The Best Supplements for Runners (According To Science)
PSA: MOST SUPPLEMENTS FOR RUNNERS DO NOTHING FOR YOU
Yes. You read that right.
There are plenty that work but MOST running supplements DO NOTHING FOR YOU. If you walk into a supplement store blind, you’ll leave only with some very expensive pee.
The good news is that finding supplements that actually help you run farther, protect against injury, and promote deep and rejuvenating recovery isn’t nearly as complicated or expensive as most companies want you to think.
This guide contains scientifically proven pre-workouts for runners, endurance enhancers, multivitamins, energy powerhouses, and recovery aids. We’ve researched them. We’ve tested them. We use them. Stick to this list and you’ll notice improvements in a few weeks or less and at a fraction of the price.
Supplements for Runners: Are They Necessary?
Yes and no.
Imagine the nutrients in your body as money in the bank.
In this scenario, running (especially long distances) is extremely expensive.
If you want to keep lifting your feet, pumping your arms, and filling your lungs with air, you need to have a fat bank balance or you’ll be writing checks you can’t cash. And, instead of bouncing checks and paying fees, you’ll be fainting and possibly putting your life in danger.
Isn’t running fun?
That’s why vitamins are the most common dietary supplements among athletes . In fact, a deficiency in key vitamins can significantly affect anaerobic performance in as little as 4 weeks .
A daily intake of less than one-third of the RDA for several of the B vitamins (B1, B2, and B6) and vitamin C, even when other vitamins are supplemented in the diet, may lead to a significant decrease in VO2max and the anaerobic threshold in less than four weeks
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Even if you’re just running casually, you require a high dose of carbs, fluids, fat, vitamins, and minerals in certain amounts or you won’t be running very far. If you’re eating a high-calorie diet of the right foods in the right doses and getting a diverse range of nutrients, you might not even need supplements. Of course, coming from personal experience, that’s next to impossible.
The VitaMonk Truth: Running supplements are usually necessary because runners need a TON of nutrition to keep their legs fresh. Unless you’re getting major doses of carbs, vitamins, fats, etc. from a diverse diet, you need to make up for the deficiencies somehow.
Ⅰ: The Best Pre Workout for Runners: Caffeine
Time to get back to the basics. Now, you finally have an excuse for pounding 5 cups of black gold a day (before lunch).
Caffeine is hands down the best pre-workout for runners. It’s low-cal, natural, and packed with energy to stop your legs from getting heavy and keep your mind sharp and focused.
Take it any time, anywhere. As soon as you wake up, right before a run, or in the evening on the way to the gym.
Personally, we experimented with dozens of pre-workouts, but most made us jittery, hurt our stomachs, or even made our faces burn and tingle. Sorry, but feeling like you’re about to have a heart attack is no way to start a run.
A single cup of Joe does the same thing for you as all of those expensive chemical concoctions at GNC WITHOUT ruining your digestive tract.
Caffeine: The Science
Unlike the majority of pre-workouts out there, caffeine is all talk and no theory. You’d be surprised how much that overpriced fresh brew from a certain Seattle-based cafe does for your running ability (HINT: It rhymes with Starbucks...doh!).
Anecdotally, caffeine is the only pre-workout we take, and we quickly noticed that we ran farther, felt more energetic, and were less fatigued after every session.
Verdict: Caffeine is one of the cleanest and healthiest endurance supplements for runners and the best pre-workout on the market.
Honorable Mention for Intense/Distance Running: L-Carnitine
Nothing helps fuel tired muscles during an intense workout more than L-carnitine. If you’re going for a normal run, you should be fine with caffeine. But if you want to run further than you usually do or start setting personal bests, get yourself an L-carnitine pre-workout ASAP.
Our pre-workout running energy supplement is actually built around carnitine (much more on this energy supplement below), and ever since we started taking it, we’ve noticed fatigue setting in later and fresher legs the next morning.
The way it works is that it fuels your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells) and limits lactic acid accumulation. Lactic acid is what fills your muscles during intense exercise and leads to soreness and fatigue. Basically, it’s your body’s way of telling your brain to “shut these things off,” so you don’t run yourself to death.
Less pain, lower fatigue, and stronger muscles equal setting personal records. Do it!
