This is a question I get a lot. What are the best supplements for runners? Most of us have no idea how, or where, to start with a supplement program.
The supplement industry is an approximately 4 billion dollar a year industry. Yep, that’s billion. With a ‘B’. And that upward growth continues every year.
Who’s buying this stuff? And why? And how do they know WHAT to buy?
Let’s be real, it’s intimidating to walk into a health store for the first time. That fear of being duped into expensive sales. Of not knowing what you’re doing. Of being judged by the twenty something behind the counter with the perfect ass.
It’s also incredibly overwhelming to try to make heads or tails out of any of it – one person tells you this, but someone else will tell you something entirely different. And none of it makes sense – who knew you needed a full chemistry and anatomy background for this stuff?! And those labels.
…take this this supplement with that one, but not with this one. And only take it on Tuesdays, but not if it’s sunny out. And users should not wear blue, because giraffes have spots.
I totally get it. I’ve been there.
So, how did I narrow down what supplements I needed? I had a friend of a friend who was a personal trainer / fitness competitor. When I met her for the first time, I asked for a specific list of what she took, so I could start my own little experiment.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve got my routine down pat. So I thought I would break down – in layman’s terms – WHAT I take, WHY I take it, and what each one DOES.
I have a membership at GNC, and I like them because they allow you to experiment. If you try a product, and do not like it, react to it, or whatever, you can return it. Wherever you are, there’s a good chance your local health store does this as well.
Otherwise, how would they draw in new clientele? We just discussed how expensive this stuff can get if you don’t know what you’re buying, so why would a company with a good business sense, not let you return a product that doesn’t work for you?
Also, please remember that getting onto a supplement program that works for you will take some time and experimenting. For example…I tried 3 different pre workouts before settling on one. Be patient.
Onto the good stuff…
Every cell in our body needs protein, it is essential to our survival and function.
The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. There’s 20 different amino acids in our bodies, and they all have different jobs. You’ve likely heard the term “essential amino acid”. These are the 9 amino acids that can NOT be created by the body, and must be obtained from diet. (The healthy diet talk was going to come in eventually, might as well be right out of the gate.)
To give you a brief run down, there are three types of proteins:
- Complete proteins: These are foods that contain all of the essential amino acids. You’ll find these mostly in animal foods, like meat and dairy. If you’re vegetarian and/or vegan, you’ll be looking at stuff like quinoa, buckwheat, and soy.
- Incomplete proteins: These are foods that contain at least one essential amino acid. Think of foods coming from plants, like, beans, grains and vegetables.
- Complementary proteins: This is where you get creative and combine foods to get complete proteins. For example, a peanut butter sandwich, or rice and beans.
We generally need about a gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. I know for a fact, I do not eat that in a day! Hence supplements.
There are a gazillion different types of proteins out there. Honestly, I’ve been on soy, I’ve been on whey, I’ve experimented with others, and I notice no difference in any of them. I got to the point where I just went for what tasted good.
I’ve been on GNC’s Pro Performance Whey ISO Burst – French Vanilla Cream for about a year and a half, and really like it.
Simply put, “whey” is one of the two proteins found in milk. It’s a complete protein and also low in lactose.
“ISO burst” simply means it is a more pure form of protein, with less fat, cholesterol, lactose, carbs and calories than regular whey.
Creatine has somehow gotten a bad rep as a some lab created, steroid that will turn you into a genetic mutant with two heads. That is not at all what it is.
Creatine is made up of three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. Our body creates creatine, and it is found in food, like red meat and fish. It is completely naturally occurring, and not a stimulant.
Creatine’s job? It helps our muscles produce energy, so we can work harder.
That’s it. Nothing weird. You won’t get angry and turn green. You won’t grow a third eyeball. Nothing.
But you will perform better.
“Micronized” means that the creatine particles are much smaller than normal creatine. This means it will absorb better in your shake, which is good, because who wants lumps in their shake? Gross.
There are two types of creatine – “monohydrate” and ethyl ester. Studies have shown very little difference when users take one or the other. But, monohydrate is much cheaper. So, guess which ones the sales guy at the health stores prefers to sell you?
BCAA’s – otherwise known as branched chain amino acids – are the essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three make up a good portion of your muscle protein.
“Branched chain” just refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids.
As I said earlier, all amino acids are the building blocks of protein, but these three are special because they also help preserve glycogen stores. Glycogen is basically an energy reserve for your muscles that can be broken down quickly and used. So, if your body has an uninterrupted source of energy to tap into, you can keep going, which of course, means…
…you’ll perform better.
BCAA will also help with recovery. A good BCAA will have a higher amount of leucine than isoleucine and valine (ratios will likely be 2:1). Why? Because leucine is better at protein synthesis. This helps with recovery because, just as amino acids are the building blocks of protein – protein is the building block of muscles.
Some people may argue that because most high protein foods contain plenty of BCAA’s, you don’t need a supplement, but I stand by them. I eat quite well, but I still noticed a distinct difference in my recovery time once I started adding this to my program. Recovery time is noticeably shorter and much easier.
