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Supplements for runners

Supplements: the ever increasing and increasingly confusing marketplace is a bit of a minefield to wade through, add ‘superfoods’ to the mix and we’ve a recipe for distaster! Valued at £670million, the UK supplement market is still experiencing rapid growth, and unfortunately with this growth often comes poor advice and unfounded claims. The purpose of this post is to first briefly outline some supplements that are shown to be of benefit to runners, and secondly highlight some that are not all they’re cracked up to be!

Beetroot Juice

Simply, the stuff works! It may not be the nicest tasting juice out there, but it does the trick in most runners, with the exception of really fit athletes.

Beetroot is a convenient way to consume nitrates, these are converted to nitric oxide by the body and this has a wide reach of benefits within the body, ranging from decreased blood pressure to improved running economy. Typical doses are 1-2 Beetroot shots, 60-90 minutes before exercise. Alternatively, you can ‘load’ with beetroot juice by consuming 500ml of juice for 3-5 days prior to a major competition. We can also get plenty of nitrates from our diet by eating green leafy vegetables such as bok choi, rocket and spinach.

Caffeine/ Coffee

Caffeine works on the brain to decrease feelings of fatigue, and has been shown to improve strength and endurance performance in the lab and increase our ability to burn fat. Most of us get our daily dose of caffeine in the form of tea or coffee, with the latter having a higher dose once brewed. It takes 45-90 minutes for caffeine to peak within your blood, so before competition time it alongside your warm up, and practice in training before bringing this into competition. The recommended minimal dose is ~100mg of caffeine or a double espresso, and as people become accustomed to drinking or supplementing caffeine, their tolerance increases so a larger or repeated dose is needed to have the same perceived effect. On the downside, sleep is often perturbed by caffeine, so it’s advisable to cut down in the days leading up to a big race, especially later in the day.


Specifically, during competition carbohydrate still wins, hands down. Aiming for a carbohydrate intake of 60-90g per hour from a combination of glucose and fructose sources has been shown to increase carbohydrate uptake and performance in endurance athletes. This roughly equates to two gels per hour, or manageable mouthfuls of sports drink throughout a half or full marathon. In training there is an interesting and important argument for withholding carbohydrate, and we will be exploring this in a separate post shortly.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is a convenient and affordable way to promote recovery. Whey outperforms other forms of protein in terms of its absorption (magnitude and speed) into your system and for that reason can start the repair process sooner. Endurance athletes often shun protein, but with bone, muscle and other systems and tissues being made of or requiring protein, this is a no-brainer for me. After longer runs, speed or conditioning sessions a convenient source of protein is essential. Plant-based options are available for vegan or vegetarian athletes.

Bulletproof Anything

Bullet-proofing typically involves adding saturated fats (e.g. butter) or medium chain triglycerides (e.g. coconut oil, MCT oils) to drinks such as coffee, or consuming them in isolation. This extra fat increases one’s propensity for fat burning, as opposed to carbohydrate, or a mixture of both fuel sources. But fat burning, doesn’t equal fat loss. High levels of circulating triglycerides in the blood are also associated with a plethora of disease outcomes, and the extra calorie intake will likely outweigh the change in fuel use. To keep a long story short, if you like butter in your coffee, great, if not stay clear.


By and large Creatine is an excellent supplement. However, most runners rely on their endurance capabilities and not their 100m speed or repeated sprint ability. Creatine is great for these short, sharp bursts of activity but is simply not appropriate for those of us who are measure our training in mileage, not meters.

Fat burners

This is a collective term for supplements purported to induce fat loss; there’s no real evidence for them or their use and their effects are largely due to (mega) high doses of caffeine (see above). They are often costly, and have received negative media coverage in the athletic world due to their high rates of contamination with banned substances. As with most supplements that promise a lot, they deliver very little in the long run compared to diet and exercise.

Anything else we need to know?

Yes, keep your supplements safe. By that I don’t mean locked away in a safe behind a portrait, but simply are your supplements tested?

Tested supplements contain what they say they do, and are traceable back to a specific manufacturer batch. This provides piece of mind that what you’re supplementing is safe, and in the case of elite athletes they’re unlikely to fail a drugs test. Typically these supplements cost a little more, but you’d rather know you’re getting what you’re paying for than risk your protein powder being contaminated with a stimulant, or not actually including protein at all, no? For further information visit: and for an example of hoax supplementation see this article:

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