Which Supplements Are Good For Running?
Summary Of The 5 Best Supplements For Runners That Increase Endurance & Stamina
- Caffeine: 3-6 mg per kg bodyweight
- Beetroot: 0.5 liters of beetroot juice or 1-10 grams of beetroot powder depending on nitrate content.
- Taurine: 1-3 grams
- Choline: 1-2 grams
- Carbs: 50 grams thirty minutes before exercise and 30-90 grams per hour during endurance exercise depending on duration and intensity.
If you read nothing else know that these are the 5 best supplements for runners.
Let's Face It. Running Can Suck!
I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like running just plain sucks! The searing lungs, the burning legs....no wonder it is used as a form of punishment in gym classes and the army.
But there are those rare days when running feels like pure bliss. It's hard to describe the feeling when fast running feels like effortless motion and you catch runners high.
Unfortunately, these types of runs are few and far between. BUT.....
Luckily for you, I know five best supplements for runners that you can take RIGHT NOW that can make fast running feel easier EVERY DAMN DAY and have an IMMEDIATE positive impact during training & racing.
So buckle up, because in this article we are going to discuss what these 5 best supplements for runners are, what they do, and how much you should take of each to create some serious speed in your legs.
What Are The 5 Best Supplements For Runners?
#1 Best Supplement For Runners – Caffeine Anhydrous
Ever wonder why so many runners drink coffee before heading out the door? Besides tasting awesome, coffee has copious amounts of caffeine. However, caffeine anhydrous (in supplemental form) is more effective than the caffeine found in coffee when it comes to bolstering your stamina.
How's that you ask? Here are the three ways caffeine makes running more comfortable.
Caffeine Blunts Fatigue
When you shove some caffeine down your throat, it competes with another molecule called adenosine. Both the caffeine and adenosine get into a molecular "fistfight" over the adenosine receptor.
Because caffeine is badass, it always wins the fight for the receptor. That's good news for you as a runner because when adenosine binds to the receptor, you feel tired and fatigue.
When caffeine binds to the receptor, you get copious amounts of energy and fatigue is delayed. Score 1 for caffeine, but there is so much more it can do!
Caffeine Creates Better Muscular Contractions
Another way caffeine makes running easier is increasing the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. WTF is that you might ask and why is it important.
We won't bother what the sarcoplasmic reticulum is; you have to know it releases calcium which is required for muscles to contract, which is needed for your legs to move.
The more calcium that is released, the longer your legs can make efficient churn and burn contractions to help you leave your competition in the dust.
How do you like caffeine so far? I'm not done yet as caffeine has one other significant benefit for runners!
Caffeine May Spare Glycogen & Increase Fat Oxidation
Glycogen (aka stored glucose from carbs) is the body's rocket fuel. It is the most efficient burning source of energy and the only compound that can be used during anaerobic glycolysis (intense efforts that usually involve puking).
Glycogen is a precious commodity as the muscles can store only 400-1000 grams of it. As such, we want to save it for when we put the hammer down.
Caffeine can help with this. It does this by increasing rates of fat oxidation (burning fat for energy) during running and saving that glorious glycogen for when it matters most.
How Much Caffeine Should You Have Before Running?
3-6 mg per kilogram body weight 30-60 minutes before exercise. At the low end, that's about 210mg for a 70 kg runners.
Need that amount converted into pounds? Stop being lazy and do the math.
Also, more DOES NOT equal better when it comes to caffeine. Go over 6 mg per kilogram body weight, and you may be shaking like a tree in the wind, vomit over your $150 pair of running shoes, or have an anxiety attack.
Enough on caffeine. It's one of the best supplements for runners. Let's move on to supplement numero dos.
#2 Best Supplement For Runners - Beets
And us geeky scientists tend to agree! Beets, beetroot juice, and beetroot powder contain high concentrations of nitrates. Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, let's clear one thing up. Nitrates ARE NOT harmful to you.
They have a ton of health and performance benefits for runners. On the health side, beets/nitrates can have a positive effect on blood pressure and endothelial relaxation.
