Im a natural runner, meaning I run with my natural biomechanics when I run barefoot or when I’m running in my Vibram FiveFingers. What I mean by this is I am running with a forefoot strike landing style with my foot because that is how the human body naturally evolved to run on the plains of Africa. So, you can get the impression that the theme of my blog is ‘natural’, and I have found lots of healthy natural supplements for runners that are great for recovery, energy, stabilizing blood/sugar levels, and are the perfect way for you to continue to improve your running performance.
Healthy Natural Supplements for Runners
For many, it’s hard to maximally train with a ‘boost’. Once a runner reaches a certain point in their training, it’s a great idea to bring in some training supplements to take your performance to the next level. Here are some natural and safe supplements that are likely to give you that performance boost you need.
Natural fuel is the new era endurance runners are living in! To over-turn fatigue when running, try ALCAR (acetyl-l-caritine), an amino acid that stimulates weary brain cells, giving you energy for running by dramatically improving mood, energy focus and concentration faster than prescription antidepressants! And, when you feel good emotionally and mentally, you are more motivated to run better, longer and faster.
Another supplement central to advancing energy levels by helping you achieve better sleep is L-theanine, which is an amino acid that helps regulate your brains internal clock, producing sleep-inducing theta waves at night and energizing beta waves during the day, according to Boston University research. For best results, take 30 minutes before bed.
Keep your muscles strong for running with olive oil. Its made up of unsaturated fats that reduce body-wide inflammation by keeping your cells strong and healthy. You can also get extraordinary muscle gains with EPA-DHA, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids that stimulate muscle tissue growth. According to Scottish researchers, taking a daily dose of EPA-DHA at breakfast or dinner helps prevents age-related muscle decline.
Vitamin B6 is a great, natural energy source for runners. Vitamin B6 is involved with many chemical reactions in the body, including the production of amino acids, which is essential for enhanced protein synthesis (production) and therefore, helps build stronger muscles. But from an energy perspective, vitamin B6 not only improves mood –when you feel good, you’ll run better– it also helps convert food to energy, so it improves energy naturally by improving metabolic function.
Caffeine is the obvious natural stimulant that is a major asset to endurance running because it boosts energy and focus by allowing epinephrine levels to remain high which really goes to the core at maintaining long-term energy.
Ginseng is another excellent energy-booster for running. It is a natural stimulant that counters fatigue, it also improves cognitive function (i.e. thinking), mood — giving you more motivation, and it helps regulate metabolism.
Another all-natural way to improve physical performance and mental attention is with the tyrosine, which is a non-essential amino acid that helps you perform well under-pressure, by boosting alertness, reaction speed and motivation.
Running is as powerful as meds when it comes to maintaining good health. But if you struggle with high blood pressure, try drinking tart Montmorency cherry juice. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drinking ¼ cup of this juice mixed with ½ cup of water, can reduce your blood pressure by 7 points thanks to the juices antioxidants and anti-inflammatories which dilate arteries, allowing better blood circulation.
Keep your bones strong for running with vitamin K. According to work in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, getting more vitamin K reduces your risk of weak bones by nearly 50%.
Are you like me and run with a cold? To reduce coughing, let a piece of dark chocolate melt slowly in your mouth. Turns out, dark chocolate is high in theobromine which calms the nerve that triggers coughing. Still running with a nagging cough? Quiet a persistent cough by drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee followed by a heaping tablespoon of honey. The science behind it: caffeine is like a mild painkiller and it opens up airways, helping you breathe better. Honey reduces swelling in throat tissues.
Get tired too easily during running? You may need better blood sugar control. Try GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), a fatty acid that was found to improve blood sugar control, and cut your risk of type II diabetes by 27%
Just like running, coconut oil helps you shed the pounds. Countless studies have shown that taking 2 tablespoons of coconut oil daily turns your metabolism up a notch…actually, up many notches, in that it helps reduce 120 calories and more.
Keep your muscles healthy and toned for running with peppermint oil and grape seed oil. Both these oils stimulate more circulation to your muscles, keeping your muscles bathed in nutrient-rich blood. Try pouring 1/2 cup of grape seed oil and 6 drops of peppermint oil into a reclosable bottle and shake it. Then massage it on your trouble spots.
For collagen break-down protection, try the supplement verisol. According to reports in the Journal of Medicinal Food, verisol is a collagen peptide that is quickly absorbed by the body, and stimulates the production of the following proteins: collagen, elastin and fibillin, all of which help build a stronger musculoskeletal system. You can also use gotu kola lotion and rub it on sore muscles. Lotion that contains the herb gotu kola may strengthen collagen fibers.
Ever heard of rose hips? It’s a natural supplement that helps protect your joints. According to the journal Clinical Interventions of Aging, rose hips contain antioxidants that reduces joint inflammation and also halts age-related collagen breakdown. Dark cocoa is another source abundant in antioxidants that improves collagen health and stop inflammatory flare-ups.
