Pills, Potions & Powders: Smart Supplementation for Endurance Athletes

As a Sports Dietitian, I constantly get asked about supplements. Supplements for weight loss, muscle gain, recovery, daily health, increased energy, better sleep. Every time, I respond with the question: 

Why do you want or feel like you need this supplement?

I encourage clients to go through the following list of questions:

  • ·         Can I reach this goal through food alone?
  • ·         Would it interfere with medications or a medical issue?
  • ·         What is the cost? (financial as well as situational) The benefit?
  • ·         Am I at risk for low levels of a certain nutrients (based on gender, race, geography, labs)

I am not one to prescribe supplements; oftentimes they act as a Band-Aid rather than dealing with the root of the problem. However, there are various situations & populations for whom supplements can be beneficial, or even necessary. The high mileage put in by distance runners comes with increased risk for:

  • ·         muscle & tissue damage
  • ·         high levels of inflammation
  • ·         a dampened immune system
  • ·         potential electrolyte imbalance
  • ·         possible iron deficiency
  • ·         cardiovascular & kidney strain

Based on these factors, I recommend the following:


Vitamin D: Beneficial for bone health, immune function, cognition, and improved athletic performance by increasing muscle strength & endurance and decreasing inflammation. It is also cardio-protective. Recommended dose is 1,000-5,000IU daily, depending on diet, geography, and labs.

*I encourage anyone in the Northern hemisphere to take it year round, but adjust dosing.

Food Sources: 15-30 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen 3-5 days weekly is your best source. Unfortunately, in the Pacific Northwest, this is not feasible. Foods such as fortified dairy, mushrooms that have been exposed to the sun, wild fatty fish and egg yolks are also high in vitamin D.

Vitamin C: Critical for immune support, vitamin C is best taken immediately pre- and post-run/workout. It is hard to overdose on vitamin C, as your body will pee out whatever it does not need. Find vitamin C tablets or powders at the store.

Food sources: Citrus & tropical fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard).

Omega-3 fats & Cod Liver Oil: Associated with decreasing inflammation, tissue health, enhanced brain function, and heart protection. Even those individuals who consume plentiful seafood, it is difficult to get adequate high-quality fish to meet your omega recommendations.

Food sources: Sustainable fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies) and sea vegetables are best. Not a fan of fish? Walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and ground flax are also rich sources.

Probiotics & Prebiotics: Research shows that a healthy gut promotes healthy immune, nervous, cardiovascular, and metabolic function. I recommend a supplement as well as at least one food source of each daily.  When looking for a probiotic supplement, look for one that must be refrigerated, has at least 20 billion CFUs, and has at least 5 different strains of bacteria.

Food Sources: Probiotics: plain Greek yogurt, kefir, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso. Prebiotics: onions, bananas, berries, ground flax, garlic, leek, artichokes, jicama, beans, sweet potatoes, raw honey, oats, and quinoa.

II. MASTERS (over 40) ATHLETES & those with MINIMAL RECOVERY TIME between trainings:

BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids): BCAAs are critical for muscle recovery, tissue rejuvenation, delaying fatigue, and boosting immunity. Take one dose before exercise and one dose immediately following. Ideal intake is 3g leucine.

Food Sources: Your best option for full BCAA spectrum in the highest amount is whey protein (dairy).

Turmeric/garlic/ginger/curcumin: The most potent natural anti-inflammatories. I recommend capsules for those who do not like these flavors in food. But if you’re a fan – eat up!

Food Sources: Make curry with a protein of choice, mixed vegetables, curry paste or curry powder, coconut milk, and turmeric, ginger, and garlic. Serve with brown rice or quinoa, cilantro and lime.

MSM/Tissue Rejuvenator®/chondroitin: Provide additional tissue and joint support through a combination of anti-inflammatory properties and structural nutrients for mobility and recovery.


Plant-Based Athletes: Vitamin B12 and B6; omega-3 fats or cod liver oil; iron depending on lab values

For Recovery: Focus on nutrients that improve blood circulation, such as dietary nitrites (beets, tart cherry, dark leafy greens), caffeine, cinnamon, cocoa & capsaicin (hot peppers); as well as 20-30g of a complete protein source (whey or dairy) for muscle recovery and 30-60g simple carbohydrate (fruit) for insulin production.

Food Sources: Try a recovery shake with ~25g whey protein (milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, protein powder), 1 banana, 2-3 dates, unsweetened cocoa powder or dark chocolate (or dark chocolate-covered espresso beans), cinnamon, and coffee. Feeling daring? Add a dash of cayenne and a handful of greens.

*Can’t do whey? Your next best bet is  organic soy protein, or Hammer’s® Vegan Recovery Protein

Those suffering injury: anti-Inflammatories, tissue/joint support and omega-3 fats/cod liver oil

Want to know more? Email Heidi Strickler, RDN CD, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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