Running is a great way to stay in shape, but it’s a physically gruelling exercise that requires the correct fuel – both before and after your workout.
It’s imperative that you eat the right food to ensure that you’re backing up your body and giving it the fuel it needs to perform optimally. However, not all of us manage to get the right nutrients, vitamins and minerals as part of our regular diets.
If that’s the case, you may want to consider supplements as a viable backup plan.
What are some of the best minerals and vitamins that runners can take?
The best vitamins for runners to include in their diet are Vitamin D and Vitamin E. In addition, it’s important to get the right amounts of magnesium, iron, zinc, sodium, potassium and calcium. Each of these vitamins and minerals plays a crucial role in the body and will help enhance a runner’s experience and help keep the body in top form.
We’ve all heard the advice to eat veggies, lots of fruit, and a nice balanced diet. But the truth is that every individual is different. Your nutritional needs (or deficiencies!) are unique to you, so while we can provide a good overview of the vitamins or minerals you might need… it’s impossible to speak for everybody.
There are various tests you can do to determine if you are deficient in any of these vitamins. Elite athletes will routinely do blood-work to examine their nutritional strengths and weaknesses.
Keep that in mind before doubling down on a particular vitamin, or ordering hundreds of dollars worth of running supplements you might not even need.
What Are The Best Minerals & Vitamins For Runners?
So, yes, disclaimers out of the way: It is recommended to go for blood testing to find out if you have any nutritional deficiency. This is generally recommended if you don’t know which vitamins you need to take, and it can be very interesting to see the results.
However, there are some vitamins and minerals that runners should incorporate, in general, to their daily diet… as a matter of good health.
Here are some of the vitamins and minerals that help support a runner’s body:
Vitamin D is especially important for runners that do not eat dairy. You may also want to add vitamin D into your diet if you live in a colder place that doesn’t get a lot of sunshine. This vitamin acts as a potent anti-inflammatory. It directly affects your running performance, and the bad news?
Many of us are deficient in it.
When growing up, it was always mentioned that milk would help strengthen the bones and teeth in the body. This is still true as Vitamin D helps to strengthen the bones of the human body, which is vital to help prevent any injuries that may occur if you fall while running.
For that reason, Vitamin D is essential in preventing some of the injuries that runners dread most – like stress fractures.
It is also useful for muscle activation and it helps to stimulate nerve function.
Of course, the most touted benefit of Vitamin D is that it boosts your immune system and provides support for cardiovascular function. Vitamin D, like the other vitamins mentioned below, can be obtained from capsules, or it can be obtained from food sources such as fish or yoghurt.
You can also get it from the good old sunshine. Yes, just getting outdoors will boost your Vitamin D intake on a sunny day. Ever wondered where those winter blues come from?!
Vitamin E is another essential vitamin that runners should incorporate into their diet. Not only does it help to lower inflammation, but it also boosts recovery.
That’s because Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in protecting cells from oxidative stress. A couple of studies have suggested that vitamin E may have potential benefits for runners, including reducing muscle damage and improving recovery after exercise.
The main recovery benefit of vitamin E for runners is that it can help to reduce some of that familiar muscle damage and soreness. If you are training for a long distance event, or you rack up a lot of mileage in general, it’s worth checking to ensure that you are getting enough of it.
However, there are also some potential downsides to consider when it comes to vitamin E supplementation for runners. The biggest is that it may interfere with the absorption of other nutrients, such as vitamin K.
One of the many reasons why it’s good to check that you’re actually deficient beforehand is because too much Vitamin E will have the opposite effect on your performance and fitness.
It has also been shown that high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of bleeding, especially in those who are taking blood thinners.
Want to add some Vitamin E to your diet without supplements?
Almonds and mangoes are two of our favorite ways!
The first supplement that many runners add to their diet (and really swear by) is magnesium, even though it is actually a mineral — not a vitamin.
The first sign that your body needs magnesium is when you are experiencing a lot of tiredness.
Of course, it’s pretty normal to feel tired after running, especially after you have been at it for a while. However, if you get tired easily from only a moderate amount of exercise, there could be a magnesium deficiency in play.
And you wouldn’t be alone in having that deficiency. A recent study by the World Health Organisation suggests that up to 75% of Americans consume “below” or “well below” the recommended daily intake of 420 mg.
