Runners have long relied on supplements to give them a mental or physical edge and to boost their recovery afterward. But not all supplements are created equal. Sports supplements can vary greatly in their safety and effectiveness, so how do you know which ones are right for you?
If you’re a runner looking for that cutting-edge, here are the best running supplements that have been proven both safe and effective to help you run and recover faster.
The best supplements for running
Are you a long-distance runner chasing greater endurance or a sprinter looking to increase speed? Supplements can make all the difference to your running experience, helping you to achieve new personal bests, longer mileages, and quicken recovery. But with so many supplement options on the market, which ones are the best for runners?
Try supplements made just for you.
If you’re wondering what supplements should a runner take, it’s essential to consider your own nutrient gaps and your goals for supplementation. At Elo Health, we use a combination of biomarker testing and health coaching to select supplements tailored to your specific nutrition needs, as well as your health and performance goals.
Performance supplements for runners
Performance-enhancing supplements are typically taken before running and can help you improve speed, strength, and endurance. Here are the top performance supplements for runners, including who they’re suitable for and how you should take them.
is a popular supplement among all types of runners. From sprinters to marathoners, research shows caffeine can boost running performance, speed, power, and endurance [1
Pre-run caffeine supplementation has been shown to improve endurance by 7-9% when combined with carbohydrates, increase leg power by up to 7%, and shave up to 4.2 seconds off of a 1500 m run [2
]. For distance runners, consuming additional caffeine during a long run might also extend these benefits [3
Sipping on a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea before can give you a boost, but you can also find it in supplement form, including electrolyte drinks, energy bars, and gels.
If you’re wondering how and when to take caffeine before a race, experts recommend taking 3–6 mg/kg of body mass up to 60 minutes before exercise (roughly 200-400 mg for a 150-pound athlete) [5
]. Limiting your caffeine intake to 50 mg/day or cutting out caffeine altogether seven days before may also help you maximize caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects on race day [6
Keep in mind caffeine tolerance can vary significantly between individuals and, at high levels, it can have a diuretic effect and cause GI distress. For these reasons, experts recommend experimenting with caffeine in training and limiting your total caffeine intake to 400 mg/day or less [7
Packed with nitrates that raise nitric oxide levels in the body, beetroot can improve aerobic exercise performance by increasing blood flow to working muscles and ensuring adequate oxygen uptake by muscle tissues [8
Nitrate supplementation seems to have the most performance-enhancing effect for exercise lasting 5-30 minutes, so short- to mid-distance runners will likely reap the most benefit —though some evidence shows these benefits may also extend to longer-distance runners as well [10
You can increase your nitrate intake by adding roasted beets to a salad or blending them into a smoothie. Still, beetroot supplements (including concentrated powders and juice shots) are less messy and can pack a bigger punch.
Beetroot tends to be dosed on nitrate content [11
]. A typical runner dose is 300-600 mg nitrate/day (or 0.1mmol/kg/day) taken 2-3 hours before exercise [8
If you try beetroot, you should know that consuming beets and beetroot juice can cause red urine and stool, which can be alarming but is not harmful [11
Sodium phosphate is another popular supplement that benefits sprinters and distance runners.
It is thought to improve oxygen transport and buffer the effect of lactic acid buildup, which can enhance both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, power output, and cardiovascular response [8
]. Studies also show taking 4 g/day for three days improves the oxygen energy system in endurance athletes, such as mid-to-long-distance runners [8
Male athletes may glean more ergogenic benefits from sodium phosphate than females; however, the impact of gender on sodium phosphate’s ergogenic isn’t fully understood at this time [8
Sodium phosphate supplements for sports performance are commonly sold in capsule form.
The recommended sodium phosphate dosage for athletes is 3–5 g/day, split into four smaller doses for 3-6 days [8
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that appears to reduce lactic acid build-up in muscles caused by high-intensity exercise (like sprinting), which can significantly impair performance and worsen fatigue.
By reducing lactic acid buildup, beta-alanine can improve certain aspects of performance (such as anaerobic threshold, time to exhaustion, and muscle fatigue), particularly in sprinters running short distances at maximum speed and older athletes [1
Beta-alanine supplements are available as a powder and in capsule form. For sports performance, experts recommend a daily intake of 4-6 g/day (taken in doses of 2 g or less) for up to 8 weeks, with notable benefits seen after four weeks of supplementation [8
One thing to note: Supplementing with beta-alanine may leave you feeling a bit, well, prickly. Tingling fingers and toes, known as paresthesia, typically occurs in the upper body and lasts 60-90 minutes. Though uncomfortable, it is not a harmful reaction and can often be avoided by taking sustained-release beta-alanine supplements or dividing doses throughout the day [8
Often used in baking and household cleaning, sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) might improve athletic performance in short-distance runners that feel the muscle burn caused by lactic acid buildup [13
Known as bicarbonate loading, ingesting baking soda as a supplement can effectively buffer the buildup of lactic acid in muscles during high-intensity exercise [8
You can supplement with store-bought baking soda, but sodium bicarbonate supplements are also available in convenient capsule form.
