
One way in which many athletes improve their strength and endurance is through the use of dietary supplements, which is a convenient way to get your daily dose of these essential vitamins and minerals.
These supplements have been found to enhance the performance of distance runners in many ways, improving speed and distance, and boosting energy, whilst shortening recovery time.
So, which are the most beneficial supplements you can take as a distance runner?
How Can Your Nutrition Affect You as a Runner?
Many endurance athletes routinely push their bodies to the very limits of their capabilities, training rigorously to increase their fitness, and enhance their performance. A good diet and adequate nutrition are, therefore, essential for providing the body with the tools it needs to maintain this level of activity and increase strength and stamina.
A balanced, healthy diet is widely agreed by experts to be the best way of getting all of the essential macro and micro nutrients your body requires, whilst promoting general sound health.
Consuming plenty of complex carbohydrates, in the form of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish, can energize you during training, and expedite muscular recovery afterwards. Ensuring that you get a wide range of vitamins and minerals in your diet can also enhance several aspects of your running performance, helping to increase distance, boost speed, and shorten recovery time.
Conversely, unhealthy foods such as refined sugars, and trans and hydrogenated fats, can actually harm your running performance. Although calorie dense, these foods do not provide long lasting energy during your run, which can cause an energy crash that leaves you feeling fatigued and sluggish.
How Can Supplements Boost Your Endurance Performance?
Many runners require higher levels of certain dietary components than others because of the unique stresses they put on their bodies through endurance training. However, it can be difficult to find the quantities their body’s require through diet alone
Dietary supplements are a highly convenient way of delivering an extra vitamin or mineral boost to your diet, particularly if you feel you are not getting enough of what you need from your food.
Many of these have been found to be very beneficial for enhancing the performance and recovery time of distance runners, and an be used regularly to improve upon a certain aspect of training.
What are the Best Supplements For Distance Runners?
Long Distance runners frequently push their bodies to the limits of their endurance, running for hours at a time to improve their stamina, speed, and overall fitness.
Protein is crucial for ensuring that the body can meet these demands, and for providing the energy required to keep moving.
After two hours of continuous cardiovascular exercise, the body begins to metabolize protein to provide the required fuel to the muscles. If there is no protein readily available, the body will begin to break down muscle tissue to meet energy demands, which is counter productive for those trying to improve strength and stamina.
Ensuring that your protein intake is sufficient can also help to improve your recovery time, as it can assist with muscle repair after a long, tiring run, allowing you to resume training faster.
Many distance runners boost their energy intake with the use of protein powder, which can be conveniently mixed into shakes to deliver that much needed fuel to the muscles.
Recommended Dose: To determine how much protein your body needs while training, you have to do a little math. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a daily intake of 1.2 – 2g of protein per kilo of body weight for athletes who routinely train for more than 10 hours per week.
One of the most popular dietary supplements among bodybuilders and endurance athletes around the world, modest dietary supplementation with beta alanine has been found to make tangible improvements to the physical performance of athletes.
Beta alanine is a nonessential amino acid that occurs naturally in the body, and has been found to increase muscular output and endurance during high intensity exercise. This can enhance physical activity, and may even help to delay muscle fatigue when running, allowing you to train for longer.
This can help to increase muscular mass and aerobic endurance, both of which can benefit the stamina and speed of long distance runners.
Recommended Dose: Scientific studies have concluded that 3.2 - 5.4g per day of beta alanine supplements is the optimal amount for making improvements to physical performance.
Iron is an essential mineral in our diets, as it is plays a key role in the binding of oxygen to haemoglobin in our red blood cells. These red blood cells are then responsible for carrying that oxygen around our bodies, providing the muscles and organs with the tools they need to function and produce energy.
Iron deficiency is not uncommon among distance runners, as intense exercise can deplete the body’s iron levels through sweating, and damage to red blood cells. If left unchecked, this can result in iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia. Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath during exercise, respiratory illness, weakness, and exhaustion, all of which can cause a decline in running performance.
It is therefore critically important for distance runners to make sure that their iron intake is adequate, which is easily achievable with the use of dietary supplements.
Boosting your iron intake can even help to enhance your performance, as it can increase the amount of oxygen that is delivered to your muscles as you exercise. This can give you more energy, improve the performance and strength of your muscles, and even help to improve your respiratory fitness. Combined, these effects can help you to run faster for longer, and can leave you feeling less tired after a tough training session.
Recommended Dose: For regular runners, a daily dose of 50 - 100 mg of iron has been shown to be effective in preventing deficiency. It is important not to exceed this dose, however, as high levels of iron in the body can be toxic.
Produced in the muscles, L-Glutamine is the most common amino acid in the body, and is used to support many essential processes, such as muscular and immune function.
Distance runners habitually put their bodies under significant levels of stress with rigorous endurance training, which can cause their L-Glutamine levels to drop.
If L-Glutamine is used up at a faster rate than your body is able to produce it, muscle wasting may occur as a result. Furthermore, due to the role of L-Glutamine in supporting immune health and function, endurance athletes deficient in this amino acid may also experience a higher rate of illness and infection following a tough race.
As a distance runner, it is vital to make sure you are getting enough L-Glutamine in your diet, to protect the health and viability of your muscles and immune system. Helping your body to support these systems can prevent muscle damage,improve your stamina and endurance when running, and reduce your chance of infection. Dietary supplementation with L-Glutamine can give a noticeable boost to your overall performance, and can also help to safeguard your long term health.