But let's talk about what you want to know. How can beets make me run farther and faster?
Beets Lower The ATP Cost Of Exercise
Geek out with me for a minute. ATP is adenosine triphosphate and can be summed up with the following equation:
ATP = Energy
Without It, You Die
ATP = Good, especially for running.
All kidding aside beets are pretty bitchin' because they make hard running easier by reducing the amount of ATP needed to power muscular contractions
This, in turn, can also increase VO2 max, running economy, and lactate threshold which, if you are a real runner you already know how vital these things are when it comes to running your best.
Is that all beets do for running? Fu#k no. They have another benefit.
Beets Create Greater Energy Efficiency
I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be more efficient with their energy during running. Beets help with this by decreasing the breakdown of something called phosphocreatine.
Why's this important? Because when ATP is burned for energy you are left with ADP. Now this poor old ADP molecule needs a friend to reform more ATP, which we know by now equates to power.
So ADP's good ole pal phosphocreatine donates a phosphate group to his buddy and whoila.....you have more energy! The more phosphocreatine that is available, the more energy that can be produced.
Pretty neat, huh? That's also why you should supplement with creatine if you're a runner. When you ingest it in the hopes of becoming a total beefcake, it's stored as phosphocreatine!
How Much Beetroot Juice Or Powder Should You Have Before Running?
0.5 liters of beetroot juice 30-60 minutes before exercise if you can stomach it.
1 - 10 grams of beetroot powder depending on nitrate content. 500mg of nitrates is the amount demonstrated by the research to power up your running game.
Also, while supplementing with beets has some pretty lovely acute, immediate effects; it works even better if you take it every day. So listen to your Mom and EAT YOUR BEETS.
On to supplement number three.
#3 Best Supplement For Runners - Taurine
Contrary to popular belief, taurine IS NOT bull semen. Could you imagine milking a bull? Oh, the carnage!
What taurine is though is a sulfur and nitrogen-bearing compound synthetically made from the amino acids cysteine and methionine. Thank god we don't have to go around harassing bulls.
Now, you're probably familiar with taurine from all the energy drinks you see the cool kids drinking at the skate park or larping or whatever the fu#k cool kids do these days. But usually, these drinks don't have enough taurine in them to make a damn difference. Plus they contain chemicals that can make you grow a third eye.
Ok, enough rambling. In the right amount here is how the supplement taurine can help you lay down some more miles with ease.
Taurine Battles Muscle Breakdown & Lactic Acid
One word strikes fear into the hearts of runners more than others. That word is LACTIC ACID! It's that burning sensation you feel in your legs when your muscles are being bathed with acid (or hydrogen ions).
When taurine is introduced to the lactic acid party with all its badass anti-oxidant properties, it can reduce the build-up of lactic acid and clear it out of the muscles quicker. HOORAY!
Taurine Reduces Muscle Breakdown
When you run, especially for longer distances like the marathon, your legs take an epic beating. From a scientific perspective, this gross abuse of your skinny legs breaks down muscle proteins. All you need to know is this is no Bueno.
When muscle protein is broken down, you fatigue quicker and hit bonk town much sooner. Taurine can help with this by decreasing the rate of muscle breakdown.
What's more, lack of taurine (which becomes depleted during exercise) can severely compromise muscle function by 80%. That's because taurine composes over 50% of free amines in cardiac muscle.
Taurine Makes New Blood Vessels
Ok, so this benefit of taurine won't have an immediate impact on your running performance, but it's still a neat little tidbit of info.
If getting blood to muscles is essential, getting MORE blood to muscles is more importanter...wait that's not a word — my point...the more blood that can get to working, running muscles, the better.
Taurine helps with this by stimulating a process known as angiogenesis. In non-geek speak, this is the formation of new blood vessels like capillaries. This, in turn, creates more efficient blood/nutrient delivery to muscles, which equals a higher capacity for running FAST!
How Much Taurine Should You Have Before Running?
