Nutritional Supplements For Runners – Myths, Facts & Warnings

Supplements Supplements

Walk into any health shop and we are confronted with a mass of pills potions and lotions all claiming to give us super speed.

The Flash

Magnesium, comes with free ‘Flash’ t-shirt….yeah not quite.

So what should and shouldn’t we be taking?

First a word of caution before you delve into the world of vitamins and minerals. In fact several worlds. Unless you are a trained nutritionist, doctor, or pharmacist JUST BUY A MULTIVITAMIN COMPLEX.

Don’t roll your eyes at me, reader. I know you think you are sensible and can read a label, but the issue is a lot more complicated than that.

Frequently Used Bullshit Reasoning

It’s all natural

Belladonna is completely natural as well, but I wouldn’t want to be taking that everyday.

If a little is good then a lot must be better

Like alcohol right?

Is There A Downside Then? 

I once heard another runner say she took 4 magnesium tablets a day to ‘stay loose’ Taking a high level of some micronutrients is dangerous because of the potential of overdosing. Yes you can overdose on them, you can have mild effects like headaches, or you can simply end up dead on the pavement outside the Viper Room.


Okay jokes aside. You are unlikely to die from eating too many sprouts. Although those around you might suffer. The more fruit and veg the better. Its supplements that provide the concentrated amounts that have the potential to cause us problems. Some are safer than others

A,D, E, K are fat soluble. This means they are not flushed out by our kidneys when we have an excess and are stored in our body. If we keep on consuming more than we need these stores can become toxic. Don’t fret too much if you are not taking tablets as the levels required for poisoning are pretty much impossible to hit by eating. Also if you are taking supplements then Vitamin D is less of a concern, primary because if you live in the northern hemisphere, are overweight, smoke, are female, a child, or elderly……(basically everybody) then chances are you have a D deficiency. Vitamin A in particular is easy to OD so keep a close eye if you are taking it solo.

neon yellow

Water soluble vitamins and minerals (which in general are also water soluble) get peed out when we take too much. A Vitamin B complex will turn your pee neon yellow if you fancy having your bodily fluids match your running gear.

However massive amounts over a long period can still have side effects, and overdosing is still possible from water soluble supplements, even though the amount is still substantially higher.

The other reason you have to be careful with watching what you take is vitamins and minerals are linked. They are all buddies holding hands. You change the levels of one and it will affect the others.

You probably all know that calcium absorption aided by vitamin D since a few yoghurts decided to cash in on the fact, and plaster the adverts all over our screens. It’s also pretty common knowledge that vitamin C improves iron absorption.

However some micronutrients have a negative effect on each other. If you Zinc supplements over a long period of time, you will give yourself a copper deficiency. These buddies should not be split up, if you take one, you should take the other. High levels of Iron and Calcium can also affect Zinc absorption, so if you are JUST taking these two for a bit of a boost you may find yourself with a deficiency yet again.

It’s not only Zinc that is fussy and has trouble playing without his friends. Maganese has issues with Calcium and Iron, Fluoride levels drop with increased levels of Magnesium and Calcuim…………the list goes on.


Our body is a delicate balancing act. Shoving a high level of a single supplement in it well and truly screws it up.

Multi Vitamins already have the levels sorted for you. The mix is there. Someone has sat down and worked the numbers out for you. Unless you are willing to sit down and go through the list of recommended daily amounts for each one…..which hey you might be?

What To Look For In A Multi-Vitamin

So with all the vitamin & mineral complexes on the market, what specifically should a runner look for?

Well I’ve complied a cheat sheet for you. I apologise if this is a bit more technical than usual I’ll write something smutty and full of toilet humour in the next post!


Biotin is involved in the metabolism of both sugar and fat. In sugar metabolism, biotin helps move sugar from its initial stages of processing on to its conversion into usable chemical energy. Biotin is one of the B mineral family and can prevent cramps and pains related to running. Biotin is also known as vitamin H and is found in rich sources in egg yolk and swiss chard.


It is well known that calcium aids bone structure and development. This is vital for endurance athletes as it prevents stress fractures that are associated with the sport. Calcium also plays a role in many physiological activities not related to bones including blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, regulation of enzyme activity, and cell membrane function. It is especially important to replace this mineral as it is one of the electrolytes lost in sweat, which puts the endurance athlete at great risk of low levels. Calcium can be found in dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, as well as dark leafy vegetables and sesame seeds.


