Nutrition is as important as training, miles, and rest to achieving your running goals.
Do Runners Need Vitamins?
There is no question that a healthy, balanced diet of whole foods is the best nutrient source. However, life is complicated and challenging. It is not easy to eat and cook healthy foods every day. If you can, you probably are not reading this article! Even if you are eating healthy, there is a good chance you are eating the same foods every day because it becomes familiar, habitual, and comfortable. We can fall into routines with our eating as we do with running. The result is a diet that may consist of healthy foods but lack nutrient diversity.
Moreover, runners are different from average adults Runners expend more daily calories, sweat away more nutrients, and work their joints and muscles harder.
Vitamins for runners can add balance, ease, and flexibility to your diet.
There are endless options of vitamins and supplements for runners to choose from. Here are the Top 5 to consider to get you started.
1. Whole Foods Multivitamin
If only take one vitamin for running, take a Whole Food Multivitamin. A multivitamin contains essential vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. You may only be deficient in a few nutrients, but a multivitamin removes the guesswork acting as a "diet insurance" policy.
Multivitamins come in different formats, including tablets and gummies. Find your preferred form make it a part of your daily routine.
A whole food multivitamin contains a blend of fruits & vegetables along with vitamins and minerals. This type of vitamin adds nutrient diversity to your diet. It also helps the body better absorb the multivitamin by mimicking absorption as if eating whole foods.
2. Omega-3 Fish Oil
Many scientific studies support the use of omega-3 fish oil to improve heart health. Three servings of fish per week will provide a sufficient level of omega-3. However, many people prefer not to (or cannot) eat three fish servings per week. A daily omega-3 fish oil supplement is a reliable alternative.
Omega-3's have the additional benefit for runners as a natural method to counter inflammation. Often, runners use ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and soreness. However, there are dangerous side effects from long-term ibuprofen use. Like ibuprofen, omega-3s counter the production of inflammatory substances (by creating the natural anti-inflammatory prostaglandin E3), reducing the body's level of tissue and muscle inflammation.
When choosing an omega-3, take one that is enteric coated, which encapsulates the fish oil to prevent fishy "burps." Be careful not to purchase the cheapest or largest bottle! You want to pay attention to the amount of EPA and DHA in the supplement as a percentage of the total fish oil. EPA and DHA are the critical omega-3s you want in Fish Oil --- the remaining fish oil is inactive "filler."
3. Joint Support (Glucosamine, Chondroitin)
Let's make sure to keep your joints strong and healthy throughout your running years. Running already improves joint health by keeping you active. Here's an informative NPR article on the subject to share with your friend the next time you get the "running will kill your joints" comment: Running Won't Kill your Knees.
On top of activity, runners could benefit from a joint supplement to assist the body in continuously building cartilage for joint protection. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are the most beneficial joint supplements. The body naturally produces both. As you age, the body makes less Glucosamine and Chondroitin and, consequentially, less cartilage. It is the wearing away of cartilage over time that leads to joint pain and arthritis.
4. Vitamin D
If you live north of Tennessee, there is a high chance you are Vitamin D deficient. Your skin produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. During the Fall and Winter months, the sun's angle prevents adequate UVB radiation from reaching latitudes greater than 37 degrees in the U.S. (an imaginary east-west line running approximately along Tennesse's northern border).
You need Vitamin D to absorb calcium to grow and repair bones. With insufficient Vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D also helps reduce muscle inflammation.
Runners can be more susceptible to Vitamin D deficiency because of their running schedule. In the Fall and Winter, runners often run early morning, late night, or indoors where sunlight is less available.
By itself, the diet is a low source of Vitamin D. Only a few foods contain sufficient Vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, mushrooms, and fortified dairy and cereals. In the absence of sunlight, a Vitamin D supplement can help runners.
5. Vitamin B12 – Special consideration for plant-based runners
One last recommendation for runners that follow a plant-based diet: consider supplementing with Vitamin B12 (in addition to a multivitamin).
Vitamin B12 is needed to produce red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. This benefit is obviously of use to runners.
Vitamin B12 is obtained from red meat, fish, and eggs, to name a few foods. Unfortunately, there are not many vegan-compliant foods containing biologically active and sufficient quantites of Vitamin B12. The best sources are fortified cereals, plant milk, and nutritional yeast.
Supplementation with Vitamin B12 can help balance out any potential deficiencies.
Stay healthy and keep running. Best wishes on chasing your running goals!
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