Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Take these and improve your health and performance

A well-balanced diet chock-full of whole foods is the best way to obtain the nutrients and antioxidants needed to support training.

Photo by iStock Photo

A well-balanced diet chock-full of whole foods is the best way to obtain the nutrients and antioxidants needed to support training. In reality, though, most people do not have a perfect diet and the right supplements can pick up nutritional slack and give you a performance boost on the trails.

But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the dizzying array of liquids, powders and pills now available in a myriad of concentrations. And in many cases the products are more marketing than nutrition. Read on to learn about five supplements really worth running to the store for.


How it helps: A recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that the cells of multivitamin users might have a younger biological age than cells of non-users. A good multi provides nutrients shown to thwart several maladies such as cancer and heart disease and support training including B vitamins, which help generate energy from food.

When to supplement: More than filling in missing daily dietary links, multis can cover additional nutrient needs during periods of hard training. What’s more, studies suggest that the fruits and vegetables we consume today contain fewer nutrients than they did years ago, so taking a daily multi regardless of your diet is not a bad idea.

How to take it: Find a broad-spectrum multivitamin that contains about 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for most vitamins and minerals. If you can afford it, choose a supplement that derives its nutrients from whole-food sources like fruits and vegetables, which are likely better absorbed by the body than synthetic versions. Steer clear of artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors. Purdue University researchers found that high humidity could reduce the potency of B vitamins and vitamin C in pills. So, store vitamins in areas with little temperature fluctuation.

We like: True Athlete Whole Food Multivitamin (www.true-athlete.com)

Eat it: Make whole foods like legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables a primary focus of your diet and you’ll consume most of the vitamins and minerals found in a multivitamin.

Vitamin D

How it helps: By aiding calcium absorption, adequate vitamin D levels are crucial for bone health. A 2012 study by researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston found that higher vitamin-D levels were associated with lower stress-fracture risk among subjects who engaged in regular high-impact activities. The latest research also postulates that this multi-tasking vitamin can help fend off winter viruses, reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, certain cancers and diabetes, and keep body fat at bay by reducing fat-cell expansion. What’s more, a review of studies in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise concluded that there is strong evidence that vitamin D might improve athletic performance. Why the myriad of benefits? D behaves more like a hormone than a vitamin and plays a major roll in a range of bodily processes including muscle function.

When to supplement: You can reach your quota courtesy of the big yellow orb above, but the amount of sunlight-derived vitamin D your body produces depends largely on where you live and the time of year (in the winter you most likely won’t soak up enough). Sunscreen use, air pollution and spending the peak vitamin-D-making hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. indoors means that runners living in sunny locations may still not make enough. An Archives of Internal Medicine study concluded that 75-percent of Americans have low vitamin-D levels.

How to take it: Vitamin D experts recommend taking 1000 to 2000 I.U. daily of vitamin D3 (studies suggest D3 is more potent than D2) as many believe that the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation, 600 I.U., is usually inadequate. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. Pop it with a meal to increase absorption by almost 50 percent.

We like:
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw D3 (www.gardenoflife.com)

Eat it: Nosh on fatty fish such as salmon (particularly, wild), sardines, mackerel and herring. Other sources include egg yolk and UV-exposed mushrooms.

Fish Oil

How it helps: Studies suggest that omega-3 fats DHA and EPA present in fish oil can help prevent heart disease and reduce inflammation in the body, which may improve recovery during intense training periods. University of California at Davis scientists reported that DHA and EPA might improve blood flow to muscles during exercise. They may also help ward off diabetes, mental decline and arthritis.

When to supplement: Experts recommend eating at least 1.7 to 3.5 grams of DHA and EPA each week—a three-ounce serving of wild salmon contains nearly one gram. Some plant foods such as walnuts, flax seed, canola oil and chia seeds contain omega-3 fat in the form of ALA, but, when it comes to disease prevention, the omega-3s in fish are more potent.
How to take it: DHA and EPA make up only about 30 percent of most fish-oil supplements, with the remaining 70 percent being other fatty acids with fewer proven health perks. Look for a product that contains at least 500 milligrams total of both DHA and EPA. Vegetarians and vegans can rely on supplements containing algae derived omega-3 such as Life’sDHA.

