My Daily Dose – Vitamins for Runners

by Nikky Manausa on February 22, 2014

Endurance Athlete Vitamins

I Pee Green

My husband, Bo, would say I pee green. He would definitely tell you my urine is full of dollars down the toilet. Lord knows I would test positive for (legal!) supplements. Maybe it is all mental, but heck, half of running a marathon is mental, too! Below you will find the supplements that I take on a daily basis, and why I think they help.

Disclaimer

I am not a doctor, and the doctor in my house does not support my supplement habit! However, my physician does not have a problem with it. Please discuss your health with your doctor before adding supplements into your diet.

I also believe it is best to get your nutrients from real food. If you eat a well-balanced, colorful diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins, you probably get what you need. However, with the amount of training that I, and many endurance runners do, it probably does not hurt to supplement where it counts.

My Medicine Cabinet 

  • 2 pills- Glucosamine Chondroitin
  • 1200mg Fish Oil
  • 1000mg Flaxseed Oil
  • 1000 mcg B-12
  • 500 mg Vitamin C
  • 2000 iu Vitamin D3
  • 400 iu Vitamin E
  • 50 mg Iron
  • 1 Calcium Chew
  • ~180 mcg Selenium from 2 raw Brazil Nuts

Notice I do not have a “multi-vitamin” listed. Between the supplements listed above and my balanced diet, I feel a blanket multi-vitamin is not warranted.

Glucosamine & Chondroitin

I started taking Glucosamine and Chondroitin (G & C) when I felt some joint discomfort in my right hip over 2 years ago. G & C are basically the building blocks for cartilage.  Your joints rely on cartilage to cushion them. Let’s face it, running puts a lot of pressure on the joints. I take G&C as a proactive means to avoid the wear and tear running causes on my joints.

Natural sources of Glucosamine can be found in the shells of shrimp, lobster, and other crustaceans. I guess you could grind up these exoskeletons and put them in soup or something, but that just does not sound appetizing to me! I’ll stick with the pill on this one.

Natural sources of Chondroitin are available in connective tissue, such as the gristle on animal bones. Although I am a carnivore, gnawing on bones is not that appetizing.

Here are a couple of interesting articles on the effectiveness, and ineffectiveness, of G & C:

Fish Oil & Flaxseed Oil

It is believed that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil  and flaxseed help to ward off the damaging effects of inflammation that running can cause. There is a lot of information out there about the positive effects of fish oil and flaxseed, but the “facts” are all summed up in the article, Why Athletes Need Omega-3s, by registered dietician and PH.D Jeff S. Volek, which explains that omega-3s benefit athletes because they:

  1. Help with recovery by warding off inflammation
  2. Reduce muscle soreness by increasing blood flow during exercise, reduce swelling, and help to increase range of motion
  3. Burn fat and slow muscle loss. Burn fat? Sign me up! Omega-3 is linked to insulin sensitivity, which supposedly increases fat burning and reduces fat storage
  4. Lowers triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides are linked to increased risk of heart disease.

Additionally, Runners World published the article Fish Oil Might Help Immune System Post-Marathon which explains the research done by a Brazilian group on fish oil and immunity. They found that a group of marathon runners who took 3 grams of DHA-rich fish oil for 60 days prior to the marathon had increased lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell responsible for increased immunity against disease) before and after the marathon compared to the group of runners who did not take any fish oils. This finding suggests that fish oils can help to keep away colds when your post-marathon body’s immune system is suppressed.

Natural sources for fish oil come from fish, but not all fish are created equal. Salmon (wild is best), Arctic Char (known as iwana on some sushi menus), Atlantic Mackerel, Sardines, Black Cod, Anchovies, Oysters, Rainbow Trout, Albacore Tuna, Mussels, and Pacific Halibut are all good sources of omega-3s. You can add flaxseeds to your cereal, yogurt, salads, and smoothies.

B-12 (Cobalamin)

B-12 is a beautiful vitamin that has several health benefits. Particularly, it helps to metabolize and digest many nutrients, including iron, carbohydrates, and fats. What does the body burn when we exercise? Carbohydrates and fats!

Researches at Oregon State University found that athletes who are B-deficient have reduced exercise performance and are less able to repair damaged muscles or build muscle mass than their peers who ate a diet rich in B-vitamins. Basically, B-12 keeps us going and going… and going. I need that to run 26.2 miles! More importantly, I need that to train hard so that I can run my best 26.2 miles come race day.

Natural Sources of B-12 include shellfish, beef liver, Salmon, Herring, Tuna, Mackerel, red meat, low-fat dairy, and eggs.

Vitamin C

It is nearly common knowledge that Vitamin C helps to combat common colds. Between teaching, having my own kids, and a husband who is constantly surrounded by illness, I’ll take whatever I can get to stay well!

When you put your body through intense exercise, some studies suggest that your body’s immune system becomes more susceptible to getting sick. In the study, Vitamin C For Preventing and Treating The Common Cold, vitamin C supplements failed to provide added health benefits to the “normal” population; however, evidence did suggest it could be justified to those exposed to “severe physical exercise.”

I am lucky in that when my students, own children, or husband get sick, I tend to stay well. Perhaps, I just have a healthy immune system. You might also say it is because I eat clean, exercise almost every day, and my hands are overly washed. OR maybe it is because I take a vitamin C supplement. It is probably a combination of all of these, but I am not going to remove this supplement from my diet to find out!

