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In a perfect world, you would receive all of your nutrients, vitamins, and minerals directly from your food. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Between busy schedules that don’t always allow for proper nutrition, to increased demands due to physical activity, runners may occasionally find themselves needing to supplement their diet with added nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to aid in performance and recovery.
Below I discuss five supplements that I personally take aid in my demanding training schedule as an ultramarathon enthusiast. As always, please remember to discuss any supplementation with your physician before beginning your own supplement regimen. It is important to understand how various supplements may interact with medications you are already taking, as well as to understand what dosage levels are right for your needs.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
A multi vitamin is a great place to start when it comes to supplementation, and something I suggest for all of my athletes. A multi will help you fill in the gaps to cover the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of all of your vitamins and minerals, where your food intake might fall short. Multi vitamins take the guess work out of needing to know recommended dosing is, and what supplements you should be taking. It’s all right there in simple pill form.
Personally, as a female ultrarunner and a vegetarian, I choose to take a prenatal vitamin for the added iron. According to research, female athletes participating in endurance sports are at increased risk of potential iron deficiencies. This is due to heightened iron losses through menstruation and exercise-induced mechanisms associated with endurance activity (source). The amount of iron in a prenatal vitamin is higher than a standard multi, but less than a true iron supplement, which I find is more suitable for my needs (and doesn’t upset my stomach).
Curcumin / Turmeric
A few years ago I discovered the benefits of taking a turmeric supplement, and never looked back. Curcumin is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in the spice turmeric…yes, that bright yellow/orange spice you often see in Indian food. Turmeric has been shown to decrease inflammatory cytokines and increases muscle regeneration, which means offsetting delayed onset muscle soreness (source), decreasing recovery time after a workout, and it may even help lessen joint pain (source).
I try to cook with actual turmeric whenever I can, but also choose to take the supplementation route to help with recovery of the endless beating my legs and body tend to take.
Most athletes already understand that protein is vital for helping repair muscular damage after a hard race or training session. Protein, once digested, is broken down into its smallest form, which are knowns as amino acids, often referred to the “building blocks of protein”. Twenty amino acids have been identified as necessary for human growth and metabolism. Twelve of these are called “Non-essential amino acids”, and can be formed within the body. The other eight are called “essential amino acids” and cannot be formed within the body, which is why we must obtain them through food or supplementation.
Branched Chain amino acids (or, BCAA’s) include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are all essential amino acids. When combined with L-tryptophan (another essential amino acid), BCAA’s are thought to delay fatigue. There is convincing evidence that exercise induced increases in the plasma free tryptophan/BCAA ration are associated with increased brain serotonin and the onset of fatigue during prolonged exercise (source) While studies, scientists, and athletes go back and forth about the conclusiveness of BCAA’s in prolonging exercise or enhancing sports performance, we do know that BCAA’s can help stimulate faster recovery. Personally, with a lack of animal proteins in my diet, I find supplementing with BCAA’s during and post exercise helps with my recovery as well as insuring I am obtaining more essential amino acids that my particular diet lacks.
ZMA is a combination of zinc monomethionine/asparate and magnesium aspartate plus vitamin B6, and is an efficient and easy way to maintain adequate levels of two important minerals: zinc and magnesium.
Zinc plays a central role in the regulation of cellular growth and tissue repair, as well as the maintenance of a healthy immune system.
Magnesium is required by the body for a slew of functions, including muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve function, cardiac activity, blood pressure regulation, hormonal interactions, immunity, bone health and synthesis of proteins, fats and nucleic acids. Magnesium is also crucial for energy metabolism by the activation of enzymes known as ATPases, which are needed to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate). A lack of adequate magnesium levels can cause lethargy and decreased performance in athletes. What’s more, magnesium is NOT naturally produced by the body, so we need to obtain it through foods or supplementation.
In various research studies, supplementation with ZMA has shows increased strenth and power gains in athletes, as well as aided in better quality sleep.
Spirulina is not a plant, but rather blue-green algae, consumed in powder or pill form. Spriulina is a nutrient dense superfood, with a high protein profile, B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, zinc, chlorophyll, the essential fatty acid GLA, and phytonutrients, and is a great source of non-heme iron (one tablespoon accounts for 10% of your daily iron).
Besides being a great superfood, why would a runner want to take spirulina? It’s been proven to increase muscular endurance and strength, help reduce post workout inflammation, and support heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. What’s more: research shows that supplementation with spirulina may actually delay fatigue during endurance exercise (source)
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What supplements do you find helpful in your training and recovery? Comment below!