L-Carnitine: The Science
Carnitine was investigated for its effects on output and fatigue during high-intensity cycle sprints. The study found that taking carnitine 90 minutes before a workout resulted in improved workout capacity and reduced lactic acid accumulation .
Ⅱ: Running Energy Supplements
Whether jogging, sprinting, or training for your next marathon, your body needs heavy doses of energy to keep your legs, heart, and lungs fresh.
If you find yourself breaking a heavy sweat and struggling to make it down the block and back, head out and pick these up for an immediate, prolonged boost:
Hands-down the most proven workout enhancer. This is an anaerobic powerhouse and run enhancer that runners use to break through plateaus and set personal records.
It’s actually a lot like L-carnitine in that it helps reduce lactic acid buildup, keeping your legs fresher for longer. We don’t have to get too deep into the science, but basically, it works this way:
As you exercise, your muscles break down glucose (basically energy) into lactic acid, making your muscles more acidic. The more acidic your muscles, the harder it is for them to contract and the more pain/fatigue you feel.
Beta-alanine has been shown to increase carnosine , which acts as a buffer against lactic acid, delaying fatigue.
Personally, we all noticed our legs were fresher even deep into our runs when we’d normally have to take a break or call it a day.
Creatine is one of the most popular, effective, and well-researched athletic performance supplements. This natural substance found in your cells enhances energy production during high-intensity exercise by aiding the production of ATP (your body’s “energy currency”).
Creatine is responsible for keeping your heart pumping more efficiently, your legs running harder, and your muscles contracting faster.
In a world full of empty promises and misleading marketing, it has proven over and over again in the lab to drive clean, effective results. That’s why it’s the supplement of choice for bodybuilders, runners, and pro athletes (as well as cool supplement companies like us).
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are another alternative source of fuel your body can utilize once you start to rack up the miles. If you want to go stronger for longer, build muscle, and aid recovery (much more on this later), grab yourself a solid BCAA supplement.
Once you’ve used up glycogen stores (as you would during an exhausting run), your body can start pulling energy from BCAAs [12}. Amino acids for runners like BCAAs may block tryptophan (yes, that “why did I eat my 4th plate at Thanksgiving” tryptophan), helping to delay fatigue and keep you on the track longer.
Did You Know?: BCAAs are one of the best marathon training supplements. Excessive training for running 26 miles for god knows what reason could lead to serious muscle loss, which BCAAs help to prevent.
Much more on that later, but first, let’s make sure your muscles heal faster and grow stronger.
Ⅲ: The Best Recovery Supplements for Runners
The human body is the most marvellous machine in the universe. The more you use a car, the harder it is to start and the more it putts. Push a lawnmower a few years, the blade spins slower and it takes a few more pulls.
But not the human body. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. That means the farther you run today, the farther you can run tomorrow.
We used to think recovery wasn’t that important—we were wrong. Ever since we started taking running recovery supplements, we’ve noticed faster running times, less joint pain, and greater distance each run.
You don’t need anything fancy. These simple supplements flat-out work.
Hey there, BCAAs again (getting tired of them yet?). Branched-chain amino acids put you in the best possible position to crush the track even harder next time by helping reduce muscle soreness and recovery time.
BCAAs are the building blocks of your muscles. Without them, you’d be nothing but 50’s B-horror movie skin man (no offense to B-films, we love you). Having more BCAAs in your body aids in protein synthesis and therefore muscle recovery.
Research: One study showed that taking BCAAs BEFORE a workout led to a reduction in muscle soreness and improved range of motion .
Fish Oil (Omega 3s) - The Best Joint Supplements for Runners
Omega-3s found in fish oil are involved in nearly every process related to running from contractions of your knees to the firing of your synapses that control your central nervous system. EPA and DHA, the two fatty acids in fish oil, have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce stiffness, soreness, and swelling. In a study, 300 mg of fish oil was all it took for 16 men to improve range of motion and significantly reduce all forms of soreness post-workout.
Don’t worry, your run will still hurt oh so good, but you’ll be back at it faster, better, and stronger the next time .
Oh, yeah. By the way, L-carnitine is also an awesome recovery supplement.
Fun Fact: L-carnitine gets its name from the Latin word for meat. So, right off the bat, you know it's badass.
