What is the need for supplements for runners and what is the added benefit if you currently lead a healthy lifestyle and have a balanced diet?
It is important to emphasise that whenever possible, runners should meet their unique individual nutrient needs through whole food that complements a healthy lifestyle. Supplementation is not designed to replace a well-designed nutritional plan, instead, its main role is to complement and support healthy nutritional practices. Furthermore, it is important to note that there are inter-individual differences in response to both nutritional and exercise interventions. Some individuals display different levels of responsiveness to both exercise and nutrition, therefore, what might work for some may not benefit all. It is advisable that individuals’ trial different nutritional strategies to identify what work best.
Where supplementation can significantly benefit a runner, however, is during times of intense, prolonged endurance training. For example, it is suggested that a sedentary individual should consume 0.8g of protein per kilo of body weight to maintain protein balance and muscle mass. This equates to approximately two medium sized lean chicken filets per day for an average 75kg male. However, during periods of intense training and exercise, this protein requirement can increase to approximately 1.2-1.8g per kilo, equivalent to approximately 4 ½ chicken filets. In addition to their carbohydrate requirements to support training and performance, this represents a considerable amount of nutrients to consume derived purely from whole food. Consequently, supplementation provides an effective way of complementing good nutritional practices to meet the nutritional needs of active runners. Furthermore, while athletes might be able to meet their nutrient requirements during training with whole food, an additional important consideration is nutrient timing and quality. It’s not always possible to consume a meal at specific times directly after training to support recovery; therefore, supplementation provides an efficient and convenient way to achieve macronutrient targets.
If so, what supplements would you recommend and why?
Protein supplementation has been traditionally associated with increasing muscle size and body building. However, an increasing body of research suggests that protein ingestion following periods of prolonged endurance exercise and intense training can support recovery, and potentially enhance endurance capacity. One common misconception is that protein supplementation per se results in an increase in muscle size and bulking. This would obviously be detrimental to running performance. Importantly, however, in the absence of resistance training, protein supplementation in isolation does not result in significant changes in muscle size. Instead, supplementation with certain protein products can improve muscle quality rather than size, and support adaptations that promote enhanced endurance capacity. There is research to suggest that benefits derived from protein ingestion following endurance exercise training are limited to a 3 hour period immediately following exercise cessation. Therefore, it is not always possible to eat a meal containing a sufficient amount of protein (approximately 20-25g / one chicken fillet) within this window of opportunity. Taking a protein shake during this post-exercise period will provide the required concentration necessary to facilitate exercise adaptations. In addition to the 3 hour period immediately following exercise, it is suggested that athletes distribute their daily protein requirements evenly throughout the day. For example, ingesting 4 x 20g of protein every three hours is better than 2 x 40g doses every six hours to support skeletal muscle growth. Specific Optimum NutritionTM products that would be suitable for competitive runners to support their daily nutrient requirements and performance goals include 100% Gold Standard Whey, Gold Standard BCAA Train and Sustain and Essential Amino Energy. Whey protein provides a high quality protein source, while Gold Standard Train and Sustain has a blend of essential branch chain amino acids and vitamins for muscle and immune support, respectively. In addition to providing an important source of branch chain amino acids, Amino Energy also provides a source of caffeine that can aid concentration and focus during exercise, and potentially limit feelings of fatigue. Again, these supplements should only be used to complement an appropriate nutritional plan that provides enough quality protein throughout the day and during specific windows following exercise.
Are there supplements that would not be necessary for runners? What supplements would you avoid.
Most athletes adopt an individualised sport-specific approach to their exercise training regime. To complement an appropriate exercise training plan, runners should also adopt sport specific nutritional practices. For example, the pre-season nutritional requirements for a rugby player are significantly different to an endurance runner preparing for a race. Their supplementation practices should also reflect nutritional requirements. Certain types of supplementation that wouldn’t necessarily support endurance exercise performance per se are gainers. These types of energy dense products are designed to provide an additional source of calories with a view to increasing body mass. An excessive increase in body mass would potentially impair running efficiency, and as a result, performance. Therefore, athletes should only supplement with products that improve components of performance related to their specific sport i.e. what physical parameters allow a person to optimally perform, and how can a specific supplement complement that parameter.
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