Finding the best supplements for runners is challenging. For a lot of newbies, entering a supplement shop or the internet without proper guidance can lead to wasting a lot of money – and not really getting what you came for.
With so many options and recommendations out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with finding the best supplements for runners.
As a running coach and marathoner, I have decades of experience in the kind of supplements runners should take. I’ve done the research and tried all the options so you don’t have to. But there’s one thing I want to highlight before we jump right into supplements for runners — none of them are necessary, and if you choose to take a supplement, you’ll only need a few.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert on the kinds of running supplements that will help you train for a race, endure a race, and recover just in time for the next one.
Do Runners Even Need Supplements?
The simple answer is no. Running supplements are designed to do just what their name implies — supplement your daily intake if you’re not getting enough through your diet. It’s perfectly possible to get the required daily intake of any supplement through a diet alone.
Unfortunately, due to work, life, stress, and family, many of us are not able to eat the perfect diet all the time. That’s where my recommendations for running supplements come in:
Guide to the Best Supplements for Runners
1. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
The leaner we become, the more muscle mass we lose — and when we run, we lose a lot of muscle mass. A friend of mine put me onto branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) when I lost a lot of muscles and ended up with a calorie deficit. Even regular running training can make you end up in a calorie deficit. BCAA helps you to maintain as much muscle as possible while running.
Whether you’re on a diet or you’re training for a marathon, you are in a catabolic state, which means you’re not getting an adequate amount of nutrition. This can lead to joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness. Your body is breaking down fat and some muscle — basically tissue — rather than making it, and you end up losing muscle because your body is using the amino acids which have normally been utilized for protein synthesis to build more muscles as a source of energy.
What I recommend: I’m using MusclePharm BCAAs (Blue Raspberry), which are sold as a powder or capsules. This BCAA product supports lean mass growth, reduces muscle breakdown, increases protein synthesis, and supports endurance and recovery.
When to take it: The amino acids in a BCAA give your muscle cells extra energy and help reduce fatigue. They also stimulate your muscle growth and recovery after you run, which is why BCAAs are one of the best post-workout supplements for runners.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid, and its benefits for runners are easy to explain: It serves as fuel for your immune cells and it helps with maintaining cell volume and hydration.
We naturally have glutamine in our blood plasma and muscles, but due to physical stress and intense exercising, it can deplete our plasma. If our glutamine levels get too low, it must be replaced, or else we’ll risk illness.
To prevent our muscles from being catabolized, an amount of 20mg is recommended. It’s also worth mentioning that while glutamine is a great supplement for jogging, it does not replace proper rest and recovery.
What I recommend: I’m using MusclePharm’s Glutamine product and drink it mixed into a glass of water. This product aids in muscle growth, recovery time and digestion, promotes a healthy digestive system and enhances rehydration and endurance.
When to take it: I take my glutamine in the morning right after my workout. It works best after an exhaustive exercise.
Gut health can positively or negatively affect our immune system, nervous system, and hormones. Poor levels of gut flora (bacteria) can also increase inflammation in our bodies. Probiotic supplements can help improve your gut health significantly and boost your immune system.
Probiotics help balance the friendly bacteria in our digestive system, keep our heart healthy, and reduce symptoms of certain digestive disorders. It can be found in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and kombucha, but you can also take a supplement, like I do, for it.
What I recommend: I’ve been using probiotics since I was struggling with bloating and stomach issues and my doctor recommended the Ultimate Probiotic from Silver Fern. You can read this detailed study on probiotics for more information.
When to take it: I take this supplement at night before bed.
Most people use L-carnitine to lose weight or bulk while bodybuilding. But is L-carnitine a good idea for runners?
L-carnitine helps build muscles and break down body fat for the energy-carrying molecule, ATP, at the same time. It will also transport long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria of cells for energy, making it a great supplement for anyone naturally burning fat while they run.
As a jogging supplement, L-carnitine improves athletic performance by turning our body fat into ATP. This way, L-carnitine helps our body produce maximal oxygen consumption by creating more red blood cells.
What I recommend: I’ve seen incredible results with Doctor’s Best L-Carnitine Fumarate with Biosint Carnitines from Amazon.
