Can supplements improve your running ? or are they a waste of money ?
The nutrient and energy demands for athletes are greater than for the average person, due to the increased amount of stress that you put on your body when training. In some instances, supplements can be beneficial for athletes to improve endurance, reduce fatigue, support the immune system and prevent injury.
Supplements should be considered as just that – a supplement to your regular diet – good quality real food and drinks that are well timed, should always be prioritised over swallowing a tablet/powder. Many athletes, however, may benefit from supplements, as it can be difficult to get enough of certain nutrients in your diet.
Tamara's Top 7 favourite supplements that are most likely to help runners
The most common sports supplement is protein powder. Protein powders can be an excellent way to complement your diet, and are especially useful as a recovery meal/shake when combined with carbohydrates (most commonly fruit and vegetables). Athletes need anywhere from 1.2 – 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day, spread over 3-4 meals. Without a quality protein powder this can be very difficult (and time consuming) to achieve. A complete WHEY protein powder is the best option due to its amino acid profile, specifically the amount of branched change amino acids that it contains.
For more information on protein read THIS ARTICLE.
Iron and Vitamin D
It is a good idea to have a blood test periodically. Make sure you get tested for both Iron and Vitamin D, as these are easily depleted with a high training load, and sub optimal levels of Iron and Vitamin D will lead to fatigue and poor performance.
A full blood count can also be a guide to many other issues such as inflammation, a weakened immune system, liver function, lack of protein and poor insulin control.
Not all minerals and nutrients can be tested by blood tests. Sometimes your symptoms are the best indication of a nutrient deficiency.
Absorption of Iron in the diet is extremely variable, and gut health has a significant impact on this. Low iron leads to hypoxia, or low oxygen, resulting in fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. Endurance runners are at a greater risk of low iron.
Vitamin D is a hormone that our body makes – and whilst sun exposure can help, it does not ensure that this equates to high levels in the body. Adequate vitamin D is essential for bone health as it regulates the uptake of calcium.
If you are following a predominately plant based diet - it is even more essential to regularly check these nutrients via a blood test.
For more information about Vitamin D, read THIS ARTICLE.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function (this can help relieve cramps), and helps your cells make the much needed energy to sustain training loads. It also plays an essential role in protecting you from stress fractures. Please read THIS ARTICLE for more information.
Vitamin C or a Quality Greens Powder
Vitamin C helps to increase the activity of white blood cells which protect your immune system, and help to ward off common colds. You shouldn’t use greens powders to replace your vegetables, however if you struggle to get in the required 5-7 serves of veggies per day, then it might be a convenient option to boost the nutrient density of your diet.
You can make you own “greens powder” by lightly steaming or blanching a pile of dark leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard, kale – then blitzing in the blender with a little water, pour into ice cube trays and freeze , ready to add to you smoothie or casseroles.
This compound is essential for energy production, and is beneficial for managing fatigue. It is also a powerful antioxidant. If you struggle to recover well from your runs, this nutrient is my number one pick - as it improves the uptake of oxygen into the cells, increasing your energy output. It is highly available in food – but most people refuse to eat it …. Sardines and Organ Meats (liver, heart etc)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids – EPA and DHA
This nutrient is vital for the integrity and stability of every cell, and helps to reduce inflammation and reduce fatigue. It is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in diet as it’s only in a small number of foods – oily fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds. If you regularly eat sardines, salmon, mackerel then you should be getting enough from your diet, however if you don’t eat these, or are eating a plant based diet then a supplement is beneficial as the plant based sources do not contain enough of both EPA and DHA.
But why can’t you get enough of all these nutrients in a good diet ?
In theory you can - however it greatly depends on the nutrient density of your food. The nutrient density is determined by the quality and variety of foods that you eat, how and where they are grown and how fresh they are. There has been a significant drop in the nutrient density of foods over the past 40 years due to farming practices and increase demand for profits over quality of food.
The two biggest nutrients that I see missing from modern diets are Omega 3 and CoQ10 - if you can try and include sardines and liver or heart into your diet every week this will make a significant impact. Many butchers now offer a “Beef and Beef Heart Mince” , this is an excellent way to include organ meats without even noticing.
Adequate magnesium is also missing for most athletes - due to the majority of leafy greens we consume being grown in poor quality magnesium deficient soil.
High quality supplements in the right dose, and taken at the right time, can have a beneficial impact on performance.
Always choose a good quality (ideally practitioner prescribed) supplement that has been scientifically tested, and approved by the TGA to ensure that you are not wasting your money.
If you would like some help determining the most appropriate supplements for your personal situation please get in touch with Tamara at Mad on Nutrition.