In recent years, sports nutrition supplements have transcended their origins in the world of bodybuilding and elite athletics, becoming increasingly popular among athletes of all levels. The running community, in particular, has witnessed a significant shift in the approach to race fuelling, with experts recommending a variety of supplements to enhance performance and support overall health.
However, with the media buzz surrounding the ineffectiveness of certain supplements, it’s crucial to examine the claims made by sports nutrition manufacturers. This article explores the benefits of supplements for runners, delving into the latest research and expert opinions to help you make informed choices about supplementation.
*Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Before taking any type of supplement, consult with a medical professional, and consider that supplementation is something that can have positive, negative, or no effects that range widely from person to person. Your individual use case may vary greatly from the average population.
Unveiling the Truth about Supplements
The headlines about omega-3 supplements being ineffective created a stir in 2018, leading to questions about the reliability of other sports nutrition products. While the Cochrane review focused specifically on omega-3 supplements and their impact on heart and circulatory diseases, it highlights the need to critically evaluate research and constantly update our understanding.
This critical evaluation applies to all types of supplements, including pre-workout supplements. However, a comprehensive guide to pre-workout supplements will explain their potential benefits, providing details about their ingredients, research evidence, and potential side effects.
Optimizing Performance with Supplements
This one was almost too obvious to add to the list. Almost. We won’t go into great detail, but carbs can be consumed in just about every type of form from powders to gels to gummies, to regular old food. Almost 100% of runners supplement carbohydrates to prevent glycogen depletion. This is probably the most study supplement for athletes in the world, and generally it is impossible to over consume carbohydrates during exercise. Athletes tend to simply need to make sure they can handle it gastrointestinally, and experiment with different ways to consume carbs before and during training or races.
Read these studies, and also do some google searching on your own to find articles written by those that are familiar with scientific studies on caffeine:
Caffeine has been shown to offer various benefits to runners, including increased focus, mental alertness, and improved stamina. Research conducted at Leeds Metropolitan University suggests that consuming caffeine an hour before endurance exercise can enhance enjoyment and aid muscle glycogen conservation.
However, it’s worth noting that caffeine acts as a diuretic and may not be ideal for hydration during runs. Alternative options, such as caffeine gels or energy drinks, can provide the desired performance boost without compromising hydration.
Exciting research from the University of Central Florida has unveiled the potential of beta-alanine, a naturally occurring amino acid abundant in nuts, seeds, legumes and soybeans, in combating fatigue and enhancing performance during intense workouts. In particular, beta-alanine’s effectiveness has been highlighted.
According to studies, to attain the best possible outcomes, it is recommended to consume doses of 4.8 grams/day, gradually increasing to 6.4 grams/day over a period of two weeks leading up to a race. Incorporating Beta-Alanine into your routine may prove beneficial in enhancing your exercise performance.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which include valine, leucine, and isoleucine, play a crucial role in stimulating protein synthesis and promoting muscle repair following exercise. Furthermore, BCAAs have been found to potentially delay mental fatigue associated with decreasing blood levels of these essential amino acids.
To maximize their benefits, it is recommended to consume BCAAs in liquid or gel form prior to or during a run. This allows for their rapid absorption and utilization by the body to provide energy and facilitate muscle recovery. Including BCAAs as part of your pre- or intra-workout routine can be advantageous for optimizing performance and supporting muscle health.
New research conducted at the University of Exeter has revealed the positive impact of nitric oxide (NO) on muscle blood flow. This important compound, obtained from nitrates found in specific foods, has been shown to enhance both sprint performance and cognitive processing speed. In particular, consuming a concentrated beetroot juice, rich in nitrates, has been found to yield these benefits.
It is worth noting that the performance-enhancing effects of nitrates are temporary, lasting approximately between 5 to 30 minutes. To achieve the best results, it is recommended to consume 140 ml of liquid beetroot supplement.
Recent findings from the University of Maastricht have shed light on the advantages of casein, an insoluble component found in milk, as a nighttime muscle repair option. Casein stands out from plant-based protein supplements due to its higher leucine content. Notably, it offers a slow-release mechanism, making it an ideal choice for athletes aiming to support muscle recovery during sleep.
Unlike other protein sources, casein has been found to effectively reduce muscle breakdown, rendering it especially beneficial for endurance athletes. In the study conducted by Dutch researchers, a supplement blend consisting of 20g of casein protein and 60g of carbohydrates, taken 30 minutes before bedtime on training days, yielded positive outcomes.
Chondroitin and Glucosamine
Chondroitin and glucosamine are often favored by runners seeking relief from joint pain. While study results vary, some indicate a 28% improvement in knee pain among participants taking glucosamine. Chondroitin has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties and promotes joint fluidity. It’s important to note that these supplements should not be used to mask injury or push through pain, but rather under the guidance of a specialist.
Adequate iron levels are crucial for the proper function of red blood cells in carrying oxygen throughout the body. Runners, particularly older adults, vegetarians, and female athletes, face an elevated risk of iron insufficiency because of the demands of their training. Unfortunately, endurance athletes often prioritize consuming high quantities of carbohydrates for energy, which can inadvertently lead to low iron levels.
If you experience symptoms associated with iron deficiency, such as decreased performance, persistent fatigue, and increased vulnerability to infections, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before considering iron supplementation.
Vitamin D and Magnesium
Magnesium plays a crucial role in muscle contraction, energy production, and bone strength, while vitamin D is essential for optimal bone mass, muscle function, and immune health. Insufficient levels of these nutrients can lead to weak bones, impaired muscle function, and reduced immunity.
Public Health England recommends a 10-microgram vitamin D supplement daily during winter and autumn. Magnesium can be obtained from various sources, including energy bars, with a single Clif bar providing approximately 25% of your daily magnesium needs.
Choosing the right supplements can greatly benefit runners, enhancing performance, speeding up recovery, and supporting overall health. Caffeine, beta-alanine, BCAAs, nitric oxide, casein, glucosamine, chondroitin, iron, magnesium, and vitamin D are among the supplements that have demonstrated potential benefits for runners.
It’s important to consider individual needs, consult with healthcare professionals when necessary, and stay up-to-date with the latest research. By making informed decisions about supplementation, runners can optimize their performance and well-being on and off the trails.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about