For performance benefits, sodium bicarbonate can be taken in a single dose of 0.3 g/kg of body weight 60-90 minutes before exercise [8
Consuming too much sodium bicarbonate too quickly is a recipe for GI distress, so approach supplementation cautiously until you know how your body will respond.
Sodium bicarbonate also contains a lot of sodium (1,259 mg per teaspoon) and can cause temporary fluid retention. High sodium intake has also been shown to increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. The long-term safety of sodium bicarbonate supplementation is unknown so it’s best if used intermittently [1
Recovery supplements for runners
In addition to these performance-enhancing supplements, some supplements, like protein powder, tart cherry, creatine, glutamine, and omega-3s, can help you optimize your post-run recovery. Let’s do a deeper dive into how they work and if you should consider adding them into your routine.
When it comes to post-run recovery, protein supplementation
has been shown to reign supreme, as research continues to show that it can positively affect post-run recovery and increase lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy, and strength [14
To maximize your recovery, experts recommend consuming 20-40 g of high-quality (complete) protein within two hours of exercise, as this stimulates robust increases in muscle protein synthesis that can benefit both recovery and future performance [15
Elo Smart Protein
While you can get protein from dietary sources, protein supplements (like Elo Smart Protein)
can be a convenient and cost-efficient way to boost protein intake after a run and optimize your recovery.
Elo Smart Protein
is the world’s most personalized protein product, offering a combination of high-quality protein, functional nutrient boosts such as super greens and turmeric, and real-time dosing recommendations tailored to your needs and workout.
Your unique Smart Protein blend is determined using a combination of data from wearables and activity apps, dietary preferences, goals, and blood biomarker results (if available). Your information is then matched with the latest scientific research to determine a blend of ingredients that both maximizes post-workout recovery and supports your health goals. Learn more
about how it can enhance your post-run recovery.
(different from the sweet cherries we all love) are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds. A growing body of research shows that tart cherry juice extract can improve performance, reduce pain, soreness, and inflammation, and accelerate strength recovery after both strength and endurance exercises [16
Tart cherry supplements can be found in various forms, including juice, capsules, and concentrate. Dosage recommendations vary depending on the preparation; however, most studies have used 8-12 oz (1 oz if in concentrate form) twice a day, 4-5 days leading up to an event, and 2-3 days after to promote recovery [17
If you want to experiment with tart cherry juice, look for a product without additives and drink 8-12 oz no more than 60 minutes before and after exercising.
is often associated with powerlifting and big, bulky muscles, endurance athletes (including runners) may also benefit from its use.
Evidence shows creatine may have recovery benefits for both power athletes and endurance athletes, including increased muscle protein synthesis, enhanced glycogen replenishment, and reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) [18
]. In addition, creatine may also play a role in reducing muscle damage and inflammation [18
Though it has similar muscle-building benefits to protein, creatine supplementation can cause increased water retention and slight weight gain (1-2 kg) in athletes. These two factors could hinder endurance running performance [1
]. Because of this, creatine will likely be most beneficial to runners who regularly engage in strength or sprint training.
To supplement with creatine, experts recommend starting with a “loading dose” of 20 g/day for 5-7 days, followed by 3-5 g/day after that [1
Glutamine is an amino acid found in muscle, blood, and the body’s free-amino-acid pool that is both synthesized by the body and consumed in protein-containing foods and supplements [1
Research shows that supplementing with glutamine can reduce strength loss and muscle soreness following strenuous exercise while accelerating strength recovery more quickly than a placebo [1
]. For this reason, glutamine may benefit runners looking to speed recovery between runs during peak training periods.
Glutamine supplements, also commonly labeled as L-glutamine, are available in powder and capsule form. Daily dosages ranging from 0.21 - 0.42 g/kg are safe and effective for enhancing recovery in athletes [1
contains two important omega-3s unique to fish and seafood known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3s
have numerous health benefits, from supporting brain and cardiovascular health to muscular performance and recovery from exercise and injury [19
Runners may benefit from EPA and DHA as studies have shown their anti-inflammatory benefits may reduce soreness and enhance recovery from muscle-damaging exercise [18
Studies in healthy adults show that 2 g/day of omega-3s is safe and effective for reducing inflammation while taking 3 g/day can reduce muscle soreness after exercise [18
]. There are no established upper limits for omega-3s, but long-term EPA and DHA supplement consumption at combined doses of approximately 5 g/day appears safe [19
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Research shows certain supplements can give runners a physical edge during a run and boost post-run recovery. If you want to push your performance, consider adding caffeine, beetroot, sodium phosphate, beta-alanine, or sodium bicarbonate to your pre-run routine. To boost your recovery after a run, consider supplementing with protein powder, tart cherry juice extract, creatine, glutamine, and omega-3s.
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.