Why is magnesium important for runners?
Magnesium plays a huge role in the body, and we need only look at the headline benefits to see why they are so important for runners:
- Reducing muscle cramps: Magnesium plays a role in muscle contraction and relaxation. Some studies have suggested that magnesium supplements may help to reduce muscle cramps and spasms, two of our most dreaded occurrences (which have ruined many races over the years).
- Reducing fatigue: Magnesium is involved in energy production and may help to reduce fatigue during exercise. If you are running long distance, you need every advantage you can get.
- Improving bone health: Magnesium is important for bone health and may help to prevent stress fractures in runners.
You can get magnesium from capsules, or you can choose to go with food sources that have magnesium, such as cooked spinach, dark chocolate, and black beans.
One important side note if you take the supplements route: there are many different types of magnesium, and some are more ‘bioavailable’ than others. Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide are known for their laxative effects, which are not what you are looking for in a marathon (or even a 5K)!
We prefer the gentler effects of Magnesium glycinate, which comes with a higher level of absorption and is less likely to result in a Paula Radcliffe accident (Google it).
Iron deficiency is quite common in runners, particularly female runners. Iron is a mineral that is crucial to your diet as it ensures that oxygen is delivered correctly throughout your entire body. Not only that, but it also helps to reduce fatigue, and it helps to bring more energy — which is really important when you’re running for long periods.
It also helps the body to be able to metabolize energy quicker, and it helps with specific brain processes. As you can see, iron is one of those essential vitamins that every runner should add as a supplement if he/she is actually deficient in it.
Although iron vitamins can be taken in the form of capsules, they can also be found in certain foods such as lentils, liver, and grass-fed beef.
If you are a runner and a vegan, the chances of you having an iron deficiency are high.
If you’re experiencing a lot of muscle cramping after running, or your muscles feel tired and are not holding your form, or the movements feel clumsy, that could mean that you are not getting enough potassium into your body.
For runners, potassium is especially important because it helps to regulate muscle function. It does this by helping to balance out the electrolytes in your body, which are basically little charged particles that help your muscles contract and relax. When you’re running, you lose electrolytes through sweat, which means it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough potassium to keep your muscles working properly.
This is particularly the case if you running in a hotter climate where you are likely to sweat more often.
In addition to helping with muscle function, potassium may also help to reduce muscle cramps and soreness after a run. This often overlooked mineral is important for maintaining healthy bones, which is an obvious plus point if you are putting a lot of miles in to your body.
Want to get more potassium in your diet without resorting to supplements?
Try fruits like bananas, mangoes and avocados, or veggies like sweet potato, tomatoes and spinach.
One of the race day accessories that many runners swear by is the trusty banana. And not just runners, either. Ever seen Rafa Nadal’s go-to snack between a set of tennis?
One of the reasons why bananas are so popular with athletes is because they are super-charged with potassium, making them a great option for quick yet sustained bursts of energy.
Try one before your next run!
Sodium is actually an electrolyte rather than a vitamin. It deserves a mention, though, as it is extremely important for maintaining proper fluid balance in the body.
If your sodium levels are messed up, your performance is sure to suffer.
During any physical activity, but especially endurance exercise like running, the body sweats to regulate its temperature. Sweating results in the loss of water and electrolytes, including sodium, from the body. As a runner, you need to be proactive to replace these electrolytes, in order to help prevent dehydration and maintain optimal performance.
If you find yourself feeling thirsty… it’s too late. Your performance has already been affected.
Although everyone gets a good amount of sodium in their body due to the amount of salt generally found in food, as a runner, your chances of sweating out a good amount of sodium are very high.
Sodium plays a role in maintaining blood pressure, regulating fluid balance, and helping with muscle and nerve function. When the body is dehydrated and low on electrolytes, these functions can be impaired, leading to fatigue, cramping, and other issues that can negatively impact performance.
Some runners use salt tablets as a way of providing an immediate pick-me-up to their sodium levels. However, we’d advise particular caution with these. It’s easy to end up consuming too much sodium.
A better option is specially formulated sports drinks (filled with electrolytes to hydrate and refuel the body), or coconut water. You can also try salted nuts for a quick sodium-rich snack.
Have we missed any of your go-to vitamins or minerals for runners?
Let us know your favorites below!