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NUTRITION: Six Supplements that Work

Rejuvenate your running with these performance- and recovery-boosting (not to mention safe and legal) ergogenic aids.

Rejuvenate your running with these performance- and recovery-boosting (not to mention safe and legal) ergogenic aids.

You want to run faster and stronger. You think you’re doing everything right – healthy diet, consistent training, proper rest – but you just can’t pass the pace bunny. Maybe you need to add a little extra to your regime. Purported to do something as broad as aiding general health or as specific as enhancing oxygen uptake by red blood cells, supplements – vitamins, minerals and chemical compounds – are a consistently hot topic with athletes. But choosing a supplement is difficult. You need to carefully consider what the supplement is and if it actually works.

It’s critical to remember that supplements do not replace any aspect of running’s fundamentals: a balanced diet and adequate water, mental preparation and training. I guarantee there will never be a pill to substitute a hard season’s worth of hills. No powder will ever match the satisfying juiciness of a blueberry packed with fibre, antioxidants and flavour, or the confidence gained from finishing a race with a personal-best time. Despite these considerations, runners don’t always have the time or knowledge to prepare every food to enhance its inherent nutritious power. Our diets won’t always perfectly replenish the tank after it’s emptied during hill sprints, plyometrics and pace runs.

As keen health seekers, runners are market gold mines, but it’s common to see misleading advertisements for supplement products. No governing body quality tests what’s in a container, so producers aren’t obligated to be truthful. A supplement may contain more or less than what is listed on the bottle, if it’s there at all. The product may even be contaminated with substances like heavy metals or ephedrine.

While Health Canada does not monitor what is in a container, the government does have a voluntary licensing program and they maintain a natural health products (NHP) database. A company submits the product’s source, potency, ingredients, recommended use and objective research. In turn, they are allowed to make health claims about the product. NHPs sold in Canada require a licence before marketing – if a bottle does not have an eight-digit NHP number, it has not been approved – but it will still be on drugstore shelves.

Before you believe an advertisement, a website or even a close friend, consider why you might want a supplement. If there is a product to fill your specific need, take it as directed. Rigorous research studies define dosages and durations. The supplements described here may help you relieve some soreness, and maybe even make you a little bit faster.

Article recovery drinks

Fast recovery means downing a meal within 30 minutes after a run. Researchers agree a ratio of three to four grams of carbohydrates to one gram of protein is the best way to rebuild glycogen. If you can’t make a perfectly comprised meal within half an hour of training, endurance recovery drinks are convenient and will help you recover faster to train consistently. Low-fat chocolate milk works, too.

Fish oil or plant-based Omega-3 oil

Omega-3 fats, concentrated in fish and some nuts, are famous for their hearty impact on health. While they successfully lower cholesterol, omega-3s are also a natural anti-inflammatory. Research shows too much omega-6 fat from vegetable oils and not enough omega-3s leads to more aggressive prostaglandins, which cause inflammation. Though they won’t immediately reduce pain like a painkiller, omega-3s downgrade your body’s general inflammatory response. One to two grams of omega-3s per day may decrease joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Omega-6 fats should comprise 75 per cent of fats with omega-3s filling out the remainder. Keep saturated fats from animals to a minimum and avoid trans fats from processed foods. If fatty fish, flax seeds or walnuts don’t make your grocery list, fish oil or Omega-3 oil supplements can help.


Udo’s Hummus

Serves eight as an appetizer or dip.


1 ½ cups cooked or canned chickpeas

½ cup lemon juice

4 garlic cloves

1 cup tahini

¾ cup Udo’s Oil or other Omega-3 oil

Blend Ingredients in a food processor. Add water if mixture is too thick. Serve with pita bread.

Nutritional information for one serving

Calories 390

Carbohydrates 6 g

Protein 2.5 g

Fat  36 g

Sodium 100 mg

Fibre 3 g


Running causes extensive oxidative damage, leading to potential upper respiratory tract infections, muscle soreness and stiffness. Antioxidants like vitamin C and E are essential components of recovery. Vitamin C is imperative for a strong immune system and increases iron uptake, aiding oxygen delivery to muscles. Vitamin E is less understood, but researchers agree that it protects against endurance exercise’s oxidative harm.

Vitamin C is easily found in foods like citrus fruits, green peppers and strawberries. If you’re not getting enough vitamin C in your diet, taking 600 mg per day is a safe amount, but keep supplemental vitamin C to less than 2,000 mg per day or you risk kidney stones.

Vitamin E is harder to find in food, much less in the amounts proven to protect against disease. Limited to only a handful of food sources such as almonds and wheat germ, 400 IU of Vitamin E per day-the amount believed to aid oxidative recovery-may be easier to swallow in pill form.

Glucosamine and chondroitin

Structural constituents of tendons, ligaments and cartilage, glucosamine and chondroitin may reduce joint pain. In studies of people with osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint condition due in part to overuse, glucosamine chondroitin significantly reduces general joint pain and can promote cartilage growth, soothing soreness. This supplement is pricey. You’ll need to take 1,500 mg of each per day for at least two months before you’ll feel a difference, but it may be worth the investment. Talk to your doctor before you take glucosamine, as it can lessen insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control in people who have diabetes.


Your Tim Hortons pit stop may be a bigger help than you realize. Widely accepted and entirely legal, caffeine is a supplement that works. Caffeine’s stimulant effect helps you train harder and longer and even spares glycogen use, pushing muscles to use more fat for fuel. Recently, researchers demonstrated caffeine actually increases power output by releasing stored muscle calcium, boosting sprint speed. Lab studies tout performance increases of up to 25 per cent, while in the real world, athletes can expect three to five per cent improvements – enough for a PB. Add enhanced alertness and caffeine may be a miracle pill.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Australian Institute of Sport’s nutrition department head Louise Burke recommends 1-4 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. Dr. Terry Graham, chairman of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph, found that at 9 mg per kilogram, performance faltered. One cup of coffee has about 80 mg and a can of cola contains roughly 40mg.

Whether you crush a 100 mg pill into your final water bottle of a long run or relish a big coffee mug before you start, caffeine-when used appropriately-is an effective, safe supplement.


Glutamine is an immune cell’s gasoline. This amino acid is plentiful in your muscles and blood plasma but gets depleted by heavy exercise. Studies reveal that glutamine, taken as part of a recovery drink with proper rest after exhaustive exercise such as a marathon, decreases muscle soreness and the chance of catching a cold. Glutamine is not a substitute for a proper recovery routine, but 5-20 mg after a two-hour-plus run can enhance your efforts.