I use GNC’s Pro Performance Endure and have no complaints.
Put down that sports drink, all that sugar is not needed on a regular basis. What is needed, are electrolytes.
Did you know that electrolytes are salts? Basically, our body NEEDS electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and yes…salt.
On a chemical level, electrolytes regulate how water flows in and out of your cells, and helps with nerve impulses. Think about your heart – what makes it beat, and how does it do so in such perfect rhythm…yep, nerve impulses.
In other words…electrolytes are very important. Without them, things go south pretty quick.
When we work out, we sweat. What do we sweat? Water and salts. This is why we taste so salty on a hot day. Pretty gross to think about tasting your own sweat, isn’t it? Hey, it happens.
We have to maintain those electrolyte levels to keep things running smoothly. This is why you see us marathon runners gulping those sports drinks from little paper Dixie cups during a race.
I use Ultima Replenisher Hydrating Electrolyte Powder in all of my shakes, and love it, I’ve been using it for years.
On training runs, I’ve started experimenting with Nuun Boost Hydrating Electrolyte Tablets and really like them. I also travel with them, in case of any digestive issues where rehydration is important. Simply drop one into water, it fizzes up and leaves a light flavor. Definitely recommend!
This one is kind of self explanatory. This is basically a supplement for everyone who is not trying to be a rabbit, and who finds it difficult to eat 6-8 servings of vegetables in one day.
I am one such person.
A lot of people swear by Vega, but my body reacted very negatively to that entire line, so I avoid it at all costs. Instead, I use Progressive VegeGreens, and really like them.
If you are new to greens, start with a small amount, and increase the amount slowly. Your body may not be used to such a concentrated amount of greens, and you may experience digestive adjustments.
Now, THIS is the good stuff! With 200mg of caffeine in every scoop, this stuff will wake you up and almost do the workout for you!
I experimented with three different pre workouts before settling on Crossfuel Intensity – Preworkout. I struggled to find something that tasted good, but didn’t have so much caffeine in it that I’d be wired all day long. This was a perfect fit. I’ve tried a variety of flavours, and have no complaints on any.
I did go through an adjustment period when I initially started taking it, and would get very itchy immediately after drinking a shake. Obviously this was a mild allergic reaction. I’ve spoken to others who have also had the same experience. It took me a month or so to get adjusted, and now I experience no side effects.
Note that if you are a coffee drinker, like I am, you may have to experiment with this. I was getting serious migraines if I had pre workout and coffee in the same day. I apparently can’t handle that much caffeine. Now, I don’t drink any coffee at all on run days and I’m fine.
(Remember when I said that figuring out a supplement program, catered to YOU, will take some experimenting? This is what I meant. These little tweaks to your regimen will be individual.)
And, last but not least, I take a daily multi vitamin for women just to hammer home my point.
My preferred brand is Centrum, and I can usually find them on sale online, at Walmart or at the drugstore.
I don’t know about you, but I’m lazy, and I can admit that. I knew when I started this supplement program, there was no way in hell I was pulling a big blender down from the top shelf every day. So, I bought a Magic Bullet just for my shakes. It’s perfect!
It holds exactly a pint, which, conveniently, is the size of the glasses in my kitchen. It also comes with travel cups, if you prefer not to dirty a glass.
It’s easy clean up, and small enough that I can tuck it away under the counter, but still within easy enough reach that it hasn’t met the same rejection as my full size blender.
Putting it all together
So, what does all this look like on a daily basis?
On NON training days, I have one shake, for breakfast, and I put everything in it, except for pre-workout. And, on these days, I can drink coffee (yay!).
On TRAINING days, I have two shakes:
- A pre-run shake that has protein, electrolytes, pre-workout, BCAA and creatine.
- A post-run shake that has everything in it, except for pre-workout.
As you can see, my pre-run shake simply swaps out the greens for pre workout.
Recommended servings on all of these products are a full scoop, sometimes more. I used to do follow these suggestions, but have scaled back and prefer to take half scoops of everything, except for the protein, where I take the recommended full scoop.
I should also mention that I add a little fruit juice to my shake, and the rest is water. It’s about a 70:30 mix of water to juice. You’ll have to play with that mixture to see what you like. Some of the powders are flavoured, and I do not like overly sweet, so I like using more water than juice.
I also want to mention, that when I first started this program, there was an adjustment period overall. For the first couple weeks when I began adding supplements to my routine, I had headaches, I felt nauseous, tired, and overall just…bleh. I knew this was my body detoxing all the garbage, and adjusting to all of the healthy stuff I was now putting into it. If you experience this, don’t fear it, just take it easy, ride it out, and I promise you will feel amazing on the other side.
Also, do remember, a supplement program is a marathon not a race. It may take some time to see results. Be patient, keep at it, and stay strong!
I hope this answers a few questions for you. You are always welcome to ask more.
** Note that I am in no way offering any medical advice, I am simply outlining what works for me.
Now, tell me, what do you use to supplement your training?
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