Natural sources of vitamin C extend beyond oranges. Other, even more plentiful options include: chili peppers, red and green bell peppers, kale, broccoli and cauliflower, papaya, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, kiwi, and mangos.

Vitamin D3 and Calcium

I am lumping these two supplements together because I take them to keep my bones strong. Distance runners cringe at even the thought of acquiring a stress fraction. This injury is the result of repetitive overuse and requires an extended time to recover.

My beloved Grandma, Norma Sidewand, had osteoporosis. This is a disease of the bones that results in your bones becoming weak and fragile. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” The National Osteoporosis Foundation explains that under a microscope, our bones resemble honeycombs. When you have osteoporosis,  the holes and spaces in your bones are much larger making them less dense, resulting in your bones being able to break easily.

I can remember my Grandma drinking a HUGE glass of milk before going to bed each night (along with some cookies or peanut butter toast… how I miss those midnight snacks with her in bed!). The last few months of her life were stuck in the hospital. She had a minor fall in the bathroom and broke her hip, which lead her to having a pin placed in her hip. She then ended up with a staph infection post-surgery. At the onset of the staph infection, it was also discovered that she had metastatic breast cancer. The staph infection enabled her to receive immediate treatment for her cancer and she died prematurely, not because of the cancer, but because of the staph infection.  So many things went wrong with her final days, and I cannot help but to wonder if she did not have osteoporosis, she may have never broken her hip, and would be here teaching my kids how to play Scrabble (more likely, Words with Friends).

If I plan on running for the rest of my lifeI need strong and healthy bones. I want to prevent osteoporosis if possible!

The three factors essential for keeping your bones healthy are:

  1. Calcium
  2. Vitamin D
  3. Regular exercise

Prevention starts before there is a problem, TODAY, while I am still a young whippersnapper. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Your body can synthesis Vitamin D when you expose yourself to ultraviolet rays (the sun). If you wear sunscreen (as you should!) and/or wear protective clothing against the sun’s harmful rays, then your body will not be able to make vitamin D. So, I play it safe, wear my sunscreen, and take a vitamin D and a calcium supplement.

Vitamin D supplements are available as D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is derived from irradiated fungus (mushrooms). Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol, is the natural form of vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight, so that is the form I chose to supplement with.

Although I am much better about making sure my children get adequate dairy daily, aside from Greek yogurt, I do not eat a lot of cheese, and I do not particularly care for milk. So a calcium supplement for me is essential.

Natural sources of vitamin D: Like glucosamine, very few foods contain vitamin D. The best natural source is the sun; however, wild-caught salmon, mackerel, and mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light also provide us with vitamin D. Many cereals and dairy products are fortified (have it added during processing) with vitamin D as well.

Natural sources of calcium: Canned fish, milk, yogurt, tofu, cabbages including broccoli, kale, and collard greens.

Vitamin E – I’m Flushing These Down the Toilet!

You will no longer find vitamin E in my medicine cabinet! Please read my post Vitamin E Supplements Linked to Cancer to find out why!

Vitamin E should still be part of a balanced diet. You can gain it naturally by eating mustard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, collard greens, almonds, papaya, kiwi, red bell peppers, broccoli, and olive oil.

Iron

Iron is a mineral that our bodies need. Iron (as part of the protein hemoglobin) carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our body, and it helps our muscles store and use oxygen. When you have too little hemoglobin in your body, you become iron-deficient which can lead to anemia. Having an iron-deficiency causes fatigue which in turn impairs your body to do physical work.

Hard training stimulates an increase in red blood cell and blood vessel production, increasing the need for iron. In Active.com’s article, Endurance Athletes, Especially Woman, Should Take Care to Avoid Iron Deficiencyit communicates that iron-deficiency is a common problem amongst women athletes. As I do not consume a lot of red meat, but I do workout intensely, and I am a female, I feel I have an increased risk for becoming iron-deficient. Therefor, I feel an iron supplement is justified.

Keep your iron supplements away from children! Iron pills, second to aspirin, are the leading cause of poisoning in children.

Natural sources of iron include red meat, egg yolks, dark leafy greens like spinach and collards, raisins, prunes, scallops, beans, lentils, chick peas, liver, and artichokes. Consuming iron with vitamin C helps your body better absorb it, too!

Selenium

I do not take a selenium supplement, but instead eat 2 raw Brazil nuts with my daily dose. I do this for 2 reasons: 1. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it needs the presence of fat to be metabolized, and 2. Brazil nuts are loaded with this essential mineral.

Selenium is linked to increased muscle strength. Muscle and Fitness’s article, Brazilian Nuts – The One-Stop Shop for Selenium, sums up a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, where researchers examined 891 subjects. They found that those who had higher levels of selenium were stronger than those with lower levels of selenium. They measured hip flexion, leg extension, and grip strength.

My consumption of Brazil nuts just add to my already nutty personality.

Getting Your Daily Dose 

Definitely don’t go all out and start taking all these supplements at once. Take the time to do your own research, talk with your doctor, and see if your wallet can swallow these pills. I also would start slow, adding one supplement at a time to see how your body reacts. If I had to cut my daily dose in half, I would stick with the glucosamine and chondroitin because it is difficult to find these naturally in the foods I eat. I would also continue with my calcium supplement (which has vitamin D3 added) since I am at higher hereditary risk for osteoporosis.

Find what works for you and don’t waste your money on what doesn’t!

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