Ask any serious runner how nutrition factors into performance, and he or she will no doubt tell you that it’s just as important, if not more, as training for keeping the engine revving. But sometimes even the healthiest of diets can benefit from a little extra nutritional juice to deliver an active body what it needs to perform like a champ. These supplements may help give you an edge over the competition.
In recent years, nitrates have become a buzzword among supplement-savvy runners who are looking for a way to get across the finish line a little bit easier. Once consumed, these compounds (found naturally in beets) form nitric oxide in the body, which is a vasodilator that increases blood fl ow to muscle tissue—thereby allowing it to operate more efficiently during sweat sessions. To increase levels of nitrates in your system, you can add more beets to your diet, but a concentrated source providing about 300–400mg of nitrates will likely provide more of an ergogenic aid. Red pee, be damned!
When: Take 1 to 2 hours before a vigorous run and also daily to load nitrates in your system for a bigger impact.
EPA and DHA
Mega-healthy omega-3 fats found in fatty fi sh like salmon and sardines are good for your heart and brain, but modern research suggests athletes can benefit from them in other ways too. They improve muscle function and lessen training-induced muscle and joint pain by quelling inflammation. Folks at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advise consuming at least 500 milligrams of these omega-3s a day, but data shows that most Americans are taking in only a minnow’s worth. So supplementation of 500–1,500mg of combined EPA and DHA, but no more than 3 grams a day, can help make up the gap. Emulsified products can provide superior absorption rates than capsules, and vegetarians can consume algae-derived supplements.
When: Consume once daily, preferably with a meal.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) refer to three kinds of nutrients that are found in proteins—leucine, isoleucine and valine—and they are particularly effective in limiting muscle breakdown and stimulating its repair and growth in response to training when compared to other amino acids. They can also be a source of energy during long, vigorous runs. You can get some BCAAs from beef, poultry and ricotta cheese. But in the throes of high-volume training, an extra boost could help your muscles stay happy. BCAAs come in both capsules and powders.
When: Take shortly after exercise, such as running and weight training, when the body has incurred muscle damage. An extra dose can also be useful before workouts.
Essentially, the greener you eat, the healthier you are. So think of green powders as a convenient way to upgrade an already well-balanced eating plan. These powders typically contain an arsenal of greens, such as broccoli, barley grass and spirulina, that are brimming with an assortment of cell-protecting antioxidants that runners need to sustain training and recovery. Many also contain bonuses including antioxidant-laden fruits, probiotics and fiber blends. So think of it as a nutritional insurance plan.
When: Mix one scoop daily into water or a smoothie.
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