The Best Vitamins and Supplements for Runners
In many ways, running is the perfect form of exercise. You can go at your own pace and you don’t need special equipment or an expensive membership to get started—just an open road or trail, a decent pair of running shoes and a little free time to enjoy the journey.
Running is excellent for your mental and physical health, but it’s important not to overdo it and to build a foundation for success by starting slow, taking days off, and giving your body the nutrients it needs to perform at its best and recover from your runs in a healthy way.
So, whether you're just getting started or you’re looking for ways to boost your sports nutrition for running, we have some helpful nutritional and practical tips for runners below.
What are the best supplements for runners, and which vitamins and supplements should runners take before and after a marathon? We’ve put together a list of the top supplements and vitamins for runners and endurance athletes to help devise a proper nutrition plan for training, racing and recovery. This list goes beyond protein shakes and amino acids; it incorporates some unique supplements that target key areas of the body for runners, including joint health supplements, supplements that support strong bones and healthy circulation, plus energy supplements for runners.
Supplements for Runners
Omega-3 Fatty Acids–Omega-3 essential fatty acids are fats that are good for you. Fatty fish, like salmon or tuna, are a great source of healthy omega-3s, but many of us aren't eating enough to reap the health benefits. Fatty acids are an asset to runners because they may help blood vessels dilate.2 They also support brain and cardiovascular health, which is great for athletes and nonathletes alike. Fish oil is a source of omega-3s, but krill oil is a great option too, or try our award-winning Plant Based Omega-3 supplement.
L-Glutamine–Physical stress may deplete glutamine from your body, which is why you might want to consider supplementing with it as a runner. 3 As an amino acid, l-glutamine helps fuel muscles and may stop them from becoming sore during exercise. It also supports a healthy immune system, which can be burdened by endurance exercise.
Whey Protein–Whey, one of the top protein choices, may help maintain muscle mass.4 Whey protein is absorbed efficiently by the body. Athletes need more protein in their diet as compared to nonathletes, and many use whey during the recovery period after exercise. It's a source of branched chain amino acids, which quickly work to support muscles after a workout.
MSM & Glucosamine–These nutrients are often found in combined supplements for joint health and work together to support healthy joints and athletic recovery. Glucosamine supports healthy cartilage structures, and MSM is a form of sulfur with natural antioxidant activity that is beneficial for promoting recovery from exercise.5,6
Important Vitamins for Runners
Vitamins C and E–Two of the best vitamins for runners—Vitamins C and E are both great antioxidants. We all know that vitamin C gives the immune system a boost, but it also fights oxidative damage caused by exercise and environmental toxins. Like vitamin C, vitamin E fights free radical damage caused by exercising for a long time. It also supports the heart and cardiovascular system.7
Calcium–Calcium is an essential element in the building up and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, but it’s also required for blood clotting and muscle contraction.8 For runners, calcium provides multifaceted benefits for healthy muscles and bones.
Vitamin K2–The physical stress on bones from the repeated impact of running, especially long-distance running, can really add up.9 Vitamin K2 plays a key role in bone metabolism and may help support bone health for runners.
B vitamins–The B-complex family of vitamins is widely used to combat stress, promote healthy energy levels and support cardiovascular nutrition. B vitamins also help convert the foods we eat into energy our bodies can use, and energy is one thing that runners need to log those miles underfoot. Learn all about the B-complex family of vitamins in Your Complete guide to B Vitamins.
Energy Supplements for Runners
Magnesium–Magnesium plays a key role in endurance performance. In fact, it's one of the most important minerals in our diet and a great energy supplement for runners. Magnesium assists with cellular energy and muscle contraction.10 Extreme endurance sports and stress can deplete magnesium from your body, so it's important for runners to supplement. Magnesium has other health benefits as well; it promotes strong bones and muscles and supports cardiovascular health and nervous system function.10 Read Magnesium Benefits and Uses to learn more.