Aside from having the manliest name on this list and being a great pre-workout supplement, it also aids in recovery and helps manage muscle damage. Just 2g of L-carnitine was enough to reduce markers of muscle damage in resistance trained men in this study . 2g was also enough to reduce damage and optimize recovery in middle-aged, active people .
Your body is a cannibal.
While you’re sleeping, your body is literally eating itself. This sounds like an awesome movie idea. Where are those B-horror movie monsters we mentioned before?
Anyways, back to recovery. After a long run, your body will spend the night repairing itself. That’s good. You literally just tore your body to shreds by running. If you want to get bigger and stronger, you’ve got to repair those tears.
A lot of runners shy away from protein since they’re afraid of “getting too big.” Don’t worry; protein shakes won’t turn you into The Rock. However, they will give you the protein intake you need to keep your muscles strong and repair your body after a hard day’s pavement pounding.
Ⅳ: Beyond Recovery - The Best Supplement for Distance Runners
Going the distance (literally) requires heavy stores of energy that most common-folk don’t have.
Running long distances will push you to the limit. Thankfully, there are supplements to push those limits back. And what’s even better? They’re some of the cheapest, most common supplements available.
Taking distance running supplements finally allowed us to break through plateaus that had been holding us back for months. When our lungs would normally burn and our legs would feel numb and weak, we actually had the power to go as far as two extra miles.
And they’re three of the most basic supplements out there: Vitamins C and E and magnesium. Also, there was one overall health supplement that helped us feel healthier, fresher, and more energetic.
Let’s start with that one first:
We call this one “the root of our running energy supplements”... sorry.
Siberian ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that’s been in use for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. It has dozens of health benefits, most of them therapeutic or anti-stress.
But science is starting to prove that ginseng has remarkable benefits for our health beyond its normal “mind-enhancing” effects.
One study on 90 subjects concluded 1g of ginseng had significant anti-fatigue effects . When delayed fatigue meets the improved mood, immunity, and overall health benefits ginseng also provides, you will be performing at your peak on the track AND everywhere else in life.
Magnesium deficiency is the second most common deficiency in the developed world.
Even physically active people may be deficient, and this could have serious implications for exercise performance . Magnesium tablets should be a part of any distance runner’s supplement regimen.
It’s responsible for activating the enzymes that generate ATP, meaning any deficiency in magnesium means a deficiency in energy.
Pro Tip: Magnesium powder, tabs, and capsules are widely available but the higher bioavailability of magnesium citrate makes it the best option for endurance runners .
If you’re running marathon distances (what’s wrong with you?), you’ll need a few supplements to keep you going long enough to post those finish-line photos on Instagram.
These supplements will help you finish the race but don’t provide anything long-term:
The Ultimate Endurance VitaHack: Beetroot Juice!
What would a VitaMonk guide be without an awesome VitaHack? Today’s hack is beetroot juice, a nitrate-packed natural juice that has helped everyone from Olympic runners to Premier League strikers.
Beetroot contains high levels of nitrate, which have shown to help aid recovery and performance. In one study of 20 athletes, sprinting performance was significantly improved (countermovement jumps, and strength index) in those who took beetroot juice compared to those that didn’t .
Ⅴ: Closing Thoughts
This was a lot to take in, so we’ll give you a quick rundown (zing) to “jog” your memory (god, stop it).
If you want to improve running performance, you need the right doses of these supplements. You might not need ALL of them, but you’ll definitely at least two and maybe more if you want to perform at your peak.
So you’ve probably noticed a major issue here: This is A LOT! We could never keep track of the right doses and right times to take everything, and a few us had trouble affording all of the supplements.
That’s what led us to create a single, all-in-one supplement with the optimal doses of the most important running energy supplements.
If you want a single, easy to take, and affordable running supplement, this is it...
Endurance Mode™ by VitaMonk
Endurance Mode™ is our running cheat code. All of the best running supplements in one capsule and at a fraction of the price of buying all of them separately. Just one dose is enough to help you push harder, run farther, and set personal running records.
And for a complete running and stamina boost, we’ve also included optimized doses of:
Ready to smash plateaus and go the distance? It’s time to activate that cheat code with Endurance Mode!