While eating healthy whole foods is the best way to get the nutrition you need, athletes can benefit from taking certain key supplements intended to boost performance. Supplementing with nutrients that support muscle, bone, and cell structures help keep up with the demands of a heightened metabolism and speed recovery. Some supplements are more effective than others and most have at least some scientific data to back up the various claims.
An organic acid, creatine is created in the body and helps supply muscle tissue with energy by increasing ATP production. While the body is generally able to create adequate creatine on its own, supplementing with additional creatine enhances the body’s ability to increase muscle mass. Often a favorite of bodybuilders, runners can also benefit from additional muscle to improve their strength and cross-training and their power during interval speed workouts.
Cautions: There are some reports that indicate that creatine may cause kidney damage, however the European Food Safety Authority has stated that 3 grams per day is generally safe. Some people have an allergy to creatine.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Often found combined together in one pill, both glucosamine and chrondroitin support joint and bone health. People with osteoarthritis and other skeletal disease are the most likely to benefit from taking them. But as all runners know, their sport is hard on the joints, and years of running can take their toll, eventually leading to conditions like arthritis. There is some evidence that taking glucosamine and chondroitin can not only reverse but prevent joint disease. The evidence behind these two supplements is mixed, however if you are concerned about your bone health it may be worth trying.
Cautions: None, though rarely people may experience stomach discomfort. Simply follow the recommended dosage on the bottle, as no additional benefit comes from taking more than is needed.
Beginning runners quickly learn that as they increase their activity, the protein in their diet could use a boost. Eating more meat and beans is one way to do this, but for quick absorption of muscle’s most important macronutrient, whey protein is unbeatable. Made from an isolated protein in a byproduct of cheese, whey protein accelerates muscle recovery after a hard workout. A recent research study at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada concluded that endurance athletes need even more protein than strength athletes to support muscle health. About 10-20 grams of protein per hour of training will do it for a post-workout supplement.
Cautions: No significant negative effects; mild digestive issues occur in some people, especially those who are lactose intolerant. You can also try soy, rice, and plant-based protein if it’s important to you not to eat any products that come from cheese.
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When does caffeine not help performance? Love it or hate it, caffeine makes everything go faster, including runners. Caffeine is heavily researched in sports medicine as a performance enhancer. It has been found to support a more positive and determined mental state, increase fat burning, improve heat tolerance, and of course, speed things up. Caffeine may also help rebuild glycogen stores and therefore reduce recovery time.
Cautions: The usual jitters and withdrawal effects. Adjust your caffeine intake in accordance with your tolerance.
Supplements can vary in quality, so be sure to do your due diligence when finding the right brand. Check for unnecessary additives as well as the source of the ingredients and what the manufacturer puts into their proprietary blends. Runners’ bodies will find the most benefit from the purest of formulas.