“Athletes are always looking for that performance edge, and I have to say that there’s no magic bullet, in my opinion, but good nutrition and the right kind of supplementation can support an exercise program,” says Ronald Hoffman, MD, an integrative physician in New York City and host of Health Talk, a nationally syndicated radio show.
In addition to having many athletes as patients, at age 60, Hoffman is an avid runner and triathlete. Supplements, he says, can help runners in four ways:
1. Performance and Endurance
How well you perform is influenced by a wide range of nutrients, such as those in a multivitamin. “Exercise may place greater demands on the body than can be fulfilled with ordinary diet,” says Hoffman; “You get an insurance policy from a multivitamin.” In addition, cordyceps, a mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine, can boost energy, endurance, and immune function.
For marathons or runs over an hour, carb gels can supply needed sugar to muscles and prevent or help you get over a bonk, or hitting a wall. In competition, caffeine, guarana, or green tea extract can improve performance, but Hoffman doesn’t recommend taking these daily, as you can become dependent on stimulants and they cease to give you a boost.
Look for: A multi with approximately 50 mg of the main B vitamins; vitamin E in a mixed tocopherol form; 30-60 mg of zinc; 200 mcg of selenium; a variety of other antioxidants; and 200-400 mg of elemental magnesium. For best absorption, split the daily dose into two servings. Take a multi and cordyceps with food.
Electrolytes, especially sodium, potassium, and magnesium, are essential for cells to work and are lost in sweat, or simply evaporate in dry climates and at high altitudes. Electrolyte-rich sports drinks are one source but these are also high in sugar, which you need only on long runs (over an hour) or during events. Otherwise, you’re better off taking electrolytes without sugar.
Individual needs depend on your level of fitness and body chemistry. “The best index of hydration status,” says Hoffman, “is thirst.” But if you feel weak, light-headed, or experience cramping, reach for electrolytes.
Look for: Electrolyte formulas in tablets or packets of effervescent powder that mix with water.
3. Immune System Support
Runners often get colds or flu-like symptoms after competing, because the exertion suppresses the immune system, and intense training can do the same thing. Hoffman recommends nutrients that improve immune function.
Look for: Zinc, selenium, vitamin D, cordyceps, and probiotics. And take vitamin C: 500-1000 mg, two or three times daily.
For extra support consider: ModuCare or AHCC.
4. Recovery and Repair
The older you are, the longer it takes to recover, and nutrients become a higher priority. These are important ones:
Fish oil: To fight inflammation, at any age, take 1,000-3,000 mg daily.
Other anti-inflammatories, if needed: Curcumin, boswellia, and/or tart cherry extract.
For joint support: MSM, glucosamine, and chondroitin.
For muscle cramps: Extra magnesium.
For vegan athletes: Carnitine.
Just Starting Out?
If you’re beginning a running program, quercetin may enhance your progress, according to a study of healthy but previously inactive college students at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Taking 500 mg of quercetin, twice daily for seven days, increased endurance by 13.2 percent.
APPLIED NUTRICEUTICALS 7-Day Osteo-Sport combines MSM, glucosamine, chondroitin, and a proprietary blend of anti-inflammatories and joint-cushioning ingredients.
QUANTUM HEALTH Zinc Echinacea Lozenges boast the same form and dosage of zinc gluconate used in clinical studies on immunity.
DOCTOR’S BEST Ultra Cordyceps adds ginkgo and artichoke leaf extracts to support the rejuvenating and energizing effects of cordyceps.
VEGA SPORT Electrolyte Hydrator mixes in your water bottle to replenish electrolytes, minerals, and antioxidants.