Choline plays a role in facilitating fat transport in and out of the cells and vital for transporting waste products from the cell. This is vital with high levels of cellular respiration that are undergone during an endurance run. Choline also allows your nerves to communicate with your muscles aiding reaction times and increasing co-ordination. This could reduce the slips and trips of the runner on uneven surfaces that they have to compete on. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation, something which us long distance runners find useful.


Chromium plays a key role in carbohydrate metabolism, aiding insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. This regulation is extremely important in providing energy to the runner over a sustained time period and preventing spikes and troughs that lead to tiredness and (for non runners especially), diabetes. Chromium can be found in whole grains, bran and potatoes.


Copper helps the body process iron, an important part of haemoglobin (and responsible for oxygen transportation around the body) Copper is also a component of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that participates in the synthesis of collagen and elastin, two important structural proteins found in bone and connective tissue. It is important for the marathon runner that these tissues have all the necessary minerals to repair the impact damage done on gruelling runs. Otherwise seriously injury is assured. Very good sources of copper include chard, spinach, sesame seeds, mustard greens, kale, shiitake mushrooms, and cashews.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is key in the development of red blood cells and helps maintain healthy circulation of the blood throughout the body by preventing build-up of a substance called homocysteine. A good supply of folic acid in the diet will increase reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease (by reducing homocysteine levels) and increase energy levels by increasing levels of red blood cells. A distance runner needs the most efficient oxygen delivery system possible to carry their body over the vast distances. It also plays a role cell repair as it is a vital nutrient for cell production (especially skin and smooth muscle cells) and can aid in repairing the general wear and tear of these runs. Folic acid is found in calf’s liver, squash, and pulses. Black beans and lentils are excellent sources of fibre as well as being high in folic acid. Black beans and bell peppers also supply the body with flavonoids, which help the body utilise vitamin C and prevent excessive inflammation when damage occurs.


Glutamine serves as precursor to the antioxidant glutathione, participates in glycogen (glucose storage) synthesis. It is important that an endurance runner is able to build up adequate glycogen stores to fuel the working muscles on the long runs. When these stores are gone the athlete can no longer perform. Sources of glutamine include pulses, fish and chicken. Energy efficiency is key to an endurance runner’s performance, so any micronutrient that is involved in this process must be heavily present in the diet from a number of sources.


Iron is the main component of haemoglobin and myoglobin, the carrier proteins for oxygen. It is responsible for oxygen distribution through the bloodstream and muscles and its levels are directly related to the ATP (energy) production potential of an athlete. Sources of iron include asparagus, broccoli, spinach and meat.

Thioctic/Lipotic Acid

Thiotic acid is used in the link reaction between glycolysis and Krebs cycle (the first and second stage of cellular respiration) Because of this it is crucial in aerobic respiration, the source of ATP for activity over 2-3 minutes long. The marathon runner would fall into this category. Therefore it is vital that this transition between glycolysis and krebs cycle not be hampered. Thiotic acid can be found in ‘broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables like collard greens or chard


Magnesium acts as a relaxant for the nerves. When levels have depleted through sweat the athlete can be at risk of developing cramps and strains. It is also involved the production of many enzymes, including those used in fat metabolise and energy production. Sources of magnesium include quinoa, seeds, and salmon.


Manganese activates the enzymes responsible for the utilization of several key nutrients including biotin, thiamin, ascorbic acid, and choline several of which are useful for a runner and are also in this list. However it also plays a vital role, for an athlete as a catalyst in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol, facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism. This access to energy is essential over the long distances. Manganese can be found in brown rice, pineapple, and cranberries.

Niacin (B3)

Niacin plays a key role in helping the body process fatty acids. It also helps the body convert its stored proteins, fats and glycogen into energy. Access to the body’s energy stores is vital for any athlete, so it is important that this system be as efficient as possible. Sources of Niacin include Tuna, Chicken and soy sauce.

