As a runner, many supplements can be used to improve your endurance and overall performance. If you’re looking to maximize your performance on the trail, these supplements may give you the edge you’re looking for. Most athletes will be able to benefit from some form of supplementation, so keep reading to see which of these supplements may be the right choice for you. In this article, we’ll be covering the 6 best supplements for running endurance.
*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.
The Best Supplements for Runners
First up is caffeine, which is gives you a boost of energy for tough workouts. This is probably the single most studied supplementation for athletes on the planet, as well as one of the most effective.
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:
With data to suggest improvements on all types of athletes, particularly endurance athletes, and runners form short distances, to ultra marathon distances, it is one of the most effective and widely used supplements for running.
Runners should be careful with digestive issues and caffeine. Finding how to supplement to keep your stomach and poop schedule in check can be difficulty, but easily attainable through practice.
I myself don’t drink coffee, or intake caffeine, aside from long endurance days or events, and this has been highly effective.
Supplementing carbohydrate intake is especially beneficial during long, grueling runs or important races.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for the body during intense physical activity such as long-distance running. Consuming carbohydrates during endurance exercise can help delay fatigue, improve performance, and reduce muscle damage. Carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which can be broken down and used as energy during exercise. When glycogen stores are depleted, fatigue sets in and performance decreases.
While carbohydrates are a basic macronutrient found in grains, legumes, and many other foods, it can be difficult to maintain glucose levels, especially during a marathon-length race. This is why carbohydrate supplements like gels or gummies are a great option for many runners.
Supplementing with carbohydrates during long-distance running can help maintain glycogen stores, prolonging the time before fatigue sets in and allowing for better overall performance. Additionally, consuming carbohydrates during endurance exercise has been shown to reduce muscle damage and enhance recovery.
Carb supplementation is also extremely heavily studied. While you may hear about fat adapted athletes, or keto athletes, even many of these athletes are supplementing carbs during races to maximize performance.
While there is some debate as to whether omega 3s are necessary for endurance athletes, it appears there are clear benefits to implementing them into your supplement routine (particularly when someone is deficient). The main benefits of omega 3s for endurance athletes appear to be a lower heart rate peak and lower oxygen consumption. One of the other main benefits of omega-3 supplementation is reduced inflammation and improved cardiovascular health, especially for older athletes. Like other supplements on this list, you can get enough omega 3s in your diet through foods like fish which are rich in the nutrient. However, if you’re struggling to get enough omegas in your diet, then supplementation can be a good idea.
As a runner, it’s critical that you’re maintaining proper levels of vitamins in your body to achieve peak performance. Some of these include vitamin D and iron. While these can both be found in foods, it probably won’t hurt to safeguard against deficiencies by implementing a multivitamin in your diet.
We note, you need to be very careful about taking a multivitamin with other supplements. You want to ensure that your daily amounts are within recommended limits. For example, if you take a multivitamin, you may want to avoid also taking a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked not only to lower rates of power and endurance in athletes but to an increased risk of injury as well. Iron deficiency is especially common in female athletes and can lead to anemia which may cause severe fatigue. Of course, if you have an issue with any specific vitamin, targeting that with a standalone supplement may be an even better choice. If you’re concerned about being deficient in any specific nutrient, be sure to bring it up with your doctor. Regardless, you can make sure you’re not only achieving optimal performance but maintaining your overall health by implementing a multivitamin into your diet.
For any athlete, getting enough protein in your diet is critical to maintaining muscle mass and getting optimal recovery. This makes a good protein powder one of the best recovery supplements for runners of any age or experience level. All runners and athletes in general should consider implementing some form of protein supplementation in their diets.
Protein powder for runners is especially beneficial when it comes to recovery after draining workouts. Protein is commonly associated with weightlifting, although any athlete should be consuming enough protein to aid in the recovery and maintenance of muscle mass. Although your goal may not necessarily be to put on significantly more muscle mass, maintaining muscle will help you achieve optimal performance.
