HomeArticlesThe best science-backed supplements for runners over 40

The best science-backed supplements for runners over 40

Good news, runners! Your age doesn’t have to hold you back. But nutrition and recovery needs change as we get older. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best science-backed supplements for runners over 40 to help you stay in tip-top running shape year after year.

Kim McDevitt, MPH, RD
15 mins
Good news, runners! Your age doesn’t have to hold you back. In fact, many runners have hit their stride after 40 (or 50 or 60!). But that doesn’t mean that you can get away with all the things you did as a younger runner. Older bodies have different nutrition and recovery needs. 
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best science-backed supplements for runners over 40 to help you stay in tip-top shape year after year. 

Creatine 

Muscle mass and function typically diminishes with age and creatine might help offset this process. Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid in muscle that has muscle-building benefits as a supplement. Evidence suggests that creatine supplementation can help improve muscular strength, enhance recovery, boost glycogen replenishment and increase speed and power during a workout - all of which are important for running performance [1]. (Read more about ergogenic aids for runners here).

Best for

Creatine has been shown most effective for runners focused on speed and shorter distances [2]. Some research indicates that taking creatine with carbs after a run may enhance muscle glycogen stores, making it potentially beneficial for distance runners. However, this research is still in its infancy [3].

Sources of creatine

Creatine is found in small amounts in dairy and meat, as well as fish and mollusks. However, supplementation is necessary for runners to enjoy the performance- and recovery-enhancing benefits. Creatine monohydrate powder is the most common, affordable, and effective form of creatine on the market [4]

Creatine dosing for runners 40+

Supplementation should begin with a loading dose of 20g/day for 5 days, followed by 3g - 5g/day for up to 18 months to maintain elevated creatine levels [1, 5]. 

Good to know

Weight gain and water retention are common side effects of creatine supplementation, particularly early on [6]. Other commonly reported side-effects include stomach cramping, diarrhea, and nausea, however, these can often be mitigated with adequate hydration and split doses [1].

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that increases calcium absorption in the gut and is vital for a strong skeleton [7]. It’s especially important for runners 40+ because bone mineral density usually decreases with age. Adequate vitamin D is also essential for normal immune function, reducing inflammation and muscle health [8]

Best for

Vitamin D is important for all aging adult runners. 

Sources of vitamin D

Vitamin D can be synthesized by our skin from cholesterol and exposure to UVB rays, however, most of us don’t get enough sun to generate adequate vitamin D. 
Moreover, few foods contain vitamin D (cod liver oil, anyone?), leaving supplements as the best option for many. Foods fortified with vitamin D such as dairy milk, plant-based milks, several breakfast cereals, some brands of orange juice, and yogurt can also improve vitamin D intake, although they often provide less than 100% of the daily recommendation [7].

Vitamin D dosing for runners 40+

The recommended daily allowance for men and women 19-70 years old is 15 mcg/day (600 - 800IU) [7]. Some evidence suggests that 50mcg (2000IU) or more may be helpful for certain people [7].  

Good to know

Most of us don’t synthesize enough vitamin D from sunlight alone. Even if you love the outdoors, skin color, sun protection, and genetics can impact how much vitamin D you generate from the sun [7]
Another thing to keep in mind is that vitamin D is fat-soluble and taking dietary/supplemental vitamin D with a source of fat can help improve absorption. 

Protein

Almost everyone has heard of protein before but did you know that dietary protein needs increase as you get older? Or that runners engaged in heavy training need more protein to support muscle synthesis [9]? Beyond recovery, adequate protein can also be helpful for satiety, and weight loss if you’re a runner looking to shed a few pounds. 

Best for

All runners can benefit from adequate protein to support muscle synthesis and maintenance. 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.

Sources of protein

Protein is found in many foods including meat, poultry, seafood, Greek yogurt, milk, eggs, tofu, edamame, beans, legumes, and nuts (among others). Protein powder (whey or multi-sourced plant protein) can also be a quick and convenient protein option post-workout. 

Protein dosing for runners 40+

The recommended intake for protein for older adults is at least 1g/kg/day but athletes may need up to 2.2g/kg/day [9, 11]. For a 150lb athlete, this means daily protein intake should fall somewhere between 70-150g, with no more than 40g per meal/snack to maximize utilization. 

Good to know

A branch chain amino acids found in some forms of protein called leucine is especially effective for muscle protein synthesis [12]. Aim to consume 2-3g of leucine post workout either in the form of protein powder (ex: whey or soy), or leucine-rich foods such as salmon, peanuts, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, chicken, beef or tofu, to promote recovery. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is largely under-consumed and a growing body of evidence suggests that it may be helpful for improving aerobic exercise capacity. This mighty mineral is a coenzyme for over 300 reactions and involved in everything from blood pressure regulation to bone health, and muscle function. Some studies suggest that magnesium can also be helpful for sleep and relaxation (and we could all use a little more of that) [14]. Stress and sweat deplete magnesium stores and absorption decreases with age, making it a vital nutrient for runners 40+.

Best for

All runners 40+ may benefit from additional magnesium intake/ magnesium supplementation. 

Sources of magnesium

Magnesium-rich foods include unrefined whole grains, leafy vegetables such as spinach, nuts, and seeds including pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, legumes such as peanuts, and bananas. 

