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Should Runners take Supplements?

November 16, 2016

Should Runners take Supplements?


There is no question that running is hard on an athlete’s body, particularly for runners that balance the stresses of training with full time jobs and families.  The value of supplements is often highly touted – and sometimes the results seem too good to be true.  Should you take supplements to improve your running?

Runners are most commonly deficient in iron, for reasons not fully understood by scientists.  Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, and lack of motivation.  However, before you run purchase an iron supplement, you should beware that too much iron in your system can cause similar side effects.  If you think your iron levels are low, consult a physician before beginning a supplementation regime.

Vitamin D
Many runners mistakenly believe they receive enough of the “sunshine vitamin” during their daily runs.  Surprisingly, this is not true.  Vitamin D is essential for supporting muscle and bone health, as well as recovery.  In fact, a number of elite runners have linked chronic stress fractures with Vitamin D deficiency.  Should you run to the store and stock up on Vitamin D supplements?  Like iron, too much Vitamin D can cause side effects as well, so it is important to have your blood levels tested first.

Runners lose this micronutrient through sweat and urine, meaning they are often lacking in this vital tool for recovery.  Zinc works in conjunction with over 100 enzymes in your body to regulate numerous processes, particularly metabolism.  Without enough zinc, athletes are at greater risk for a compromised immune system.  The best sources of zinc are oysters, clams, liver, wheat germ, and fortified breakfast cereals.  While too much zinc can be harmful, it is relatively difficult to overload your system.  If choosing to supplement your zinc intake with a pill, look to consume 12 – 15 mg per day.

You may be asking yourself, can’t I just take a multivitamin and be done with it?  Unfortunately, multivitamins may not be as effective as previously thought.  For instance, many vitamins and minerals interfere with one another, such as calcium and iron.  In addition, certain vitamins, such as Vitamin C, are readily found in foods, and exit your body quickly when taken in multivitamin form.  Therefore, it is often best to only take supplements as needed, based on your own biochemistry.

Probiotics have garnered a lot of attention lately, thanks to recent studies that have suggested the microflora found in our guts is more important than previously thought.  These healthy bacteria have implications for a number of processes, from digestion to exercise performance.  There is no limit on how many good bacteria a person can consume daily, and sources include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and other fermented items.  Additionally, probiotic supplements can be purchased; however, these are often expensive and consumers should be vigilant that special care is taken to maintain integrity of the product, such as refrigeration. 

Overall, supplementation is a good idea for athletes in conjunction with a blood test, and perhaps a visit to a nutritionist.  Supplements should never be blindly consumed, as often times too much of a good thing can be detrimental, as well.

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