There are many options to choose from, with whey isolate being one of the most popular. If you prefer a dairy-free option, there are plenty of vegan blends available as well, usually made up of hemp, pea, and brown rice protein. Protein is one of the most versatile supplements on the market, with it being enjoyable in both shakes and protein-packed food recipes.
Running more than nearly any other support can be incredibly hard on your joints, specifically your knees. Especially for older runners, maintaining longevity should be a top priority when running regularly. Runners of all ages are susceptible to damaging their joints through the repetitive high-impact movements involved in running. Two of the most common supplements used for this purpose are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. While there is some debate as to the efficacy of joint support supplements, it appears that many people see them as providing meaningful support.
Creatine is most typically used for short bursts of energy, which makes it more commonplace in sports like weightlifting rather than running. However, this doesn’t mean it can’t have benefits for your running performance as well. In recent years, it has become increasingly commonplace for runners to include creatine in their supplementation routine. Especially for sprints or interval training, the boost of energy that creatine provides may be incredibly helpful. While there is not much evidence to support that creatine will aid in bursts of exercise lasting longer than 3 minutes, for things like sprint training, supplementation with creatine will likely increase your maximum output. Keep in mind that if you’re taking creatine, be sure to drink lots of water as it can cause dehydration if you do not.
Magnesium can be a great supplement for runners who want to try and get more impactful recover during the night by improving sleep, or by those that may have a magnesium deficiency. We do want to note that the studies do not have definitive evidence to suggest that magnesium supplementation helps with sleep, but many swear by it, and most studies come to the conclusion that greater research is needed to determine the effectiveness.
That being said, runners that can sleep better will likely see improvements in recovery and therefore performance with better sleep. As with any supplement, make sure it is third party tested to ensure you are getting only the desired supplement within your pill. For example, we use Pure Micronutrients magnesium as it is third party tested.
One of the lesser-known supplements on our list, nitrates are shown to improve endurance through how they alter your body’s ability to use oxygen. This is achieved by nitrates improving the bioavailability of nitric oxide. Nitrates are also a vasodilator, which means they improve blood flow and mitochondrial efficiency. Nitrates are most typically found through supplementation with beetroot powder, or sports drinks made out of beets. The benefits of nitrates in general health can be found through simply incorporating more nitrate-rich foods into your diet, however, this can be difficult to achieve with the threshold for athletic benefits being relatively high. Many athletes make the mistake of implementing nitrates into their supplementation without taking them at a high enough dose. To fully maximize their benefits on athletic performance, supplementation is ideal (of course this depends upon your natural intake of nitrates).
B12 is an important vitamin for runners, especially those who follow a plant-based diet. This supplement is difficult to find through food sources alone for those that follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. B12 is found in animal products like fish, red meat, and eggs, but is exceedingly difficult to find in plant-based foods, leading to many vegans and vegetarians being deficient. B12 deficiency can lead to significantly lower energy levels, which will obviously have an adverse effect on your running performance. Deficiency can also lead to several more serious medical conditions, so to ensure athletic longevity, supplementation is a good idea.
Are supplements necessary for running?
No, while supplementation will likely improve your overall performance when used appropriately, it is not necessary for every athlete. Ultimately, this comes down to a matter of personal preference. If you are confident that you can meet all of your nutritional needs and vitamin intake through diet alone, then supplementation is likely, not necessary. However, if you are someone who struggles with this, then there is no harm in supplementation.
What’s the best supplement for running?
While all of these supplements have their benefits, it’s likely the one that will have the most immediate impact on your performance is caffeine. This is because the stimulating effects of caffeine will give you an immediate boost of energy which will likely give you a noticeable boost in endurance and power.
For most runners, having a set of supplements will help you have the most optimal performance possible. Supplements like pre-workout and creatine should give you a noticeable boost in energy and power during your workouts. Other nutritional supplements like protein and multivitamins will help you ensure your body’s functioning at an optimal level for athletic performance. While supplementation is not necessary to be a runner, most athletes will benefit from supplementation in some form.
What’s your experience with supplementation as a runner? Are there any supplements you can’t live without? Let us know your thoughts be messaging us.
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