Getting the right nutrition might make ALL the difference when it comes to setting you next PB.
Whether you’re running marathons or 100m sprints, your food is your fuel, and you won’t be running anywhere near your potential without it.
The supplement market is flooded with thousands of products aimed at athletes from all walks of life; but what is really of use when it comes to improving your running?
The supplements you choose are largely going to be dictated by what it is you want to achieve. If you’re a long-distance runner looking to lean-out, you’re going to be taking a different dietary approach to a sprinter looking to build muscle mass.
Before you start purchasing any powders or pills, have a think about what areas you want to focus on developing.
This article details a few of the best supplements for helping to improve your running performance. It is important to keep in mind that your nutritional approach should always start with a well-balanced diet, high in plant foods, lean proteins and healthy carbohydrate sources. Supplements should be an added extra, and not used to replace real healthy foods.
This one probably seems obvious - Caffeine.
Caffeine is the most commonly used stimulant and it’s a safe bet to make that you’re already getting a dose of it from somewhere daily. Whether it’s from energy drinks, soft drinks or a bitter black coffee, caffeine is going to give you that extra buzz you need to give you a kick out the door.
What you might want to consider is caffeine sources that are specific for sport:
Energy gels - caffeine and carb gels that can be easily carried with you on your long run
Energy tabs - dissolve in your water bottle to give you that extra boost while you hydrate between intervals
The issue with caffeine is that it can have a relatively short-lasting effect; especially once you start running. If you want something that’s going to enhance your performance over long distances, you need to look a bit further.
Maltodextrin and Intra-Workout Carbs
Carbohydrates are your muscles primary energy source. If you’re training at a high intensity your body needs a supply of this quick release fuel to perform.
This is especially true if the exercise you’re doing is anaerobic (i.e. sprint training).
If you deplete your tank of stored carbs (glycogen) during your workout, you’ll find yourself hitting “the wall”. A depleted supply of stored carbohydrates means increased fatigue, decreased focus, power and strength.
It doesn’t matter if your goal is to gain muscle mass or lose body fat - this is all about increasing performance and seeing better progress in the long-term as a result.
If you decide to try re-fueling during your workouts (and you should), the best way of doing this while out on a run are dissolvable liquid carbohydrates that you can carry and drink on the move.
The efficacy of Beta-Alanine as a supplement is backed by major peer-reviewed studied on humans!
Beta-Alanine acts to increase your capacity to train harder for longer, boosting muscular strength and power output, increasing muscle mass and improving muscular aerobic and anaerobic endurance.
The amino acid does this by targeting biological processes that prevent us from reaching our full potential during exercise. If there’s a stopper placed to prevent your muscles reaching maximal overload, you’re not going to reap the maximal benefits of your training.
The way in which Beta-Alanine overcomes this problem is by boosting the concentrations of Carnosine found in the body. Increased Carnosine concentration allow type 2 muscle fibers to soak up more H+ ions, keeping muscles in their optimal pH range.
Creatine possess an important role in energy production for short duration high intensity exercise.
The supplement is used as a substrate for the conversation of ADP back to ATP. This means, the more creatine that is available, the more energy there is available.
Creatine can be purchase in both powered and tablet forms.
Post-workout supplements are supplements for running faster. This is because they provide your muscles with the nutrients they need for growth and repair immediately after exercise. Naturally, building muscle is excellent for increasing your strength, power and speed.
Many products exist specifically for this purpose, some of the best of which are recovery shakes (look for one with a 50:50 protein to carbohydrate split).
However, if you’re on more of a budget a chocolate milkshake often works just as well. You could even aim to get a meal in immediately after training, though many people struggle to eat much that soon after a tough run.
It’s probably best to play around with your post-run re-fuelling to find your best fit, you’ll know when you’ve got it right.
One of the most important things for runners to take care of are joints. All that impact of footfall can cause some major wear-and-tear, so what can you do to help your knees and hips?
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that is scientifically proven to be excellent for your joint health.
It is also hugely beneficial in supporting you brain and cardiovascular health - which is an asset for runner and non-runner alike.
Fish are a great source of Omega 3s, but most of us are not eating enough salmon and tuna to reap the health benefits.
Therefore, extra supplementation of cod liver oil capsules can be incredibly useful.
Chondroitin is often recommended by doctors as a supplement for patients suffering from osteoarthritis. Chondroitin itself can be a bit hit and miss and should be taken alongside glucosamine for the best results.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplementation should lead to some improvements in the nondescript pain and stiffness that is experienced by many runners.
Supplementation of vitamin C and gelatin acts to increase collagen production. The ability of muscle, tendons, ligaments and bones to facilitate movement and withstand physical stresses is largely dependent upon the collage-rich extracellular matrix that surrounds them.
Vitamin C is essential to produce collagen. When this micronutrient is taken, alongside gelatin which contains amino acids prevalent in collagen, proven increases in strength and function of muscles and tendons has been seen in lab models.
As damage to extracellular matrix is common, there is never any harm in acting to increase the production of collagen, reducing repair times.
Whilst all the supplements we’ve listed for you have undeniable benefits in boosting your nutritional status for better runs, there will never be a supplement that can out-do a balanced diet.
If you want to invest your money in a little something extra, the options above have been found to be some of the best supplements for runners. Just remember that they are just that though - something extra.
Count those macros, get your vitamins and keep on running!
Hayden Cox is a former NCAA DI athlete in Cross Country and Track. He has had the opportunity to work with 2x U.S. Olympian, Robert Gary, and a host of elite athletes at the collegiate and professional level. Hayden's ideal day consists of an early morning long run on a mountain trail followed by a giant bowl of pasta and a chocolate milkshake (just don't tell anyone about the milkshake!)