Four Supplements That Can Improve Your Next Run
Small changes can lead to big gains for runners looking to shave off a few minutes from their race time. The International Society of Sports Nutrition classifies supplements by Groups: Group A being those that have been shown to provide a sports performance benefit. Lucky for us there are several in this category that can help you gain a competitive edge when preparing for your next race. If you’re looking to hit a PR one or more of these supplements may help get you there. Do not take a supplement without first consulting your doctor and getting their approval.
Boost it: Your Energy
What it is: Caffeine
Caffeine can boost energy levels, alleviate fatigue and there is sound evidence that it may enhance performance for high intensity (think 1500 meter dash) and endurance sports (I’m looking at you, marathoners). A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review (1) found caffeine reduces fatigue in endurance athletes when taken before and/or during exercise in moderate quantities.
How You Take It: Consume caffeine about an hour before your race to enhance performance. The effect tends to be dose dependent. A dosage of up to 400 mg is considered a safe limit for adults, half that for pregnant women. The average runner should consume at least 200 mg to receive a performance boost.
The Downside: Caffeine can cause GI distress, so experiment before your race to avoid unwelcome surprises. The effect of caffeine decreases with routine use so abstaining for seven days before your race will show greater gains if you are a habitual java drinker.
What it is: Creatine
Creatine is a naturally occurring protein. It fuels the body during high-intensity activities. It improves performance for weight lifters and sprinters, increases lean body mass, and reduces fatigue. Several studies show creatine supplementation improves endurance and anaerobic performance.
How to take it: Athletes take 4x5g doses per day for five days after which time they can take 1x3g per day for 12 weeks followed by a three-week break to prevent the body from adjusting to the supplement. There is no evidence that taking more than 20g during the loading phase has an increased benefit on creatine uptake or performance.
The downside: There have not been any reported side effects to taking Creatine.
Beat It: Reduce Lactic Acid Buildup
What it is: Beta-Alanine
What it is: Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring substance that reduces acidity in the muscle by helping to formulate carnosine, which is a muscle buffer. Increasing this buffering capacity can lead to increased performance, decreased fatigue, and strength gains. Its use is suited to several sports from sprinters to weight lifters to endurance enthusiasts.
How to take It: Athletes take 4-6g daily for 6-10 weeks. Improvement in performance is seen as early as two weeks and combining it with creatine may also be beneficial.
The downside: If you decide to add beta-alanine to your training regime, get ready to feel tingly. The only reported side effect of Beta-alanine is paraesthesia, a pins and needles feeling that can last upwards of an hour. The side effect decreases with continued use.
Delay It: Fatigue
What it is: Beetroot Juice
What is unique about beetroot juice? Beetroot contains a high amount of nitrate, which is a precursor for nitric oxide. Consuming foods high in nitric oxide can lead to blood vessel dilation, increase in oxygen delivery, increases in nutrient delivery to your muscles and a delay in fatigue.
How much will it help? Don’t expect to shave a minute off your mile time just by downing the pink stuff. Reports suggest athletes can achieve a 1% performance improvement. Those who are PR obsessed, however, will gladly take the one percent!
Although many elites claim to see results from beetroot juice, more research needs to be done. According to a scientific review (2) written by Andrew Jones, The effectiveness of beetroot juice, “might well depend on factors such as the type of subject, including age, diet, and health and fitness status; the intensity, duration, and nature of the exercise challenge; and the dose applied and duration of the nitrate supplementation regimen. Time will tell.”
How to take it: A typical dose is about 500ml of juice or 200mg of cooked beets. It can be taken daily for a week or one to two and half hours before you exercise or race.
The downside: Don’t freak if your urine or stool turns pink. It’s totally normal.
- Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review Ganio, Matthew S; Klau, Jennifer J, Casa, Douglas J; Armstrong, Lawrence E; Maresh, Carl M
- Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance Sport and Health Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences University of Exeter, St. Luke’s Campus, Exeter EX1 2LU UK, Andrew Jones, Sports Med. 2014;(Suppl 1):35-45