read Supplements to Avoid for Runners

Supplements to Avoid for Runners

Supplements to Avoid for Runners

There’s an upward trend of athletes using supplements. Running supplements serve as an ergogenic aid, which enhances your performance  or may help treat nutritional deficiencies that are commonly seen in the sport. The best supplements for runners are highly concentrated and provide nutrients that are at a higher percentage than the recommended daily allowances (RDA). 

But popping pills because everyone else is doing it, or because a role model endorses it, may have disastrous effects on your health. 

Do runners need supplements? 

Running is an endurance activity that requires increased intake of oxygen. This results in production of free radicals, which are unstable atoms that may cause damage like muscle fatigue and inflammation, leading to muscle soreness. Some amounts of these free radicals are, however, needed for muscle adaptation to exercise. Running may also cause a lot of sweating, loss of electrolytes, cramping, and muscle soreness.

Running thus increases energy expenditure and the need of nutrients in our bodies. It improves circulation and absorption of nutrients, which means that the food that you eat will get better digested and absorbed. 

Runners may take supplements for various reasons like increased energy and nutrient demand, to fight off free radicals, to improve performance. But taking nutrition supplements for runners mindlessly could have its drawbacks.

Also Read: Should You Take Supplements for Weight Loss? 

Here are a few supplements a runner should stay away from: 

1. Antioxidants

Antioxidants are the natural enemies of free radicals and work towards limiting their effect. Antioxidants come from the foods we eat and some of it can be produced in our body. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidant vitamins, which are generally supplemented. Studies have shown that having large amounts of antioxidants, for positive effect on performance, is debatable. Few studies show that antioxidant supplementation may discourage training adaptations.

What to do instead? 

To gain maximum benefits from antioxidants, maintain a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of antioxidant-containing whole foods. Include the following in your diet: 

  • Bright colored vegetables and fruits and berries like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, orange, sweet lime, lemon, gooseberry, cherry, tomatoes, colored peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli, carrot, and beans.
  • Nuts like almond, walnut, brazil nuts have high concentrations of antioxidants present in them. 

These foods can easily be incorporated in the daily diet in order to boost your antioxidants. Try to have two different kinds of fruits and three different colored vegetables along with a few nuts daily to cover your antioxidant needs.

2. Calcium

Calcium is essential for maintaining our bone mass and blood calcium levels, which is important for muscle contraction. Running improves  bone calcium uptake when the diet includes calcium-rich foods. Calcium helps bones to recover quickly, keep them strong, and avoid risks of fractures. Studies show that calcium supplements may increase risk of heart disease and stroke. Whereas consumption of foods rich in calcium do not increase this risk. Therefore, calcium through foods should be prioritized and supplements should be added only if diet cannot meet the daily requirement.

What to do instead?

You may include:

  • Whole milk, skim or low-fat milk 
  • Milk-based products (paneer, yogurt)
  • Tofu
  • Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli. 
  • Pulses, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Fish like salmon or sardine

The RDA of calcium is 1,000mg a day. It can be met through 3-4 servings of calcium-rich foods daily from the sources mentioned below: 

FoodServingCalcium (mg)%DV*
Milk200ml (1 glass)25025
Paneer100g (½ cup)48048
Tofu100g (½ cup)33033
Beans30g (1 cup cooked)505
Soyabean30g (1 cup cooked)808

3. Creatine

Creatine helps in building muscles by pulling water into muscle cells and increasing protein synthesis. 

But since it needs water, it taxes the kidney and can also cause dehydration, heat-related illness, and muscle cramps. It has been proven to be beneficial for sprints, but does not provide any useful benefits for long-distance endurance activities.

What to do instead?

In case you are looking for muscle mass gain and are doing strength training along with your running, you can obtain creatine from food sources like meat (especially beef),  and fish like herring and salmon.

Also Read: Superfoods for Runners: How They Help Improve Performance

4. Pre-workout dietary supplements for runners

These generally consist of caffeine, creatine, beta alanine, arginine, taurine along with various other ingredients and vitamins. 

These ingredients surely enhance performance by giving an energy boost, but relying on them regularly may not be as effective as taking it intermittently. Since regular use may result in the body’s adaptation to it reducing its effect. 

Some pre workouts may make you feel anxious or restless. 

Caffeine sensitive people may experience jitters, digestive issues, and disruption in sleep. Therefore, it should be taken as infrequently as possible, and altogether avoided if possible.

What to do instead?

For an energy boost during the run, do not skip your pre-workout meal and focus on getting enough carbs before your run. 

  • Fruit, peanut butter toast, jam bread, banana with peanut butter, dried fruits, etc. can be good pre-workout snacks.
  • You can also have an espresso shot for the caffeine kick if it suits you before the run.

Supplements for running faster, if not used correctly, can pose danger or be sub-optimally used by the body. Hence they should be used only when you are deficient or your diet does not provide it. Be aware that all vitamins and supplements need to be consumed only under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist or coach. 

1. Huang TH, Lin SC, Chang FL, Hsieh SS, Liu SH, Yang RS. Effects of different exercise modes on mineralization, structure, and biomechanical properties of growing bone. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Jul;95(1):300-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01076.2002. Epub 2003 Feb 28. PMID: 12611764.
2. Gomez-Cabrera, M., Domenech, E. and Viña, J., 2021. Moderate exercise is an antioxidant: Upregulation of antioxidant genes by training.
3. Exercise and aging: can you walk away from Father Time?. Harv Mens Health Watch. 2005;10(5):1-5.
4. Charoenphandhu, N. (2007). Physical activity and exercise affect intestinal calcium absorption: a perspective review.
5. Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Aug 8;15(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6. PMID: 30089501; PMCID: PMC6083567.
6. Jagim AR, Camic CL, Harty PS. Common Habits, Adverse Events, and Opinions Regarding Pre-Workout Supplement Use Among Regular Consumers. Nutrients. 2019 Apr 16;11(4):855. doi: 10.3390/nu11040855. PMID: 31014016; PMCID: PMC6520716.
7. Gomez-Cabrera, Mari & Domenech, Elena & Romagnoli, Marco & Arduini, Alessandro & Borras, Consuelo & Pallardó, Federico & Sastre, Juan & Viña, Jose. (2008). Oral administration of vitamin C decreases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and hampers training-induced adaptations in endurance performance. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 87. 142-9. 10.1093/ajcn/87.1.142. 
8. Padilla J, Mickleborough TD. Does antioxidant supplementation prevent favorable adaptations to exercise training? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Oct;39(10):1887; author reply 1888. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31812383e8. PMID: 17909422.
9. Lima GA, Lima PD, Barros Mda G, Vardiero LP, Melo EF, Paranhos-Neto Fde P, Madeira M, Farias ML. Calcium intake: good for the bones but bad for the heart? An analysis of clinical studies. Arch Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Jun;60(3):252-63. doi: 10.1590/2359-3997000000173. PMID: 27355855.
10. SAGE Journals. 2021. Calcium supplements and cardiovascular risk: 5 years on – Mark J. Bolland, Andrew Grey, Ian R. Reid, 2013. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 April 2021].