by Davy Kestens in Health + Nutrition

Should you take supplements to improve your running performance?

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Runners can demand much from their bodies, so it only makes sense to put as much care back in to improve performance and to augment recovery. Whether one is a competitive runner or whether you just run to keep fit, the idea of taking supplements is one many consider.

The general types of supplements are the essential nutrients — protein, vitamins and minerals — and other types of supplements that are not considered as “required” for good health.

The latest trend is to advise against “mega-dosing” any type of supplement. In fact, according to many experts it is possible to get all the nutrition one needs from a good balanced diet. However, many runners may fail to get sufficient nutrients for a variety of reasons including dieting, poor eating habits, etc. At the very least, supplements can act as a safeguard to make sure that you are getting the right daily values of required nutrients. Some non-essential supplements may also help, and many are widely supported by successful competitive runners. However, at the same time, there may be dissenting voices as to the efficacy of these supplements in the medical community.

Protein and muscles

The body uses protein to repair and strengthen muscles that are damaged during running and other types of strenuous physical activity.

Weight-lifters and body builders are known to concentrate on high protein diets in combination with protein supplementation usually in the form of nutritional shakes and energy bars. Runners also need strong muscles although it is mainly sprinters who require significant increases in muscle mass. For distance runners, too much muscle mass may act as a detriment.

Most athletes probably get sufficient protein from their diets especially in Western countries in which meat forms a large portion of the meal. However, some runners may not consume enough protein in food for various reasons.

Runners who do not consume enough protein can use supplements including high protein shakes. However, they should be careful not to overdo the supplementation. Even competitive runners only require slightly more protein intake. Consuming more than two grams of protein daily for each kilogram of body weight is excessive even for athletes.

Excess protein can lead to toxic conditions due to increased urea production. Too much protein might also be stored by the body as fat. Some studies have shown that excessive protein can lead to dangerously high blood ammonia concentrations and can lead to an overly acidic digestive tract.

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Since food today is generally fortified with vitamins and minerals, it is much easier to get the recommended daily values than before.

However, if you eat lots of natural and organic food, these often are not fortified at all. Also, if your diet is not balanced you may not get enough of the essential vitamins and minerals. For example, if you are on a low salt diet, then you could very well suffer from iodine deficiency.

Most Westerners get their iodine from iodized salt. Iodine is essential for a healthy thyroid gland. Because of the widespread growth of low salt diets to combat hypertension and other health problems, the rate of thyroid-related health problems has grown. For this reason, people on low salt diets may wish to supplement their diets with iodine.

For most runners, it may be a good idea to take a vitamin and mineral supplement that provides at least the minimum daily requirements. While athletes may require more of these nutrients, loading up on them probably does not improve performance. The extra nutrition needed can probably be acquired from a healthy diet.

Note that it is easy to overload on certain vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A, for example, is stored by the body and too much of this nutrient can cause significant health problems.

While many runners like to load up on iron to increase the supply of blood oxygen, too much iron in the system can actually be counter-productive. Some studies have shown that American men are more likely to suffer from iron toxicity rather than from iron deficiency.

Other supplements

A wide range of non-essential supplements is taken by runners and other athletes desiring to improve their performance.

For example, glucosamine and chondroitin are popularly taken to help the body repair and replenish the cartilage and lubricants of the joints. A compound known as vanadyl sulfate is thought to increase endurance and energy.

Some runners take medicinal herbs that are believed to help with athletic performance. These can range from exotic Chinese herbs such as ginseng and gingko to those found in the spice rack including garlic and cayenne.

The efficacy of some of these supplements, as mentioned previously, can be disputed in scientific circles. Nevertheless, there are many successful runners and others athletes that believe such supplementation lead to improved results.

Conclusion

Deciding on whether to take supplements to improve running performance will first involve an analysis of whether you are getting all the required vitamins, minerals and protein.

For many runners, a minimal supplement will not hurt since this poses little danger of a toxic overdose. Be careful though not to overload on vitamins and minerals that are stored in the body. Even nutrients that are not stored like Vitamin C can have a negative impact when taken in mega-doses.

For many successful runners, some trial and error is necessary to find what types of supplements work for them in increasing performance.

We need your input

How do you feel about using supplements to improve your running performance?
Are you using supplements or have you used them before? Which ones?

Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and share your knowledge & ideas!




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