Magnesium dosing for runners 40+

The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is: 
  • Women age 31+: 320mg/day 
  • Men age 31+: 420mg/day 

Good to know

Supplemental magnesium comes in a few different forms including magnesium citrate, malate, oxide, chloride, and glycinate. Magnesium citrate tends to have fewer gastrointestinal side effects than magnesium oxide and magnesium chloride.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are a group of essential fats with a multitude of benefits, especially as we age.  Well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3s have been shown to support heart health, liver function, mood, and more [15, 16, 17] Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests that omega-3s may boost muscle growth and endurance capacity, as well as curb muscle soreness after exercise [17].

Best for

Vegans, vegetarians and any runner not consuming fatty fish at least 2x/ week.

Sources of omega-3 fats

There are three dietary sources of Omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Most of the health benefits of omega-3s can be attributed to EPA and DHA, rather than ALA. 
  • Sources of EPA and DHA: Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines and trout.
  • Sources of ALA: Flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, soybean, and canola oils.  

Omega-3 dosing for runners 40+

The recommended daily intake for ALA is 1.1 g/day for women and 1.6 g/day for men [18]. Although there’s no standard recommendation for EPA and DHA, evidence suggests that 1.5-2g/day of EPA and DHA may be helpful for running endurance, recovery and adaptation to training [19]

Good to know

Foods rich in ALA like flaxseeds and walnuts offer a variety of health benefits but are less effective at reducing inflammation than EPA and DHA. Only about 15% of ALA is converted to EPA and DHA [15]. So, get your flaxseeds, but eat small, low mercury fatty fish as well. 

Glucosamine

Joints a little creakier these days? Joint stiffness is a common complaint among runners 40+ and glucosamine may offer some relief. Glucosamine is an amino sugar found in joints and cartilage, as well as a variety of other tissues. Research suggests that supplemental glucosamine may slow joint degradation, and reduce pain in people with knee/hip osteoarthritis [19]

Best for

Runners over 40 with achy joints or osteoarthritis.

Sources of glucosamine

Glucosamine sulfate salts appear to be most effective for joint pain, followed by glucosamine sulfate [19]. Supplemental glucosamine is usually derived from the shells of shellfish or made in a lab. 

Glucosamine dosing for runners 40+

The recommended dosage for glucosamine sulfate is 300-500mg 3x/day for a total of 900-1500mg. Glucosamine sulfate salts may be taken in a single dose. Some studies suggest that up to 3000mg glucosamine/day may be beneficial [19].  

Good to know

Stick with it. While pain-relieving medications work almost instantly, it may several weeks before you see the benefits of glucosamine supplementation. 

Summary

Whether you’re running marathons or simply want to stay fit after 40, supplementing strategically can help stay ahead of aging and keep crushing miles year after year. That said, supplements aren’t a substitute for real food and a diet rich in plants, and minimally processed whole foods should continue to provide the bulk of your nutrients as you put years and miles under your belt. 
Want to learn more about optimizing your nutrition for running performance? Check out our comprehensive, science-backed guide here.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care. 

Key Takeaways

  • Creatine supplementation can help improve muscular strength, enhance recovery, boost glycogen replenishment and increase speed and power during a workout [1].
  • Vitamin D is especially important for runners 40+ because bone mineral density usually decreases with age [8]
  • 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.
  • Magnesium is largely under-consumed, and a growing body of evidence suggests that it may be helpful for improving aerobic exercise capacity.
  • Emerging evidence suggests that omega-3s may boost muscle growth and endurance capacity, as well as curb muscle soreness after exercise [17].

References

  1. Rawson, E. S., Miles, M. P., & Larson-Meyer, D. E. (2018). Dietary Supplements for Health, Adaptation, and Recovery in Athletes, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), 188-199. Retrieved Feb 22, 2021, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/28/2/article-p188.xml
  2. Office of Dietary Supplements - Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance. (2019, October 17). National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/
  3. Op 't Eijnde, B., 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
  4. Patel, K. (2020, May 8). Creatine. Examine.Com. https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/
  5. Jane Shearer, Terry E Graham, Performance effects and metabolic consequences of caffeine and caffeinated energy drink consumption on glucose disposal, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 72, Issue suppl_1, 1 October 2014, Pages 121–136, https://doi.org/10.1111/nure.12124
  6. Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J., & Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-33
  7. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin D. (2020, October 9). National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
  8. Kerksick, C.M., Wilborn, C.D., Roberts, M.D. et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 38 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y [x1]
  9. Chernoff R. (2004). Protein and older adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(6 Suppl), 627S–630S. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719434
  10. Daniel R Moore, One size doesn't fit all: postexercise protein requirements for the endurance athlete, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 112, Issue 2, August 2020, Pages 249–250, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa144
  11. Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences, 29 Suppl 1, S29–S38. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
  12. Stefan M Pasiakos, Holly L McClung, James P McClung, Lee M Margolis, Nancy E Andersen, Gregory J Cloutier, Matthew A Pikosky, Jennifer C Rood, Roger A Fielding, Andrew J Young, Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances postexercise muscle protein synthesis–, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 94, Issue 3, September 2011, Pages 809–818, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.017061
  13. Barbagallo, M., & Dominguez, L. J. (2010). Magnesium and aging. Current pharmaceutical design, 16(7), 832–839. https://doi.org/10.2174/138161210790883679
  14. Lukaski,Henry C. Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutriture and physical activity, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 72, Issue 2, August 2000, Pages 585S–593S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/72.2.585S
  15. Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (2020, October 1). National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
  16. 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
  17. Thielecke, F., & Blannin, A. (2020). Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Sport Performance-Are They Equally Beneficial for Athletes and Amateurs? A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 12(12), 3712. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12123712
  18. 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
  19. Patel, K. (2020, Dec 3). Glucosamine. Examine.Com. https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/
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