We like: Coromega Omega-3 Squeeze (www.coromega.com)

Eat it: Fish species with the most DHA and EPA include rainbow trout, arctic char, sablefish, barramundi, anchovies, salmon, mackerel and sardines. Omega-3 eggs contain some, but levels are generally low.

Greens Powder

How it helps: Greens are brimming with vitamins and cell-protecting antioxidants that runners need to sustain training and recovery. Further, greens help restore a healthy pH balance in the body, thereby improving bone health. Problem is, most people aren’t eating nearly enough of the dark greens available in the produce department such as kale, Swiss chard and collards.

When to supplement: Supplementing greens is a convenient and reliable way to help get your required daily intake of green vegetables and then some. The main players in green powders are typically nutrient-dense cereal grasses including alfalfa, oat, barley and wheat along with algae such as spirulina and chlorella—aquatic living organisms found on the surface of lakes and seas. Greens powders are easily mixed into water, juice or post-workout shakes. Concentrated green powder capsules are also available.

How to take it: A healthy daily dose is anything from one to six grams of greens per day. Select a powder brand that is at least 50-percent greens. As for store-bought green juices, watch out for those that are mostly apple or other nutritionally inferior juices with just a speck of greens. Read the ingredient list to make sure greens are one of the first few items listed as some “green” drinks on the market actually have as much sugar as soda.

We like: Amazing Grass Green Superfood

Eat it: You can grow your own grasses for juicing, but we don’t suggest skimming the top of any lakes for green stuff.

Protein Powder

How it helps: Protein aids in muscle recovery, boosts strength gains in response to training, helps you maintain a healthy immune function and replaces the protein burned up for energy production during exercise.

When to supplement: While it’s easy to get all the protein you need to support daily training from whole foods such as poultry, fish, yogurt and beans, protein powders offer a convenient, dependable and portable source of protein when you need it most: post-workout. Isolated proteins, like whey, are digested faster than the protein in foods such as beef and chicken, so gulping a protein shake after a hard run can hasten muscle recovery.

How to take it: Whey protein contains an arsenal of muscle-friendly branched-chain amino acids like leucine (L) for example. Look for brands with whey protein isolate as the first ingredient—this is the purest form of whey available and contains very little, if any, fat or lactose. Hemp protein is a good non-dairy protein powder. It is one of the highest-quality plant proteins available and is free of allergens. Look for unflavored protein powders to avoid added sugars or artificial sweeteners. In most cases, a 20-gram protein serving is plenty. Pay attention to labels, as suggested serving sizes often contain more.

We like: Hammer Heed Whey Protein Powder (www.hammernutrition.com) or Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 70 (www.mantiobaharvest.com)

Eat it: Dietary sources of whey protein include ricotta cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and milk. You can find hemp protein in hemp seeds, which add a nutty flavor to yogurt, cereal and smoothies.

The Buck Stops Here – Don’t let these supplements drain your pocketbook.

By helping deliver oxygen to muscles, adequate iron levels are a must if you want to perform your best. However, too much iron can damage organs. Pre-menopausal women who lose iron in their blood during monthly menstruation should select a multivitamin with iron. Don’t take an individual iron supplement, though, unless a doctor has diagnosed a deficiency.

Little data supports taking high doses of one or two antioxidants like lycopene on their lonesome. Researchers believe antioxidants in foods work together in synergy to fend off disease so isolating them may not have the same effect.

Studies in humans have yet to show that the flavonoid quercetin can bolster endurance performance by more than trivial amounts.

Vitamin E
Studies involving vitamin-E supplementation on heart disease and cancer risk have generally come up lame, while Harvard scientists found it may raise stroke risk. Stick with food sources such as nuts, avocado and olive oil or what is found in a multivitamin.

Trending on Trail Runner Magazine

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada