If you’re like me, you may wake up in the morning feeling like you got run over by a steamroller from yesterday's training. Achy muscles and joints are accompanied by groans of pain and discomfort.
While we all know exercise does a body good, it also has the tendency to beat us up pretty good from time to time…..with the majority of the abuse happening to our joints from high impact activities like running.
Your body is like a machine with many moving parts. Unfortunately, both break down from time to time. When proper recovery through rest days and nutrition isn’t enough it may be time to consider supplements that can reduce joint pain and soreness, improve mobility, and maintain cartilage health.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into the 9 best joint supplements for athletes. We will discuss what they are, how they work, the benefits of supplementation, how much of each you should take, and the research demonstrating the effectiveness of each.
Chondroitin is one of the most popular over the counter supplements joint health supplements. It is made from chains of glycosaminoglycans with uronic acid and D-N-aceytyl-galactosamine molecules.
Chondroitin works well for individuals who put a lot of “wear and tear” on their joints through activities of daily living, those who regularly participate in activities like running where large compression forces are put on joints, or for people who have joint diseases like osteoarthritis.
Chondroitin should be dosed at 1000-1200mg/daily. This dose can be taken all at once or divided into two to three doses. Chondroitin should be taken with food. Chondroitin also pairs well with the supplement glucosamine.
A 1999 study conducted by Leffler et. al discovered that 100 patients with knee osteoarthritis who supplemented with chondroitin were able to decrease joint pain and degeneration while also improving joint function.
As a whole, chondroitin is a very safe supplement. There have been a few reports that it can cause mild stomach pain and nausea in some individuals.
Glucosamine sulfate is a sugar molecule with nitrogen that comes from shellfish and also naturally occurs in the body. It is highly concentrated in joints and cartilage and is a component of keratin (a fibrous protein found in hair). Glucosamine is commonly paired with chondroitin.
Glucosamine sulfate should be taken by athletes who participate in high impact sports like running where tremendous stress occurs in the joints. It should also be taken by individuals who want to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine sulfate should be dosed at 900-1500mg/daily. This dose should be split up into 3 equal doses (500mg three times a day). Glucosamine sulfate should be taken with food.
A 3 year, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted by Pavelka et. al discovered subjects who supplemented with 1500mg of glucosamine sulfate daily were able to slow the progression of osteoarthritis and experience reductions in pain compared to placebo.
Like chondroitin, glucosamine sulfate is a very safe supplement. The most common, harmless side-effect is flatulence.
Cissus Quadrangularis is one of the few joint supplements that has been researched in athletic populations. It comes from a plant that contains several compounds with the main one being triterpenoids. Cissus quadrangularis may also promote bone growth.
Cissus Quadrangularis should be taken by any athlete who puts excessive wear and tear on their joints either through high impact activities or sports where repetitive movements are made. It may also be useful to individuals who are in the healing stages of a stress fracture.
Cissus Quadrangularis should be dosed at 300-600mg/daily. Higher amounts up to 3200mg daily may be more beneficial for athletes. It is important to note that this dose should be standardized to 2.5% ketosteroids.
A 2013 study conducted by Bloomer et. al discovered that exercise-trained men who supplemented with 3200mg of cissus quadrangularis daily for 8 weeks were able to reduce joint pain by 31% relative to baseline.
No adverse side effects have been observed in studies where 300mg of cissus quadrangularis was used. Overall, cissus quadrangularis can be considered a safe and effective joint supplements.
MSM is a sulfur-containing compound that is most commonly supplemented for its anti-inflammatory benefits. It naturally occurs in some vegetables and other food products but appears to be most effective in supplemental form due to the dosages needed to provide benefits.
MSM should be taken by both active individuals and those with joint diseases to help maintain joint mobility and possibly reduce joint and muscle pain.
MSM should be dosed at 3000mg/daily. The research is conflicted if taking more than this will provide additional joint and cartilage benefits.
In multiple studies, MSM supplementation has been demonstrated to significantly reduce pain and the degeneration of cartilage in joints. It has also been shown to improve joint mobility.
Side effects observed occasionally in humans include GI upset, allergy, and skin rashes.
FruiteX-B is a patented ingredient made by the company Futureceuticals. It consists of the compound calcium fructoborate. FruiteX-B is identical to the borate complex found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Its use for joint health is supported by over a decade of research showing significant improvements in joint comfort.
FruiteX-B should be taken by any individual with acute or chronic joint issues. It also appears to work synergistically with chondroitin and glucosamine.
FruiteX-B should be dosed at 215mg/daily and taken as one dose with food.
