Hey runner... should you be taking supplements??
On the surface, supplementing might seem like a great idea. If some vitamins and minerals are good, then a lot are better, right? Besides, look at all the benefits that they claim! Heart health, digestive health, improved metabolism, decreased joint pain...
But are they worth the money? Do they do what they claim that they can do?
💊 Whether or not you choose to take supplements, you still need to eat real food!
No supplement is able to take the place of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, dairy, etc. For example, you cannot avoid vegetables completely, take a multivitamin, and think that you're covered or you're good. No supplement will ever take the place of eating a varied, healthy diet.
Think of supplements as a bonus, or maybe as peace of mind.
Don't think of them as a replacement or as an excuse to not eat healthy foods.
Plus, there is research that shows that foods work synergistically with each other. This means you're going to get more benefits from eating real watermelon than you would by taking the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients out of the watermelon, putting them in a pill, and taking that.
💊 Overdoing it on your supplements can actually cause more harm than good.
Think about it... if you're getting all of your nutrients from food, then it is going to be hard to take too much -- your stomach will prevent you from eating more!
But if you're getting your nutrients from supplements, then it can be very easy to take several times the recommended amount and actually exceed the upper limit. This can cause harmful side effects - ranging from mild (like nausea or upset stomach) to severe. And taking too much of one nutrient can impair your absorption or prevent you from reaping the benefits of OTHER nutrients. Lose lose.
And when it comes to taking nutrients that act as antioxidants in the body to keep you healthy (vitamins C and E or selenium, for example), taking too many can actually put you into a pro-oxidant state... the exact opposite of what you were going for!
💊 Supplements don't guarantee health benefits.
Yes, they may promise heart health or reduced joint pain, but that doesn't mean that they're definitely going to work, or going to work for you. There are several factors that go into something like heart health for example - your diet, physical activity, weight, genetics, environment, personal health history, and more. Don't believe any pill that promises magic results. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
💊 Your needs are not the same as everyone else's.
Are you a 21 year old female who is running for your college cross country and track teams? Or are you a 48 year old man who is taking up running while trying to lose weight? Depending on who you are and what your goals are, your needs are different. A one-size-fits-all supplement just isn't going to cut it for you.
💊 You get what you pay for.
Quality supplements tend to be more expensive. That said, just because something is more expensive doesn't necessarily mean it is better. But the best vitamin is rarely the cheapest.
💊 Are you someone who is at higher risk of nutrient deficiencies?
Some people are more likely to need more nutrients than the average person. These people include...
Runners with food allergies or intolerances (and thus have to limit their intake of several foods or even some food groups).
Runners who are pregnant or considering pregnancy (you definitely need extra folate and extra iron), or if you're breastfeeding and running.
Runners who are vegan or follow a fairly strict plant-based dietary pattern. You're at higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency especially, but also possibly some B vitamins, iron, and zinc.
Runners who are chronic dieters or who are on very low calorie diets. If you are, that makes it harder to get all of the necessary nutrients in a limited amount of food. (Note: you should have a good reason if you're restricting your calories this much, especially if you're running all the miles!!)
💊 Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In the United States, supplements do not need the FDA's approval prior to heading to your local drugstore shelf or Amazon inbox. This means that you don't know if you're getting what you're paying for, if you're getting something that could be harmful, if what you're getting is effective, or if there's been any cross-contamination.
Therefore, if you decide to use a supplement, I highly advise you to look for one that has been certified by a third party (such as NSF, USP, or Informed Choice). This way you know that you are getting what you pay for AND you're not getting any banned or potentially harmful substances.
💊 You can't become nutrient depleted overnight.
It can actually often take weeks, months, or even years to become deficient or depleted of certain nutrients. For example, your body can store some vitamins - A,D,E, and K - in fat tissue and therefore it is highly unlikely you will "run out". One day of lousy eating or not getting everything you need is not going to hurt you in the long run.
So what supplements should you take?
This is really individualized based on who you are, what you eat, where you live, what your goals are, and even your genetics. The supplement that I think nearly every runner should take is....
💊 Vitamin D (aka the sunshine☀️vitamin)
I'll go out on a limb and say most runners should take extra vitamin D. Not many food provide much vitamin D; we get most of our vitamin D from sun exposure. If you spend a lot of time indoors (hello, winter!) or if are always wearing sunscreen when you are outdoors, you're almost certainly going to need extra. If you have darker skin, then you are also at higher risk of deficiency. I take 2000 IU per day.
💊 Any others?
There are several others that could be of benefit for YOU. I am happy to discuss whether you could benefit from supplements and whether or not you might be taking more than you need. We can also discuss how to change your diet so that you don't need to take as many, and discuss nutrients that might be missing in your diet and how to use real food to make sure that you get enough from now on.
Schedule your free runner's nutrition strategy call to so we can evaluate your current diet and plan how you can use real food to become a better, faster, happier runner.
Do you take supplements? Why or why not? If so, which ones do you take? I'm curious, let me know!