Recommended Dose: L-Glutamine should be taken immediately after exercise at a dosage of 2 - 4 g, and can be taken in either powder or tablet form.
5. Omega 3, 6, and 9
Omega 3, 6, and 9 are essential fatty acids found in fish oil, and have a great many health benefits for runners.
These healthy fats are responsible for protecting the health of the bones, brain, and immune system. They can also help to support cardiovascular health, which can help to boost your running performance by more efficiently supplying oxygen to your muscles as you run.
Omega 3, 6, and 9 can also reduce inflammation, which is often caused by muscle soreness after a long, tough run. This can expedite your recovery time, reducing post-run pain, and allowing you to return to your training regime more quickly.
Including Omega 3, 6, and 9 supplements to your diet can have a highly beneficial effect on the long term health of your cardiovascular system, whilst enhancing your running performance by helping to reduce your recovery time, and boost your cardiovascular fitness.
Recommended Dose: Omega 3, 6, and 9 can all be found in fish oil supplements, which can be taken at a dose of 2 - 4 g per day. Alternatively, these fatty acids can be found in perfectly blended and balanced doses, which are specifically designed to enhance and support your running performance.
If you tire quickly when training and often find it difficult to complete your run, caffeine could be just the supplement you need to give you a much needed boost.
Caffeine supplements are widely used by endurance athletes, as they can help to reduce perception of effort during a long run and delay fatigue, helping you to run faster for longer. This can help you to maintain your peak performance longer than usual when running, preventing you from tiring quickly and allowing your body to benefit more from the training.
Caffeine can also increase fat oxidation, helping you to manage and maintain a healthy weight whilst optimizing muscular performance.
Recommended Dosage: For optimal benefits, caffeine should be taken around 60 minutes before beginning a run at a dose of 1.3 - 2.7 g per pound of body weight.
Which Supplements Should You Avoid?
There is no doubt that dietary supplements can have a highly beneficial effect on your health and fitness, and can help to enhance your running speed, strength, recovery time, and stamina.
However, not all supplements are useful for improving your running performance, and some may even do more harm than good.
At the very least, taking a dietary supplement you don’t need is a waste of money, as it is unlikely to be of any benefit to your body, and may even damage your health if taken persistently.
Here are the top dietary supplements to avoid for distance runners, to help keep your performance at an optimal level, and to protect your long term health.
It is a well known fact that calcium supports bone health, helping to build strength and prevent running injuries, such as stress fractures. Calcium is also a key component in several essential bodily functions, such as muscle contraction and the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, making it an important mineral for runners - so why should you avoid calcium supplements?
Although distance runners should aim to incorporate plenty of calcium in their diet, the recommended daily dose for adult runners is only 1000mg per day. This amount can be easily obtained from diet alone, so there is no need to take additional supplements, particularly as too much of the mineral can do your body more harm than good.
Studies have found that men taking more than 1000 mg per day were 20 times more likely to develop heart disease, possibly as a result of excess calcium being absorbed by the artery walls rather than the bones.
Top Tip: Include plenty of dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, fatty fish, and dark leafy greens in your diet to make sure you are getting all the calcium you need.
2. Magnesium Oxide
Runners need plenty of magnesium in their diets, as this mineral plays a key role in bodily processes such as blood sugar regulation and muscle contraction. Furthermore, studies have found that only around 25% of people get their full recommended daily dose (320 mg for women, 420 mg for men), so supplementation isn’t a bad idea for runners who think they may be deficient.
The problem with magnesium oxide is that it is the most poorly absorbed form of magnesium, so your body cannot effectively utilize or benefit from the mineral, rendering it little more than a waste of money.
If you feel that you are unable to get all the magnesium you need from diet alone, opting for a different supplement, such as magnesium glycinate, may yield better results.
Top Tip: Boost your dietary intake of magnesium by filling up on foods such as nuts, avocado, bananas, seeds, fatty fish, dark, and leafy greens. Pumpkin seeds in particular are packed with the mineral, with just half a cup full providing you will all the magnesium you need.
A favorite dietary supplement of athletes around the world, creatine is a naturally occuring substance that is found in muscle cells. By increasing the amount of creatine phosphate (a component of ATP) in the body, this supplement can be used to boost the body’s energy production during exercise. When taken prior to a workout, it can be used to deliver short terms boosts to muscular growth, strength, and power, making it a popular choice among bodybuilders.
Many people believe this effect to also beneficial for distance runners, as it can give the muscles the energy they need to perform better for longer, potentially improving running speed and distance.
However, creatine supplements are thought to be responsible for contributing to muscle cramps and heat - related illnesses, which can significantly harm your performance as a runner. This is because creatine pulls water into the muscle cells, which increases protein synthesis, but can also contribute to dehydration and put unnecessary strain on your kidneys. What’s more, creatine does not improve aerobic performance in the body, so if your aim is to improve your cardiovascular fitness, creatine supplements will do little to help.
Top Tip: Although creatine is important for promoting muscular health and growth, runners can get all they need from natural sources, without resorting to supplementation. Eating meat (especially beef) and fish, such as herring, can be the best way to ensure an optimal and healthy creatine intake.
Choosing the best dietary supplements to enhance your performance as a distance runner requires careful consideration of your personal training needs, and your dietary habits.
Supplements can be used effectively to improve your muscular growth and strength, boost immune and cardiovascular health, delay fatigue, reduce the risk of injury, and expedite recovery following a workout.
Dietary supplements can be instrumental in helping endurance athletes, such as distance runners, benefit more from their training, making noticeable improvements to their stamina, fitness, and overall performance.