When to take it: I have 1500 mg of L-carnitine every morning on an empty stomach.
What is Acetyl L-Carnitine?
A special type of carnitine, Acetyl L-carnitine, raises levels of carnitine in the brain where it burns fat for brain cell energy. This is really important because energy is what cells need to repair any damage that they’ve incurred to stay alive.
LivOn Labs makes a potent, high-quality Acetyl L-carnitine supplement.
In case you’re looking for a supplement with really great quality check out LivOnLabs L-Carnitine.
You should also take this supplement first thing in the morning.
Bone health is an important topic for runners, specifically for joint support. We deal with stress fractures, knee issues, and so many more injuries caused by our bones, so calcium consumption is a must for us.
As a storage system for calcium, the human skeleton needs enough calcium to prevent pulling from bone calcium stores to fulfill its metabolic purpose. If pulling occurs, it can leave your body in a negative state of calcium balance which can lead to bone loss. I’ve had so many stress fractures already, and I’m convinced that they happened because I didn’t take my calcium supplementation seriously enough.
What I recommend: You can’t go wrong with most brands of calcium. You can find it in any pharmacy or on Amazon.
When to take it: I take 1300 mg of calcium at any time of the day, and I haven’t had issues with stress fractures since.
6. Fish Oil
Absorbing the omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil helps runners ward off the damaging effects of inflammation. Humans are not able to produce Omega–3 fatty acids, which is why they must be obtained through our diet or other supplements.
For runners, the performance-enhancing effects, such as increasing muscle growth, improving strength, and physical performance are reasons enough to take advantage of fish oil.
Fish oil also reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle soreness, making it one of the main supplements for runners, especially when it comes to recovery and endurance.
I was suffering from the negative immune effects of intensive training for a long time and fish oil has helped me a lot.
What I recommend: Nature’s Bounty has great fish oil capsules that won’t give you that weird fishy taste in your mouth after taking them.
When to take it: I take up to three capsules at night before bed.
7. Vitamins C and E
Vitamins C and E are great antioxidants that offer amazing support, especially for long-distance runners. Vitamin C gives your immune system a boost and helps fight oxidative damage that is caused by exercising and environmental toxins. It can also repair and maintain cartilage, bones, and teeth.
Vitamin E, on the other hand, supports your body to fight free radical damage caused by exercising for a long time and supports your heart and the general cardiovascular system. You can suffer from muscle weakness if you don’t have enough Vitamin C.
What I recommend: I’ve been using this Lypo–Spheric Vitamin C supplement and find it works very well working for my body. It is by far the best Vitamin C supplement on the market right now. For Vitamine E I’ll recommend this supplement to take along with Vitamin C.
When to take it: At night before bed.
To run a marathon, you need endurance. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in our diet and can play a huge role when it comes to running faster, for longer.
Magnesium assists with energy and muscle contraction promote strong bones and muscles and is a big supporter of cardiovascular health and nerve function. It also helps our bodies relax, which is why you often see it marketed as a sleep supplement.
What I recommend: Here’s a link to a Magnesium Supplement that I’ve had great experiences with.
When to take it: Taking one of these before bedtime is critical to ensure that I’m getting solid recovery sleep.
9. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 is a great supplement for runners when you’re having issues with eye twitching. This happens a lot when you’re stressed, poorly hydrated, or not getting enough sleep. I take 25 mcg of vitamin D3 daily and have not experienced an eye twitch ever since.
From a runner’s perspective, when you also supplement calcium on top of vitamin D, it can help you to prevent bone loss. This is beneficial for runners that experience osteoporosis.
What I recommend: This is the Now Supplements Vitamin D3 I’ve been using.
When to take it: Vitamin D3 promotes good sleep, so it’s best to take it before bed.
In order to provide enough energy for running, my go-to is definitely caffeine — without the milk and sugar! When I was looking for a supplement for marathon running, I tried so many pre-workouts and nothing really helped me like a cup of coffee did.
Before my workouts at night after work, I’ll have a cup of black coffee. In the morning, I opt for a simple cup of green tea.