Caffeine–There are plenty of myths about caffeine and coffee,13 but it may improve your focus, boost endurance, and speed up reaction times, which are all great perks for runners. Caffeine is one of the most common stimulants used by athletes.11
Zinc–Last, but certainly not least, on our list of top supplements for runners is zinc. Small amounts of this mineral go a long way. Zinc works with enzymes in our body, many of which are involved in energy metabolism. Athletes often have low levels of zinc, so it's important to supplement to build levels back up.12 Zinc is also needed to maintain a healthy immune system.
Running Tips for Beginners
If you’re new to running, you may have fitness goals in mind that tempt you to put on your shoes and give it your all. While that’s a great attitude for achieving many goals in life, it isn’t a good approach for new runners.
Even if you feel great about your fitness level, running uses a lot of muscles and joints and gives your heart and lungs a workout too. It’s easy to unintentionally overdo it, even for people who have been running for a while and are just starting to add more distance to their runs, so it’s important to take it slow and give your body time to adjust.
Running Training Tips and How to Start Running
There are a few important things runners can do to help ensure success, stay injury-free and stay motivated. That includes choosing the right shoes, starting with achievable goals and heeding some time-tested running advice. Here are some running training tips to consider:
1. Take it Slow and Steady
It may sound cliché, but slow and steady is the way to go when you start running. Walk for 5-10 minutes to warm up first and then alternate between walking and jogging. Try jogging for just 30 seconds to a minute at first, then walk for two minutes and repeat in intervals for 10-15 minutes followed by another 5-10 minutes of walking to cool down. Then, stretch gently after your run. You can gradually add time to your running intervals as your body adjusts and gets stronger.
Keep in mind that you won’t always know how your body is going to respond to a new exercise routine until a day or two later. So, if you aren’t too sore the next day don’t just assume you can increase your intervals right away! Give it a week or so before taking things up a notch, and schedule days for rest and recovery in between. And don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% per week.
The goal isn’t to go as hard as you can for as long as you can. That’s a recipe for injury. The goal is to introduce a sustainable running habit that fits your current fitness level so you can maintain it over time.
2. Pick the Right Shoes
Running is pretty low-maintenance when it comes to gear, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook. Everyone’s footfall and gait are unique, and the right pair of running shoes can make a huge difference in the comfort of your run and your chances of an injury. Many shops that sell running shoes can analyze your gait and help you understand what’s best for you, also taking into consideration the surface you’ll be running on most frequently (pavement, trail or track).
After you know what you’re looking for, you can find options for any budget. Check the clearance section for a prior year’s version of the type of shoe that works best for you to get a good fit at a better price.
3. Pay Attention to Your Breathing
Think about how you are breathing right now. If you’re like most people, you are probably breathing in and out rhythmically through your nose, but you probably aren’t breathing very deeply. Try taking a few, deep, steady breaths in and out. But not just into your lungs—breathe deeply into your diaphragm and exhale slowly. You’ll probably feel some stress and tension leave your body when you do it. Deep breathing can feel meditative. And it’s closer to the style of breathing you’ll want to practice while you run.
When you run, try to establish a pattern of breathing into your diaphragm. It’s often easiest to match your breathing patterns with your steps. For example, breathe in for three steps and out for three steps. This will give your body a good supply of oxygen, clear out carbon dioxide and help your body and mind feel more relaxed while you run.
4. Be Smart About Hydration
Don’t wait until just before your run to think about hydration. It’s never good to be dehydrated, and running that way puts added stress on your body. But if you wait until just before you run and drink a ton of water, things can get uncomfortable. You might feel the water sloshing around in your stomach while you exercise, or you might find yourself needing a bathroom break in the middle of your run.
It’s great to sip (not gulp!) water during your warmup, and to carry a bottle with you while you run, but don’t make that your primary hydration plan. Instead of drinking a lot of water all at once, hydrate throughout the day, from morning to night. And have an extra glass of water two to three hours before your run. For more tips on staying hydrated, read Water for the Win: Benefits of Water, Plus 5 Water Infusions to Try.