A large meta-analysis (basically a statistical summary of quality research available on a specific topic) done on Taurine suggests taking 1-3 grams thirty minutes before exercise for best results.
#4 Best Supplement For Runners - Choline
Like eggs? Me too. Not only are they darn tasty but they're a great source of choline; a compound that has some pretty nifty brain and muscle benefits for runners.
The bad news. You're probably choline-deficient like 90% of the population, Plus, as a runner, what you do have marinating in your body's choline pool becomes depleted pretty quickly once you start exercising.
Hint Hint.....choline supplementation is a practical solution to make sure you aren't deficient. It doesn't hurt too that it can help muscles contract more efficiently and keep you focused during a race like a fat kid focuses on ice cream.
Onto the benefits of Choline.
Choline Makes Muscles Contract More Efficiently
When you take in choline, it is converted into a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This bad boy signals muscles to contract. I bet you can see where this is going.
If you are already choline-deficient and your choline pool becomes even more depleted during running, those super sexy muscles in your legs won't work very well when it's time to lay down some speed.
This can be summed up with the following equation:
Reduction In Choline During Intense Endurance Exercise = Reduced Acetylcholine Release = Inefficient Muscle Contractions = Reduced Endurance & Performance
The good news for you is choline supplementation can help minimize the drop in choline levels during exercise and keep you going stronger for longer.
Choline Can Help You Stay Focused
Unless you have the mindset of a monk, I'm willing to bet a lot of you runners have a hard time staying focused when the pain starts to set in. It's understandable, it sucks being uncomfortable during a race, but staying focused can mean the difference between a W and being the first loser (2nd place).
Rejoice, choline can help! That's because as mentioned before when choline is ingested it is converted into acetylcholine. Not only does acetylcholine create better muscular contractions but it is also a key neurotransmitter for mental focus.
It does this by protecting the structural integrity of cell membranes in the brain and creating more efficient neural transmissions between synapses.
How Much Choline Should You Have Before Running?
1-2 grams is the magic number here. Take as choline bitartrate, Alpha-GPC, or CDP choline.
And now on to the last supplement that can help you run faster, easier....and it'll surprise you.
#5 Best Supplement For Runners - CARBOHYDRATES
Let's get two things straight before we talk about carbs:
- CARBS ARE NOT BAD FOR RUNNERS. If you think they are, all I have to say to you is "shut the front door." That's because thousands of research papers exist demonstrating a high carb diet is THE BEST diet when it comes to running your best. I'd even boldly proclaim carbs are hands down the best supplement for runners. Which brings us to item number two.
- Carbs are supplements. Wait; what? You know those sports drinks you guzzle, those gels you shove down your gullet, the chews, the waffles, etc....those are all carbs and also supplements. If you're not eating them with your breakfast or dinner, you're "supplementing" your diet with then. Therefore these types of carbs are supplements.
Now that we have that out of the way if you are a runner, you should be eating carbs before, during, and after running. EAT ALL THE CARBS.
When consumed before and during running, carbs help keep blood glucose elevated. Glucose is converted to ATP, ATP makes muscles work, AND carbs/glucose/glycogen is THE ONLY fuel source that can power anaerobic glycolysis....the energy system used when heart rate gets above ~80% of max.
I hear all you Keto people complaining. I'm sorry, but the fundamental laws of physiology cannot be debated, and the research on high-fat diets in runners pales in comparison to the research on high carb diets in runners. Plus carbs are too damn delicious to give up and going keto makes you feel like sh#t.
How Many Carbs You Ask?
Follow this scheme, and you'll be all carbed up and good as gold when you start your training session or race:
- 200 - 300 grams of carbs 3-4 hours before exercise.
- Another 50-75 grams 60 minutes before exercise.
- Another 50 grams right before exercise.
- 30 - 90 grams of carbs per hour during running, depending on duration and intensity.
Take-home point? Carbs are pretty great for runners. If anyone else says otherwise, give them a quick kick in the ass.
And that my running friends are the 5 best supplements for runners!
Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Endurance Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota, where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.