A search on the internet or a quick look through a running magazine will showcase some supplement or another claiming to boost your performance and recovery.

Cod liver oil, co-enzyme Q10, Glucosamine, Vitamin D, Vitamin B complex, whey protein; they have all made the list. However how many of these are actually useful to us? As a runner do you need additional supplementation?

For the majority of athletes, eating a balanced diet of whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and essential fatty acids should be sufficient to meet all your nutritional requirements.

When I work with any athlete, the first step is to optimise their nutritional status in order to prevent deficiencies. Additional care and advice will also need to be considered to those following vegetarian or vegan diets. Vegans, in particular, may need to think about supplementation with B12; whilst both vegetarians and vegans will benefit from taking an Omega 3 fatty acid.

With so many claims, how do you decipher which are true and which not? Whilst the internet can be useful, it is also a place where, if you want to find an answer, regardless of its authenticity, you will. For every study that demonstrates, that a particular nutrient or ingredient, correlates with improved performance and health, there is another opposing study to deny any link.

So how do you know what to take? The following supplements have enough significant evidence to encourage their use:

1. Vitamin D

In the UK and Ireland, we can only absorb the right wavelength of sunlight to make vitamin D between the months of April to September, between the hours of 11-3pm. This means that majority of the population tend to have sub-optimal Vitamin D levels. And particularly during the winter months.

Studies have demonstrated that a low Vitamin D level has been associated with a depressed immune function, poor skeletal muscle recovery and increased fatigue.

If you find you struggle with repeated illness over the winter months or that you are not recovering optimally, it is worth having a blood test to check levels. If deficient, (Levels under 75 nmol/l) then this is one supplement that you would benefit from because can be a difficult nutrient to get through your diet alone.

2. Probiotics

A number of studies have been associated with a reduced incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes during winter months when probiotics are administered. The recommended dose is a 12-week course of high dose probiotics prior to a major competition.

Further research also implies that probiotics can also improve GI distress in runners.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function including oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance. Strenuous exercise results in an increased loss of magnesium through sweat and urine, increasing requirements up to 20%. It has been demonstrated that

Studies show that magnesium supplementation or increased intake of dietary magnesium can improve exercise performance in those that are magnesium deficient only.

4. Beetroot Juice

Beetroot is an excellent source of nitrate. When ingested, nitrate is readily converted to nitric oxide in the body. It is well documented that nitric oxide has a positive impact in vasodilation and regulating blood pressure. This knowledge has lead to a lot of research based on the theory that increasing nitric oxide prior to exercise could be advantageous in aiding oxygen delivery to the muscles and this improving exercise efficiency.

It has been determined that beetroot juice, shots or 200g of cooked beetroot may help improve your performance in activities lasting 4-30 minutes or in high-intensity intermittent exercise. However, the evidence is only for those who are new to support or recreational athletes; there is no evidence for the case of beetroot juice in elite athletes.

The ideal dose suggested is 0.6g of nitrate (2 x 70ml “shots), 2-3 hours pre-exercise, loading 3-7 days prior to race day.

5. Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice comes from the Montmorency cherry and is a potent source of flavonoids and anthocyanins, boasting antioxidant and inflammatory effects. The research suggests that by using this tart cherry compound it promotes muscle recovery following intense exercise. It is thought that the high flavonoid content reduces oxidative damage to muscles.

The recommended dose is 30ml cherry juice concentrate 4-5 days prior to and 2 days after a strenuous event.

New research is also emerging about the potential benefits of tart cherry juice and sleep as it is believed that it may be a good source of melatonin, which is a molecule necessary to induce sleep. This could be of real benefit for those who have disturbed sleep or for athletes that need to manage jet lag.

About the Author
Renee McGregor RD SENr is a Performance Dietitian and author who works with elite athletes, coaches and sport science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance performance and manage eating disorders. She is the author of Training Food, Fast Fuel books and Orthorexia, and soon to be released Healthy eating goes bad.