Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements for Marathon Runners

Vitamins and minerals are important to anyone's diet. They help the body work efficiently and ensure good general health.

The need for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Often artificial vitamins and supplemts are not needed. However there are many exceptions. The following are examples where extra nutrients are required:

  1. Lactose intolerance: Anyone who can't eat dairy products, you may lack sufficient calcium and riboflavin.
  2. Food allergies: This who can't eat foods such as wheat and fruit, will have a difficult time getting some of the nutrients they need.
  3. Vegetarian diet: Not eating meat makes it difficult to consume enough iron and zinc, partuclarly for women. They may also be deficient in vitamins B12 (not found in plant foods) and D as well as riboflavin.
  4. Pregnancy: Pregnant women often need extra iron and folic acid, so should eat fortified cereals to consume enough of these minerals.

Do marathon runners belong in this list? Many long distance runners would say no, performing well on a balanced diet. Others however habitually complement their diets with vitamins, minerals and other supplements such as cod liver oil, believing this to help maintain their health and ensure optimum perfromance.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals

Below is a compilation of some of the more important vitamins and minerals:

Calcium is very beneficial for the health of bones. Any weight-bearing, repetitive exercise, such as running, can strengthen your bones. However overuse injuries like shinsplints can turn into a stress fractures, especially if you're not taking in enough calcium.

Good sources of calcium include milk and orange juice, plus tofu, broccoli and canned salmon.

Folate (Folic Acid)
As well as reducing the chance of heart disease, folate helps keep blood cells healthy, reducing the chance of a severe form of anemia that would make training more difficult.

Ideal sources of folate are enriched grain products (bread, pasta, cereal), green, leafy vegetables; lentils; fortified cereals; and citrus fruits.

Glucosamine is a protein constituent found in tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Studies suggest that glucosamine helps relieve joint pain, possibly by promoting the growth of cartilage. Similarly, animal studies suggests that glucosamine may help in the repair of injured joints.

Gucosamine is available as an artificial supplement. It is often recommended that people seek medical advice before taking glucosamine. This applies particularly to those who suffer from diabetes, who may experience reduced insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control.

It is important to have enough iron in the blood to allow oxygen transfer to the muscles efficiently. Inadequate iron levels will lead to extreme fatigue, lagging performances, and increased susceptibility to colds. As stated below, the uptake of iron is helped by vitamin C.

Good sources of iron are red meat, fortified cereals, lentils, and broccoli.

Omega-3 fatty acid
Omega-3 fatty acid is best known for its ability to help lower cholesterol. However, for runners it is best appreciated for its anti-inflammatory action. 1 to 1 1/2 grams a day of omega-3 fatty acid supplement may alleviate the symptoms of joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as helping those with psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disorders. In effect it is a natural painkiller for sore muscles.

Foods containing omega-3 fatty acid include tuna and salmon.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant, helping to protect the body from oxidative damage that occurs during exercise and other daily stresses such as air pollution and cigarette smoke. Vitamin C is also vital for ensuring a strong immune system, which can be stressed by long periods of exercise. Similarly, it increase the body's ability to take up iron, so helping good maintian good oxygen uptake to the muscles.

Good sources of vitamin C are oranges, kiwi fruit, cranberries, strawberries and tomatoes.

Vitamin E
The value of vitamin E is uncertain. However, the majority of reasearch suggests that Vitamin E provides prtotection from the damage caused by endurance exercise such as long distance running.

Good sources of vitamin E are almonds, fortified breakfast cereals and wheat germ.

As well as helping the immune system, zinc helps ensure efficient metabolism. It interacts with hundreds of enzymes making sure they all work at optimum efficiency, providing energy to the body as required. Because zinc is lost during sweating, particularly after exercise, it is important to consume sufficient amounts of this metal.

Zinc can be found in wheat germ, fortified breakfast cereals, beef, poultry, pork, lamb, and seafood.