Pantothetic Acid (B5)

This B vitamin plays a pivotal role in helping release energy from sugars, starches, and fats and is a widely used supplement for marathon runners for its ability to increase the efficiency of mitochondria function. It also assures adequate production of healthy fats in your cells ensuring adequate fat storage for training endurance athletes. Pantothetic acid also increases the body’s ability to respond to stress by supporting your adrenal glands. Runners put their body under enormous stress and the adrenal gland is often at a high output for the duration of the run. This support therefore is invaluable. Vitamin B5 is found in liver, avocado, yoghurt and sweet potato.


Potassium is one of the key electrolytes lost in sweat. It is responsible for the communication between cells and the action potential generated down the nerve axon. A lack of potassium reduces this communication and the ability of the muscle to contract. This is not desirable for any athlete. Sources of potassium include tomatoes, cucumber and apricot.

Riboflavin (B3)

Riboflavin plays a critical role in the body’s energy production, it also helps support the function of other key B vitamins, especially those used in ATP (energy) production. With correct levels it can help improve an athlete’s performance by increasing energy efficiency. Sources of riboflavin include eggs, yoghurt and spinach.


Selenium is useful in preventing joint inflammation. Joints can sometimes become painful and inflamed under the repeated impact of long distance running. Any measure that can be made to prevent this would be beneficial to performance. Sources of selenium include tuna, prawns, salmon and turkey.

Thiamin (B1)

Vitamin B1 is an important ingredient in pyruvate dehydrogenase, an enzyme used in the link reaction between glycolysis and Krebs cycle. Without this link glucose cannot be broken down aerobically. It is aerobic respiration that allows for activity over a period for longer than 2 minutes, so endurance sports fall into this category.

It also plays a role in nerve maintenance and is responsible for healthy development of the fat-like coverings which surround most nerves (called myelin sheaths). Sources include asparagus, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, kidney beans and pineapple.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is crucial for red blood cell development. Without B12, synthesis of DNA becomes defective, and so does the information needed for red blood cell formation. It also has an effect on protein synthesis as amino acids become unavailable for use in the absence of B12. Also insufficiency of the vitamin can also affect the movement of carbohydrates and fats through the body. So as this vitamin affects the body’s three major energy sources (carbohydrates, glucose & proteins) it is a crucial component of a runner’s diet. Sources can be found in salmon, prawns, milk, yoghurt and eggs.

Vitamin B6

‘This vitamin is particularly important in facilitating the breakdown of glycogen. Access to stored glucose (glycogen) is extremely important in endurance running, as this is where the reserves often come from for the end of the race in particular. Efficient break down would have a positive effect on performance by increasing energy supply to the working muscles. Vitamin B6 can be found in squash, spinach, bananas and peppers.

Vitamin C

This vitamin is key in helping the body absorb iron which increases the body’s ability to use oxygen. Vitamin C is also vital in supporting the immune system, increasing the body’s ability to repair itself and defend itself from infection. Athletes are often at risk from colds and flus when they ‘over train’ and weaken the immune system. These illnesses can seriously damage their training regime. Sources of vitamin C include peppers, kale and most fruit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps absorption of calcium so it can be used effectively by the muscles and bones (see calcium). It has also been shown to have an effect on circulatory health. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be a significant risk factor for high blood pressure in a variety of studies. Runners often put strain on these systems, as they are responsible for supplying the body with oxygen. It is therefore vital that they are kept in optimum health for the best performance. Vitamin D can be found in sunlight, salmon and milk. Because it is difficult to increase vitamin D sources through food as it is a hormone produced by the body in the presence of sunlight. However it is found in salmon and milk.


Zinc plays a part in the synthesis and regulation of insulin. It also has an effect on the rate at which we create and use up energy. When zinc is deficient in the diet, metabolic rate drops. Because of this it is a vital supplement for the endurance runner as a low metabolic rate will affect the body’s ability to produce energy for the races as well as training. Sources of zinc include turkey, spinach and oats.

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4 Responses to Nutritional Supplements For Runners – Myths, Facts & Warnings

  1. Another reason to watch out for supplements- in the US (not sure about other countries), they are not tightly regulated. Supplements aren’t usually taken off of the market unless there are enough reports of adverse side effects.

  2. This is a fantastic post! Thanks for all the information, it’s really helpful. I didn’t know Zinc was so finicky! Good to know! (For the record, that makes TWO new things I’ve learned today…and it’s not even lunch time!)

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