What I recommend: You can get your caffeine fix from a cup of coffee (blonde, medium, or dark roast) or tea (green or black).
When to take it: You can have caffeine at any time, but if you don’t want to be up all night, you should have your last cup before 5 p.m.
You should know: I have tried every running supplement that’s recommended in this article, along with countless others. These suggestions are what I have found work best, and help to provide runners of all kinds with the best nutrients and energy to produce the results they’re looking for.
Running Supplements FAQ
Is protein powder good for runners?
Protein powder is good for runners because it aids in tissue repair, exercise recovery, and injury prevention. I personally stopped taking it because it made me bloat over time, but if you’re looking for a good recommendation, I used to take the Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein.
Is it good to drink protein shakes after running?
Protein shakes are definitely one of the best jogging supplements and one of the simplest. You can easily mix it into your morning shake. Nutritionists are convinced, though, that no shake will ever replace a real meal, so make sure you eat after your run. But if you’re looking for a pre-run drink, a protein shake is always a good idea.
What supplements make you run faster?
My go-to supplements to become a faster runner are creatine, iron, a cup of coffee or tea, and ashwagandha.
What is the best recovery supplement for runners?
You need to recover quickly when you’re marathon training, so I want to share my top three recovery supplements for runners (they’re also highlighted above in more detail):
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Should runners drink BCAA? Yes! BCAAs serve as an effective recovery agent, helping to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and the recovery time needed between workouts. More about BCAAs for runners.
- Fish Oil and DHA: Two essential fatty acids found in fish oil have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Fish Oil is a must-have supplement in your kitchen for faster recovery as an athlete.
- L-Carnitine: While exercising L-carnitine decreases the accumulation of ammonia and increases blood flow after your workout L-carnitine can help optimize the post-workout tissue repair process. It’s basically reducing your soreness which can be super helpful when your training schedule is busy. This is my favorite L-carnitine supplement.
Make sure to also check out my article about energy supplements for runners to find out how to maximize your energy with the correct supplementation.
What are the best supplements to take for long-distance running?
Leading up to marathons, I always make sure to take my marathon supplements strictly every night. My go-to marathon supplements are a slightly higher dose of calcium and magnesium than what I recommended above. You can also add beet juice supplements and zinc, as well as fish oils, protein for runners, and different vitamins like C, D, and E to your diet.
Check out this link for the best marathon supplements.
What vitamins should female athletes take?
As a female runner, there are certain supplements for women that you should take into consideration. Those can include:
- Fish oil/Omega-3 fatty acid (600 mg)
- Ormus Greens
- Vitamin D (1000 IU)
- Calcium (600 mg)
- Magnesium (400 mg)
- Multivitamin: Make sure there are 12 essential vitamins and minerals like vitamins B, C, E, and zinc and always look for 100 percent daily value.
- A great pre-workout for women is this product.
Do runners need supplements?
Running is very taxing on your body. Whether you’re a sprinter or a long-distance runner, it’s important to understand that to perform at your peak potential, and you need to supply your body with the proper nutrients.
Sometimes, even with a great diet, the food we eat is not enough to provide the fuel we need. Supplements or vitamins for runners help to give you that extra endurance boost you need to maximize your performance and recover more rapidly.
There are a number of pre-run supplements that runners look to in order to maintain high energy levels during a race. Supplements for endurance athletes provide lasting energy and also help to prevent exhaustion, cramping, muscle tension, and dehydration.
The best recovery supplements for runners help to get them back on their feet, and ready to run again after a race, or a long day of training.
Do supplements for runners actually work?
Your results ultimately come down to your training, effort, and diet. With that being said, no supplement is going to make you be able to run a full marathon or trim 2 seconds off of your 1/4 mile time overnight.
Supplements for runners support your recovery, provide you with more energy when needed, and will give your body some extra nutrients to help you recover quicker and get more out of your training.
There are no magic pills out there that will magically make you Usain Bolt; only you are the master of your training and performance.
Should runners take joint supplements?
Last Updated on 2. May 2022 by Sabrina Wieser and Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DC
Should Runners Use BCAAs?
If you’ve been involved in the running world, you’ve probably come across the term BCAAs and wondered what that meant....