HomeAnswersWhat is the best recovery supplement for runners?

What is the best recovery supplement for runners?

This question is about Nutrition and Running
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, Freelance Writer
The best recovery supplements for runners include:
  • Creatine. Creatine is a compound formed of amino acids (such as L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine), naturally found in muscle cells. It supplies energy to your muscles to aid with growth, strength and performance, and has been shown most effective for runners focused on speed and shorter distances [1]. Some research indicates that taking creatine with carbs after a run may enhance muscle glycogen stores, making it potentially beneficial for distance runners [2]. Supplementation should begin with a loading dose of 20g/day for 5 days, followed by 3-5 g/day for up to 18 months to maintain elevated creatine levels.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that increases calcium absorption in the gut and is vital for a strong skeleton [3]. This is an important nutrient for all adult runners, but especially for those over 40, since bone mineral density usually decreases with age. The recommended daily allowance for men and women 19-70 years old is 15 mcg/day (600 - 800 IU), but some evidence suggests that 50 mcg (2,000 IU) or more may be helpful for certain people [3].
  • Protein. Runners engaged in heavy training need more protein to support muscle synthesis [4]. However, older runners engaged in heavy training have especially high protein needs and should focus on getting adequate protein (and calories) to prevent muscle loss and support recovery. The recommended intake for protein is 0.8 g/kg/day for people under 65 years old and 1 g/kg/day for those over 65, but athletes may need up to 2.2 g/kg/day [5]. For a 150 lb athlete, this means daily protein intake should fall somewhere between 70-150 g, with no more than 40 g per meal/snack to maximize utilization.
  • Magnesium. A growing body of evidence suggests that magnesium may be helpful for improving aerobic exercise capacity, since it's involved in everything from blood pressure regulation to bone health and muscle function [6]. However, since stress and sweat deplete magnesium stores and absorption decreases with age, this is a vital nutrient for all runners (particularly those over 40). The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 320 mg/day and 420 mg/day for women and men over 31 years old, respectively.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Emerging evidence suggests that omega-3s may boost muscle growth and endurance capacity, as well as curb muscle soreness after exercise [7]. The recommended daily intake for ALA is 1.1 g/day for women and 1.6 g/day for men [8]. Although there’s no standard recommendation for EPA and DHA, evidence suggests that 1.5-2 g/day of EPA and DHA may be helpful for running endurance, recovery and adaptation to training.
  • Glucosamine. Joint stiffness is a common complaint among runners and glucosamine may offer some relief. Glucosamine is an amino sugar found in joints and cartilage, as well as a variety of other tissues, which is why research suggests that supplemental glucosamine may slow joint degradation and reduce pain in people with knee/hip osteoarthritis [9]. The recommended dosage for glucosamine sulfate is 300-500 mg 3x/day for a total of 900-1500 mg, but some studies suggest that up to 3,000 mg glucosamine/day may be beneficial [9].
Additionally, runners should focus on a good nutrition recovery plan that includes a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fluid. Ingesting a combination of these post-run will aid in recovery, as protein initiates muscle protein synthesis; carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores and promote nutrient utilization; and fluid fights dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. 
The most important element of post-workout nutrition is consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein, which is more effective than either nutrient alone. In fact, research suggests that consuming protein without carbohydrates after running reduces the rate of glycogen storage and delays recovery [10].
For a powerful post-run snack, a combination of protein and carbs (such as a smoothie made with Greek yogurt and fruit, eggs on toast, or chocolate milk) will help fuel recovery. If you opt for a pure protein source (such as protein powder), combine it with a carb source, like milk or fruit. 
Check out the best recovery snacks (according to dietitians) here.
Avocado toast with egg on top

References:

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Office of dietary supplements - dietary supplements for exercise and athletic performance. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/
  2. Eijnde, B. O., Ursø, B., Richter, E. A., Greenhaff, P. L., & Hespel, P. (2001). Effect of oral creatine supplementation on human muscle GLUT4 protein content after immobilization. Diabetes, 50(1), 18–23. https://doi.org/10.2337/diabetes.50.1.18
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Office of dietary supplements - vitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
  4. Chernoff, R. (2004). Protein and older adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(sup6). https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719434
  5. Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. C. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1). https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
  6. Lukaski, H. C. (2000). Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutriture and physical activity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72(2). https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/72.2.585s
  7. VanDusseldorp, T. A., Escobar, K. A., Johnson, K. E., Stratton, M. T., Moriarty, T., Kerksick, C. M., Mangine, G. T., Holmes, A. J., Lee, M., Endito, M. R., & Mermier, C. M. (2020). Impact of varying dosages of fish oil on recovery and soreness following eccentric exercise. Nutrients, 12(8), 2246. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082246
  8. Marshall, R. N., Smeuninx, B., Morgan, P. T., & Breen, L. (2020). Nutritional strategies to offset disuse-induced skeletal muscle atrophy and anabolic resistance in older adults: From whole-foods to isolated ingredients. Nutrients, 12(5), 1533. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051533
  9. Examine.com. (2022, March 17). Creatine - health benefits, dosage, side effects. Examine.com. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/
  10. Murray, B., & Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition Reviews, 76(4), 243–259. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuy001