Ok here’s the thing, as in most things in life, there are no magic pills that will drastically improve your running. However, that doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t SOME supplements out there to help improve running endurance.
It is fair to say that most supplements being pushed have little to no scientific evidence behind them.
Take them and it will just result in you having the most expensive pee around.
But with the profile of top level athletics today, there is always plenty of research going on to find legal ways to improve physical fitness and ensure athletes get the most from their efforts.
This means competitive fun runners like you and me can benefit from the time, effort and cash that goes into this research into what REALLY works.
Before I go any further, I should stress that it has been shown time and again that no supplement will ever make up for a poor diet.
So, with all the supplements discusses here, there is an assumption that you are already eating a balanced diet.
My Top 5 Supplements To Help Running Endurance
Below I share with you the supplements I have found (and use) that have some real scientific proof behind them.
I include (some of) the research and evidence along with my personal experiences with them.
Before you continue, I wanted to let you know I will potentially make a small commission from any purchases you make via the links on this page, it helps pay for the upkeep of the site amongst other things.
Beetroot – The Nitric Oxide Gold Mine
As a kid, beetroot was what my dad had (in its pickled form) with his boxing day turkey and chips…in fact, he still does 🙂
What I didn’t know at the time was exactly how packed the humble red root was with stuff that helps athletic performance…
...not to mention your health as a whole.
It is a rich source of such as vitamin C, carotenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids.
However, what we are mainly interested in as a runner is the nitrate content.
This element is the key when it comes to running performance and endurance.
The nitrate is naturally converted by our bodies into nitric oxide as part of the digestion process.
And why is this important?
Well, increases in the body’s levels of nitric oxide has been shown to increase blood flow and improve lung function.
As our muscles need oxygen to work, obviously if the blood can get more oxygen to muscles more quickly, it will help us runners go further, faster.
In one (admittedly small) study conducted in 2014, it was shown that beetroot juice created an improvement of almost 16% in a group of athletes.
Beetroot juice has been highly studied across a number of sports; cycling, walking, swimming, and, of course, running.
Across the studies, several significant outcomes of ingesting the juice have become clear.
Firstly, anaerobic threshold is increased significantly.
In a nutshell this means that athletes were able to do more before reaching exercise failure.
In addition, the juice reduced aerobic ‘energy cost’ during exercise.
Again, in simple English, this means as a runner, beetroot juice will allow us to run faster for longer.
This research was tempered with the fact that it might not benefit those who are already at a high level of training…
…or those that are training at a high altitude.
Some other specific findings from the various studies after subjects had supplemented with beetroot juice include:
- Athletes in one study maintained moderate to high exercise intensities (60% to 80%) significantly longer than normal.
- In another study, a selection of runners ran 5% faster in the later part of a 5 km race supplementing with beetroot juice 90 minutes prior to the event.
- Competitive cyclists taking part in a 50 mile test improved their performance by 0.8 percent. Both oxygen efficiency and time to exhaustion were greatly improved. Significant improvements were observed during the last 10 miles of the test.
- Off dry land, a study of kayakers supplementing with beetroot juice demonstrated improved oxygen capacity compared to a placebo group.
And It Doesn’t Stop There!
Although this little superfood can help with our running, there is more to it than just that.
As mentioned previously, nitric oxide increases blood flow, which has benefits when running. It does this by relaxing and dilating your blood vessels.
This relaxation and increased blood flow also has a direct impact on the pressure within your blood vessels.
Research shows significant blood pressure decreases about three hours after drinking 500ml of beetroot juice.
So, in other words, beetroot could also be a cheap and easy way of treating hypertension and therefore reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It may be less tested and less proven, but the antioxidants and phytonutrients may very well also help reduce the risk of cancer.
As much as there is a lack of research, the chemical makeup of beetroot shares some cancer fighting elements as some anti-cancer medication.
Stop the Swelling
If you have been running for any length of time, it is pretty much certain you will have suffered with some part of your body or another.
And much of this pain will come from inflammation.
The good news is our wonder-root-veg is a rich source of betalains…
…and betalains are shown to help reduce inflammation.
When and How Much
A question that you might have in mind now is;
“Exactly how much beetroot juice will help my running?”
The answer to this is that between 300 ml to 500 ml is deemed to be the range to give you the most ‘bang for your buck’…
…taken two to three hours prior to exercise.
(You can check out more details regarding the quantities and times in this interesting Runners World article)
The one trouble with this though is, have you ever tried drinking large quantities of beetroot juice?!
I promise you; your running performance won’t seem that important when faced with the ordeal of regularly having to sink a pint of the red, devil juice.
Fortunately, there is some good news.
Concentrated Beetroot Juice
You can still benefit by taking your beetroot juice onboard in concentrated form.
Beet It, are a UK company that focus on Beetroot juice.
They provide normal cartons of the juice, but they also provide concentrated shots especially for athletes of all types.
Each 70ml shot contains 400mg of dietary nitrate per serving. This roughly equates to what you would get in a pint of the non-concentrated juice, or put another way, the optimal amount to take before exercise.
My personal experience with these shots are that they definitely make a difference to your higher intensity runs. In my case, resulting in several new Strava segment PR’s 🙂
HOWEVER, I have to say that it is a good job the shot is only 70 ml.
The concentrate is possibly/probably even more disgusting than the normal strength juice!
Imagine swigging down diluted tomato ketchup and you are in the ballpark of what these shots taste like 🙂
The good news is two or three swallows and the little bottle is empty and you’re good to go for your running.
You should be aware that mixing caffeine and beetroot juice seems to undermine the positive effects of beetroot, so avoid coffee if you can.
(I cover caffeine and how it can also HELP your running performance later in this article)
How Caffeine Can Help Running
You might not have thought about caffeine as a help to your running endurance.
Getting you up in the morning, yes, but getting a new PB for the 10km, who knew?
As it happens, caffeine is probably one of the most tested supplements when it comes to exercise performance.
It is not just about giving you that bit of a boost in the morning to get you up and out on your run.
One study in 2012 investigated the effect of caffeine on a group of male cyclists.
Participants were given either a placebo or various doses of caffeine prior to a 60 minute session on the bike.
Once the workouts were completed, the results showed that the caffeine created a significant increase in performance.
More is Not Necessarily Better
The study also showed that the dosage of caffeine didn’t make a difference to the improvement made.
In other words, with caffeine, once you have found the optimal amount, more does not mean better.
Around two out of three Olympic athletes take caffeine to help improve performance in both training and competition.
…and you can be pretty sure that if that level of elite athletes are using it, their must be something to it.
And the thing is, it is not just elite runners who can benefit from the effects of caffeine.
State of Mind
In the same way a strong coffee can kick start you in the morning, the same can be said about how it impacts the mental side of our running.
Research has shown that it is this impact that caffeine has on the way we THINK about our running that has the big positive effect.
In simple terms, caffeine works to make us perceive our running as easier than it would otherwise.
Not only this, it also increases the feel-good endorphins in our brain.
Of course, if we perceive things as easy, we are able to do more, to go further.
As you are probably aware, our bodies find it easier to burn glycogen than our stores of fat.
Therefore anything that helps us burn fat will help us conserve our glycogen stores and thus improve our running performance.
When running long distances like a marathon, the conservation of glycogen stores is essential in order to complete the run as strongly and quickly as possible.
And you guessed it, caffeine does exactly this.
Despite the research that has gone into the subject, the exact reason for caffeine utilising fat is not known for sure.
However the most logical explanation seems to be that the caffeine increases fatty acid in the bloodstream.
This has the effect of speeding up how quickly your body can then convert fat to usable energy to power your runs.
As a bonus, if you are running to lose a few pounds, anything that burns off those extra inches is a good thing. 🙂
Caffeine For Speed
Caffeine is not just a supplement to help with your running endurance, it also helps with shorter, quicker runs.
One study tested runners in a 5km race.
They found that with no extra training, the runners they tested were able to complete the distance on average around 1% quicker.
Not exactly huge, but that 1% still equates to around 10 seconds for a 20 minute runner.
But let’s face it, every second counts when it comes to getting that new Parkrun PB!
Does Caffeine Help With Exercise Recovery?
OK, so I think it is fairly obvious that caffeine can help with your running, but what about recovery? Can it help there?
Well the good news is yes it can.
Research has shown that in combination with carbohydrates, caffeine will indeed speed up the recovery process after a tough run.
The study demonstrated that a caffeine plus carbohydrate combo builds glycogen stores around 66% quicker than just carbohydrates alone.
Can Caffeine Cause Problems For Runners?
So far so good, but what about its diuretic properties you might ask.
In other words isn’t it going to make me want to pee and therefore screw up my hydration.
Well although coffee IS a diuretic, research done at the University of Connecticut has shown that if you don’t go over the top, caffeine WON’T adversely affect your hydration adversely.
In the study they showed that drinking up to 550 mg of caffeine (about 5 cups of coffee) won’t impact your hydration levels.
How Much Caffeine Will Help My Running?
So now we have agreed that caffeine can be a help when running, how much should we be taking?
You will remember in the study mentioned above on the impact of caffeine on cyclists, they deemed that after a certain dose, there is no extra benefit.
Therefore, more is not better, and in fact, too much caffeine in the long term has a negative impact on our health.
(400mg of caffeine daily for an adult is the level put on a safe limit)
In the study they found the minimum effective dose was approximately 3mg of caffeine for every kg of body weight.
(If you are old school, that is every 2.3lbs of weight)
So in my case weighing in at a mighty 63.5 kgs (or 140lbs), the calculation would be 63.5 x 3 = 190.5mg (or 200mg if we round up)
As for when you need to take your caffeine, well it is absorbed quickly (around 30 minutes) and last for many hours.
So timing is not that important, as long as you get your caffeine just before you run, you should be good to go.
How to Get Caffeine Into Your System
So if you think caffeine is the supplement for you to improve your endurance when running, where do you get it?
The obvious answer is through a coffee or two.
However there are one or two issues about getting your dose in this way:
Firstly it is not easy to work out exactly how much caffeine is in your cup.
This can result in you under or over consuming, which is not good on several levels.
The other issue is that you wouldn’t want to be drinking your cappuccino too close to your run.
If you have ever had the delights of liquid sloshing around in your stomach as you start a run, this will make perfect sense.
In my opinion, caffeine tablets are far more convenient.
And is consequently my prefered method of getting my performance boosting caffeine.
You can get 100 tablets for around a tenner.
So around the price of 3 posh coffees.
And as you will be using these primarily for your races or tougher runs, a bottle will last forever and a day.
OK, you were probably more than familiar with the last two supplements, but that might not be the case with this one.
So what is Beta-Alanine and how can it help running?
Beta-alanine is what is known as a non-essential amino acid.
It is something that is found naturally in your body and it helps create something called carnosine
It is the carnosine they we are primarily interested in as a runner as I’ll detail later.
Interestingly, although you can get carnosine itself as a supplement, it is no good for what we want.
When carnosine is digested it is broken down and won’t supplement the stores in your muscles.
As a supplement there has been a huge amount of research into the benefits of taking the supplement.
And the research is only growing along with the positive anecdotes about its effect on athletic performance.
Indeed the International Olympic Committee, stated that it can directly improve sports performance.
How Can Beta-Alanine Help Running?
As mentioned earlier, beta-alanine increases carnosine in the muscles by up to 80%.
This is important because of what carnosine does during exercise.
When we exercise, a chain of events result in our muscles becoming more acidic.
The acidity gets in the way of our muscles breaking down glucose (muscle food).
This in turn reduces your muscles’ ability to contract.
And ultimately this is why the more we exercise (run) the more we feel fatigued.
This is where our hero, beta-alanine, or more accurately, carnosine steps in.
Like a bouncer on the door of your muscles, it helps block the acid getting in.
Less acid means less fatigue, which means more endurance in your running.
Meaning you can run faster, further.
Carnosine reduces lactic acid accumulation in your muscles during exercise, which leads to improved athletic performance
You can see several studies below to show the findings in various studies that have been carried out showing the benefits of taking beta-alanine as a runner.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16868650/ – high intensity improvement
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20091069/ – muscle performance
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374095/ – meta analaysis of studies
Other Health Benefits of Beta-Alanine
As with the other supplements mentioned so far, beta-alanine also provides other benefits.
Although nowhere near as proven as the athletic gains, there is interesting potential.
For example lab research has shown anti-aging and immunity enhancing properties.
And for those of us getting not in the first flush of youth…
…carnosine (and by association beta-alanine), has been shown to fight the aging process.
This includes increasing the effectiveness of the muscles in older adults.
How And When to Take Beta-Alanine
Unlike the previous two supplements, beta-alanine is most effective when taken regularly.
This regular ingestion keeps the carnosine levels up in the muscles making them ‘exercise ready’ whenever you want to get out on your run.
The recommended dose for beta-alanine is 3-6 grams per day.
One little thing you should be aware of, taking beta-alanine can create a sort of pin and needles sensation about 20 minutes after taking it.
This is totally safe but for personal experience I can tell you it can feel a bit strange.
This effect can be reduced by spreading the daily dose over the day, and taking the supplement with a meal.
I personally, have only relatively recently started taking beta-alanine (From MyProtein) and as strange as the tingle was when I first experienced it, I now hardly notice it.
My running does seem to be benefiting and it is definitely a supplement that will be remaining in my ‘supplement armoury’.
(One final tip, I know that some people find the tablets difficult to swallow, as they are so large, if this is the case, I have found the Beta-Alanine powder works well as you can just dissolve it in your favourite drink)
If you have heard of Creatine, you may think of it is a supplement for just bodybuilders.
Primarily it is known for its ability to build and maintain muscle.
However evidence is growing that it could well help you when out for your long run and give you increased energy levels
“Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.”International Society of Sports Nutrition
They also went on to say that it can help with the prevention of injury.
Endurance and Creatine
The athletes taking part were either given creatine alone, beta-alanine alone, the two combined, or a placebo.
It was shown that the groups that had taken the creatine, the beta-alanine, or a combination of the two demonstrated a positive effect,
These groups displayed a significant increase in energy and endurance when performing exercise.
It is true to say that the most obvious benefits of taking creatine monohydrate is with short duration, high intensity workouts.
However it will allow you to improve your training sessions with regard to sprints and high intensity efforts.
This, in turn, will then help with your endurance performance in the long term.
How Does Creatine Monohydrate Work?
When we exercise one of the basic forms of energy in a cell is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate otherwise known as ATP.
ATP is what your cells use to produce energy…
…and it also something that rapidly runs out when doing intense exercise.
The link between ATP and creatine monohydrate is that creatine helps with ATP replenishment.
Increased creatine in your muscles during exercise, means increased energy during the exercise.
What this all means to you is that creatine monohydrate has a double whammy positive impact.
In the short term it will ensure you have extra energy when you are out on your run…
…and in the longer term it will build your muscles and increase your strength.
How Much Creatine Monohydrate And When?
Although you can get creatine from your diet in the form of some meat and fish, by far the easiest way to ensure you are getting the right amount is via supplements.
When it comes to the forms of creatine that are available, the form most studied and proven is creatine monohydrate.
Fortunately, this form is also the cheapest form available.
In terms of the dosage to see the best and quickest results, a ‘loading phase’ is recommended
Loading just means taking an increased amount in the early days to build up the creatine within your muscles.
In practice this equates to around 20g a day for a period of 5-7 days.
This ensures that benefits will be experienced at the quickest time possible..
Following the initial load period, a dose of 3-5g daily is recommended to maintain the required level in your muscles.
Again I use the MyProtein version of the supplement, but due to the popularity of the supplement, there are plenty of different providers.
Water Water Everywhere
A final word of warning if you are someone who watches the bathroom scales like a hawk.
One of the features of creatine is that it makes your muscles hold water.
This is one of the reasons bodybuilders like the supplement as the water accentuates the look of the muscle.
However this does have a negative side effect as that extra water equates to extra weight.
Therefore don’t be surprised if you find that your weight increases by several pounds (usually between 2-4lbs)
Slight weight increase aside, creatine monohydrate is another of the supplements proven to be able to help with your running.
My final supplement for helping your running endurance is Omega 3
In terms of supplements it could be seen as the granddaddy of them all.
We all know the stories of parents and even grandparents having to gulp down a spoonful of foul tasting cod liver oil.
And a large part of the good provided was down to the high content of omega-3s that cod liver oil contains.
You may have heard before that not all fats are bad for you.
In fact unsaturated fatty acids are decidedly good for you.
And the three types of omega-3 fats Omega-3s all happen to be this good type of unsaturated fatty acid.
The three types of the fatty acids under the omega-3 umbrella are:
– alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
– eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
– docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA is an ‘essential fatty acid’.
This means it is something we NEED to get from food or supplements as our body does not naturally produce it.
If your food is high in things like walnuts, chia seeds or flax seeds, you are probably covered in terms of this omega-3.
DHA and EPA are different in that our bodies CAN create them.
This makes them a non-essential fatty acids.
However our bodies only create them in minimal amounts. So in practical terms you will still need to get them externally.
General Benefits of Omega-3s
As I’ve mentioned before omega-3 (via cod liver oil) has been recognised as something very beneficial to our health for along time.
The main, well documented gains from taking omega-3s, are their inflammatory-fighting properties.
Since many serious ailments have chronic inflammation at their core, these fatty acids are seen as extremely useful.
The evidence suggest those with an increased intake of omega-3s can reduce the chance of heart attacks and strokes.
Some research has even suggested that the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3s could help in the fight against cancer.
There is even some research now in to the possibility of omega-3s helping with people suffering from anxiety and depression.
How Can Omega-3s Improve Your Running Performance?
OK, omega-3 is good for our general health, but what about our running ability?
After all, that is what this post is supposed to be all about right?
Well without the fatty acids discussed, there is good chance recovery would be adversely impacted for the heart, lungs and joints after a run.
So in other words at the very least, NOT having omega-3 will harm your running.
With regards to the potential benefits, early findings are also positive.
The main areas being identified that will help runners, are:
Increased Nitric Acid
A small study identified increased intake of omega-3 increased nitric acid levels and higher oxygen uptake.
As mentioned previously, nitric acid helps in blood flow and lung function.
Together this means that a regular intake of omega-3 will improve your bodies ability to transfer oxygen to muscles…
…and therefore enhance your performance when out running.
In addition to helping muscle soreness, a further survey suggests omega-3 also helps prevent muscle loss when exercise is put on hold.
For completeness it should be said that although findings have been positive so far…
…the results have also been inconsistent and therefore further research is needed.
The Air That I Breathe
As an asthmatic, this is a benefit of omega-3 that grabbed my attention.
Asthma is basically the airways swelling up.
So research has been completed to see if the anti inflammatory aspects of omega-3 would help.
Initial findings have demonstrated the prevention of swelling when supplementing with omega-3.
Thus helping the intake of oxygen for asthmatics.
Do I Need To Take Omega-3 Supplements?
So if you can get Omega -3 from food via oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines etc) and various seeds, why do you need supplements?
Well of course the answer is if you are getting the right amount of the food mentioned, you don’t.
So if you are eating two portions of oily fish in a week, you are probably ok.
However, in the States, research has shown that only a third of the population manages this.
It is fair to think that the UK stats are going to be similar.
So, if you are not a big fish eater, or a vegetarian/vegan who doesn’t eat many seeds, omega-3 supplements are a good idea (whether you run a lot or not).
Again this is a very popular supplement and therefore is very common.
So there you go, the 5 supplements I use and recommend to improve running endurance (with a bit of the science behind why it’s worth taking them.