The Best Supplements for Runners

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.

What?!

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…

Protein Powder

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.

 

Supplements for Runners Protein

GNC Pro Performance ISO Burst Why Protein

 

Creatine

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.

I use GNC’s Pro Performance Micronized Creatine Monohydrate.

“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?

 

Supplements for Runners Creatine

GNC’s Pro Performance Micronized Creatine Monohydrate

 

BCAA

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.

 

Supplements for Runners BCAA

GNC’s Pro Performance Endure

 

Electrolyte replacement

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!

 

Supplements for Funners Electrolytes

Nuun Boost Hydrating Electrolyte Tablets

 

Greens

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.

 

Supplements for Runners Greens

Progressive VegeGreens

 

Pre workout

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.)

 

Supplements for runners Pre Workout

Crossfuel Intensity – Preworkout

 

Multivitamin

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.

Magic Bullet

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?

(This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and purchase something, I earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. See my full disclosure policy here.)

 

A comprehensive guide, written by an experienced runner, on the best supplements for runners, what each one does, and where to get them.
A comprehensive guide, written by an experienced runner, on the best supplements for runners, what each one does, and where to get them.
A comprehensive guide, written by an experienced runner, on the best supplements for runners, what each one does, and where to get them.
A comprehensive guide, written by an experienced runner, on the best supplements for runners, what each one does, and where to get them.
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18 Comments

  1. November 17, 2018 / 1:32 pm

    Very good post. Even though I’m not a runner (just had a TKR last month) the information is great in terms of what are bodies need

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      November 17, 2018 / 7:59 pm

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  2. October 14, 2018 / 11:07 am

    I haven’t had a formal train in running but good to know I can start anytime especially with these information you’ve shared. Thank you!

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 15, 2018 / 4:22 pm

      That’s great, Ruby, I’m glad you found this post helpful. If you have any questions on how to get started with running, you are more than welcome to ask! 🙂

  3. October 13, 2018 / 6:12 pm

    Great post! I love how you break it all down and talk about your own personal experience with each supplement, instead of just giving a generalized summary like a lot of posts do. I also love my Magic Bullet!

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 15, 2018 / 4:21 pm

      I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending a product I don’t actually use, so I felt it was important to make it clear that I am speaking from personal experience with each of these products. Thanks for reading, and thanks for picking up on that. And yes…the Magic Bullet is my lifeline! LOL

  4. healthywithjamie
    October 13, 2018 / 4:38 pm

    Thank you for sharing this great information!

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 15, 2018 / 4:18 pm

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  5. October 12, 2018 / 4:26 am

    This is really interesting, thank you. I’m struggling to get back into running since having a baby – I just don’t have the energy because I’m starting from scratch again. I’ve been wary of pre-workout drinks but think I might give it a go.

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 12:52 pm

      I’ve started over a few times as well, so I know the drained feeling. Starting over after having a baby, though, I haven’t done, so I would imagine that is on a whole other level of drained! Kudos to you for keeping with it, even if it is a struggle. Hopefully you are able to find what works for you soon. Thanks for reading, Suzy! 🙂

  6. Christine
    October 11, 2018 / 3:18 pm

    Thank you for the suggestions. I workout quite a bit, and I have noticed that my energy is definitely waning. I am a little hesitant to try a powder as I have a really sensitive stomach. Everything makes me nauseous these days (I have UC too). I definitely don’t think people understand the power of a multi either–that’s always a must to me.

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 11, 2018 / 3:31 pm

      Yes, I noticed a distinct difference in energy levels, once I got my regimen sorted and my body got over the shock of all the healthy stuff I was now putting into it. LOL Can I assume that the UC affects absorption, and this is partially to blame for your low energy levels? (I don’t know much about UC, so I’m guessing here). Hopefully you find something that works for you soon, constant nausea is not at all fun. Thank you for reading Christine! 🙂

  7. October 11, 2018 / 3:10 pm

    Very informative post! I am an avid long distance runner, and this was very helpful for me, as I know I can do a better job of supplementing my regular diet. I especially appreciated that you stated to move away from sugary sports drinks and focus on electrolytes, as that is one rule I live by myself!

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 11, 2018 / 3:19 pm

      Awesome to get feedback from a fellow runner! Thank you for reading! 🙂

  8. October 11, 2018 / 11:20 am

    I have always been hesitant to take any type of powder in order to get what I need for my workouts. It just didn’t sit well with me and I preferred to alter my eating to get whatever seems necessary. However, you bring up some good points about how it gives you a specific combination of nutrients that may be hard to have in a meal and you talk about the fact that these nutrients are not just for health, but also provide better energy for your workouts. I might have to rethink what I have been doing to see if I can improve upon my process to see maximum results. Thanks for sharing.

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 11, 2018 / 11:37 am

      I think you share a similar mentality to many people when it comes to supplements – they are hesitant to take them not knowing what they are or what they are doing to their body. And that’s completely understandable. I was the same way before I started. But, while I agree that the #1 way to get nutrients will always be via diet, getting the right amount – especially for athletes – can be tough, so, sometimes we need a little help. 🙂 Thanks for reading! 🙂

  9. October 11, 2018 / 10:40 am

    Hey! Great information. I think multivitamin is what works fr me best and also thanks for a brief note on non training days’ do’s.

    • NurseBackpacker
      Author
      October 11, 2018 / 11:22 am

      Great, glad you got a couple pointers from this post! Thanks for reading, Priyanka. 🙂

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