A 2014 study conducted by Zbigniew et. al discovered subject who supplemented with 220mg of FruiteX-B daily for 14 days were able to significantly improve joint discomfort and flexibility compared to placebo.
No known side effects at this time.
Type-II Collagenis a collagen in humans that is a peptide and a component of cartilage. It is commonly sold as shark gelatin, gelatin, chicken sternum, or bovine cartilage. This type of collagen should be taken in its hydrolyzed (broken down) form for increased absorption.
Type-II Collagen should be taken by individuals who are experiencing unwanted symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatism. Athletes may also want to try Type-II Collagen for long-term joint health although no research has been conducted on active or exercise-trained populations.
Type-II Collagen should be dosed at 10 grams daily in hydrolyzed form. It should not be taken in higher amounts as a protein source due to its poor amino acid profile.
A 24-week study conducted by Clark et. al discovered that Type-II Collagen supplementation appears to benefit joint inflammation, secondary mobility (76% improvement) and other tertiary effects (62% improvement). It also significantly reduced pain (reduced 88%) and led to a normalizing of Saliva pH levels which is often indicative of a reduction in inflammation.
No known side effects at this time.
Curcumin is a yellow, bioactive polyphenol found in turmeric. It has several anti-inflammatory properties and can increase the production of certain antioxidants in the body. Due to curcumin’s poor absorption, it is prudent to pair it with piperine when taken in supplemental form.
Curcumin should be taken by any individual experiencing either acute or chronic joint problems. It can also be supplemented for overall health and by the elderly to reduce cognitive decline.
Curcumin should be dosed at 500-1500mg/daily using the following guidelines:
A 2014 study conducted by Drobnic et. al discovered that subjects who supplemented with curcumin (Meriva) experienced improvement in clinical and biochemical end-points associated with joint health compared to placebo. The study also found curcumin supplementation helped minimize delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and pain intensity.
In healthy subjects, curcumin supplementation can sometimes lead to nausea, minor flatulence, and yellow stools (from the pigments found in curcumin). These harmless side effects stop when supplementation ceases.
Boswellia Serrata is a phytopharmaceutical herb that is extracted from the gum resin of the tree. Its active compound, boswellic acid possesses many anti-inflammatory effects that can be beneficial for joint health.
A majority of the research demonstrates that individuals with joint disorders will benefit most from Boswellia serrata supplementation.
Boswellia Serrata should be dosed at 2400-2600mg/daily and split into three equal doses when using the resin. When taken brand name Boswellia like ApresFLEX take one daily dose of 100-250mg.
For all forms of Boswellia serrata, start on the lower end of the dosage range for 2-3 months and afterward increase the dose. If you do not see greater benefits with higher doses then continue supplementation at the lower dose.
A 2011 study conducted by Gupta et. al demonstrated significant improvements in joint comfort, function, and mobility when subjects supplemented with Boswellia Serrata. Several objective blood markers of systemic activity were significantly improved as well.
In healthy subjects, the most common side effect appears to be allergic reactions. Standard oral doses that have been subjected to toxicology testing appear to be safe and nongenotoxic.
Fish oil is the combination of the two omega-3 fatty acidseicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fats are found in fish, animal products, and phytoplankton. As a supplement, fish oil is recommended as the cheapest and most efficacious source of these omega-3 fatty acids.
In short...EVERYONE! Fish oil confers multiple benefits as it relates to joint and overall health. Additionally, the majority of individuals do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet on a daily basis.
Fish oil should be dosed at 250mg to 6 grams daily. Lower doses should be taken for general health while higher doses should be taken to reduce soreness and joint pain.
A 2009 study conducted by Tartibian et. al discovered subjects who supplemented with 1.8 grams of fish oil daily for 27 days were able to minimize soreness and pain in joint and muscles.
The most common, harmless side effect of fish oil supplementation is the “fish burps.” To avoid these, keep your fish oil supplement in the freezer.
Some concerns about Mercury levels should be raised in lower quality fish oil supplements. Pregnant women should consult with their doctor before supplementing with fish oil due to this.
As an athlete, it is inevitable that your daily training routine will produce a significant amount of wear and tear on your joints and cartilage. Proper recovery and strength training should be your top priorities when it comes to maintaining the health of your joints. In the event that still isn’t doing the trick, consider taking a joint supplement with some or all of the ingredients listed above.
A handful of these ingredients can be found in EndurElite JointElite - The Endurance Athlete’s Joint Formula. Each ingredient is clinically validated and dosed to improve joint comfort and health.
About The Author Matt Mosman - Spearfish, South Dakota
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.