5. Rest & Recover
Even seasoned runners take days off. You absolutely need to take breaks between runs to let your body recover. When you first start out, skip a day between each run. You can gradually increase the days you run over time, but still keep some of the days on the lighter side.
Go easier for some runs and just reserve one or two days a week for longer or faster runs. But always take at least one full day off from running each week and get plenty of sleep to help your body recover.
6. Cross Train
Running isn’t the only thing that helps you get better at running! On some of your in-between days, do a little cross-training to up your game. Try doing light yoga to increase your flexibility. Focus on strengthening your core muscles with plank variations. And work on your upper body strength, since running uses mostly lower body muscles. Training your glutes by doing lunges can also help you become a stronger runner.
7. Plan to Run Safely
Wear bright colors when you run so you’ll be easily visible, even during the day. Use a reflector vest or reflective clothing at dawn, dusk and at night—anytime it’s darker out. Avoid running on the road if you can, and opt for a sidewalk or running path instead. But if the road is your only option, run on the side of the road facing traffic so you can keep an eye on the passing cars.
8. Listen to Your Body
Listen to your body both while you’re running and on rest days. Do you feel especially tight in certain areas? If so, you might want to find healthy ways to stretch those muscles to increase flexibility, but don’t overdo it. Be gentle with yourself.
Also, if you start feeling discomfort in the same area during more than one run, don’t push it. Take an extra day or two off to completely rest and see how you feel after that. Check with a doctor if you still aren’t feeling better.
9. Trail Running Tips
If you’re lucky enough to have an unpaved trail nearby, that’s great! But trail running can be very different from running on a paved path. Groomed trails or unpaved paths may be easier on your joints than running on hard pavement, but trail running can be even more of a challenge physically.
Every trail is different and presents unique challenges, so you’ll need to be especially alert to what’s under your feet and coming up next as the terrain can change quickly and unexpectedly. You may encounter tree roots, mud, holes in the ground, rocks and plenty more. Plus, the ground can sometimes be uneven, making it easier to roll your ankle or fall. You may even want to walk the trail a few times first to get used to the terrain.
Also, take some extra safety precautions. Pair up with a running buddy or at least let someone know where you are going. Carry plenty of water, your cellphone, your ID and maybe even pepper spray if you run alone. Trail running is a great workout, but be mindful!
10. Long-Distance Running Tips
You don’t need to cover long distances to start a healthy running habit, but after a while many runners really look forward to running and start looking for ways to add distance to their runs.
If you’re ready to take your running habit to the next level and go the distance, that’s awesome. But before you set your sights on a marathon, start with smaller goals and work your way up. Here are some common long-distance running targets.
- 5K = 3.1 miles
- 10K = 6.21 miles
- Half marathon = 13.1 miles
- Marathon = 26.2 miles
- Ultra-marathon = anything over 26.2 miles
Whatever your distance goal may be, train in intervals of walking and running just like you did in the beginning as you increase your distance, and don’t add more than 10% to your total mileage each week. You might consider adding some speed intervals to a few shorter training days, but on longer training days keep your pace steady and go slower while you increase your distance.
Also, a water belt or hydration pack is a good tool to have for running long distances. Most people should drink four to six ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes while running.1
We hope these tips and supplements for runners will support you on your way to starting a healthy, sustainable running habit. And who knows, maybe you’ll even run a marathon someday? Either way, keep it healthy, take it slow and stay safe!
1. Fluids and Hydration. USADA. Read source
2. Cardiovascular Effects of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acids. PubMed. Read source
3. Glutamine. ScienceDirect. See source
4. The Effects of Protein Supplements. Sports Medicine. Read source
5. Glucosamine. Arthritis Foundation. Read source
6. Effects of MSM. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Read source
7. The Role of Vitamin E. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal. Read source
8. Calcium Regulation of Muscle Contraction. Biophysical Journal. Read source
9. Common Leg Injuries of Long-Distance Runners. Sports Health. Read source
10. Magnesium. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. Read source
11. Caffeine. WebMD. Read source
12. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. MedScape. Read source
13. Caffeine Myths and Facts. WebMD. Read source