Running health: Which supplements should you consider taking?

A balanced diet complete with natural foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables is by far the best way to achieve good health and performance. However, sometimes taking a supplement to avoid deficiency may be a necessary consideration. Here’s a pill-by-pill guide for runners who are considering taking supplements to stay healthy and active:

Multivitamin:

Some consider a daily multivitamin a one-stop-shop– the best way to get a little bit of everything in one capsule. And yes, any good multivitamin will provide a generous amount of all the vitamins and minerals that the body needs and may even make up for holes/deficiencies in any given diet.

Unfortunately combining all those things in one place negatively affects how the body absorbs and uses the individual ingredients. The final effect is much less impressive. Taking a multivitamin to cover all your bases is certainly not a bad idea, but many argue that they are generally not worth their weight in micronutrients.

Iron:

When it comes to running, having a healthy level of iron is essential for success. Iron is used as part of hemoglobin–a red blood cell protein that transports oxygen to the working muscles– and is also stored as ferritin. Once these levels are low it can result in anemia. That causes chronic fatigue making performing at one’s best next to impossible.

Women actually require more iron (up to 15 grams a day) than males (who need 10g) and yet often they intake less given their lower caloric needs. Endurance athletes may also be at greater risk of anemia and low iron due to losses through sweating and minor bleeding from the high impact sport. All runners should be aware of the importance of iron and have it checked occasionally. If you’re struggling with ongoing fatigue and low iron may be to blame, consider consulting your doctor about using a supplement.

Vitamin D: 

Deficiency in this vitamin which many people associate with exposure to sunlight is becoming increasingly common– even more so in countries like Canada which gets less annual daylight hours. As runners, we spend more time outdoors than most but especially in winter, we could still be at risk of not getting enough (which is 10-15 minutes of exposure a day).

Taking a Vitamin D (preferably D3) supplement is strongly recommended for those who don’t spend a great deal of time outdoors and possibly for all runners during the winter months.

Calcium: 

Essential for maintaining good bone health as well as a number of other blood, hormone and muscle functions, calcium is often overlooked as a nutrient supplement. That could especially be because since it’s abundant in many foods, runners assume they don’t need extra.

Runners and older women in particular though may be at risk of low calcium levels given the excessive pounding while running and constant remodeling of bones. This can lead to a multitude of issues from shin splints to stress fractures. Those who avoid calcium-rich foods –such as dairy products– or have a history of low bone density should certainly consider a calcium supplement.

Fish oil:

Getting the necessary amount of healthy oils, especially Omega-3, is difficult through diet alone. For that, try eating more fish, flax seeds and walnuts. Taking a supplement that contains both EPA ad DHA can help keep your nervous and immune systems in tip-top shape.

Countless other micronutrients also play a key role in one’s overall health, but particularly for physically active and performance-driven individuals such as runners. A healthy and balanced diet is always going to be the best way to get one’s daily dose of vitamins and minerals but these are handful of ideas that may benefit your running.