Running is great for keeping your immune system in check, but during cold and flu season, it’s always a good idea to give yourself an added layer of flu virus-protection. According to a report in the Nutritional Journal, upping your intake of vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and zinc is the perfect blend of nutrients that muscles-up your immune system.
Like many runners, I get super nervous before a race and have difficulty resting. A good nights sleep is essential to performing well, that is why I sleep better with taking 100-mg of phosphatidylserine (an easier way to say it is: PS, before bed as it prevents interrupted sleeping patterns, according to the journal Neuroendocrinology. How does PS work? According to the study, PS acts on the adrenal glands, reducing the production of sleep-disrupting stress hormones. Lemongrass is also perfect for helping you sleep well before a race. All you do is mix 3 drops of lemongrass oil with a drop of unscented moisturizer and rub it on your neck and shoulders. How does lemongrass help you catch better zzzzzzz’s? According to research from Standford University, the lemongrass scent increases alpha waves (deep sleep waves) in the brain, helping you fall asleep faster. Another way to avoid night wake-ups is with potassium as it was found to reduce anxiety, according to research in the journal Sleep. Lycopene is another great, natural way to reduce pre-race worries the night prior. According to the University of Pennsylvania, lycopene is a strong antioxidant that eases stress and muscle tension, helping sleep you much better.
If you feel sluggish before, during and after running, you may have too many yeast cells in your gut! To destroy abnormal yeast growth in the GI tract, try taking probiotic supplements. According to studies in the journal Critical Care Medicine, the healthy probiotic bacteria produces acids that chew through fatigue-inducing yeast. Cinnamon also gives you energy by destroying yeast growth as per research in the journal Mycopathologia. Unrefined coconut oil is another effective way to keep yeast production low. According to research out of Standford University, 2 tablespoons of unrefined coconut oil, which contains anti-fungal acids, called lauric and caprylic acid, is enough to obliterate yeast cells by destroying the yeast cell’s outer membrane wall.
Running is supposed to help keep your cholesterol levels in check. But if it’s not working for you, try rooibos tea. According to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, rooibos tea contains aspalathin, a natural compound that helps keep blood fat levels balanced. Another way to take care of your cholesterol is with the natural vitamin E, tocotrienols, which according to researchers at East Tennesse State University, tocotrienols reduce bad cholesterol by turning-off enzymes in the liver that release artery-clogging cholesterol.
Running is supposed to help regulate sleep, but if you are having trouble getting a good nights rest, a proven remedy is soybean extract PS (phosphatidyl serine). According to Shawn Talbott, Ph.D and author of Vigor Diet, the stress hormone, cortisol, should decrease around bedtime, but if it doesn’t, you tend to feel stressed and easily irritated. The good thing about soybean extract is that it prompts the adrenal gland to put the brakes on excessive cortisol production, allowing you to feel more relaxed and better able to sleep.
Another way to keep your cortisol levels in check is with resveratol. According the journal Behavioral Brain Research, taking 100 mg of resveratol reduces sudden spikes in cortisol, helping you feel happier.
To lower out-of-control pre-race nerves, take 500 mg of vitamin C in the morning. According to Talbot, taking vitamin C in the morning calms your adrenal gland, reducing it’s output of cortisol, stopping you from stressing out.
A refreshing way to soothe achy muscles is by drinking a cold glass of black currant juice. Research has found that the compounds in the juice that make this juice black, re-energizes muscles by improving blood flow. As a result, your muscles feel less stiff and tired.
Pre-race nerves stop you from getting a good nights sleep? Try spraying your bedroom with lavender spray. Research has found that the scent of lavender relaxes you by increasing delta-waves (deep sleep waves) in the brain when you sleep. Basically, lavender spray quiets the mind, so that you’re not stressed out. Jasmine lotion is another effective sleeping aid in that it works just as good as prescriptive sedatives, helping you get a better nights rest before a long morning run!
Many runners have unhealthy diets which causes them to have too much abdominal fat. This type of fat storage increases the risk of being insulin resistant which is no good for running. Taking chromium supplements is a really helpful way of improving insulin sensitivity and regulating blood sugar balance, so that you have more energy to run.
Need motivation to get out the door and run? Popping some pomegranate extract not only gets you in the running mood, it also awakens the brain by enhancing focus and concentration.
Low on energy? You could be low on iodine, a key mineral that stimulates your thyroid to produce more energy. According to the British Journal of Nutrition, healthy iodine levels stimulates the thyroid to increase the energizing hormone thyroxine, helping reduce fatigue.
Peppermint also gives you a quick boost of energy. For instance, the menthol in peppermint tea is stimulating because it reduces fatigue and anxiety, meanwhile it improves focus and motivation, according to psychologist Bryan Raudenbush, ph.D.
Another amazing energy-booster for running is reishi mushroom extract. It not only stops the production of bad cells in their tracks, it increases your energy levels by at least 25% by speeding up the conversion of sugar to fuel, according to Georges Halpern, M.D.
Vitamin B12 is another potent energy source that most of us are low on. Vitamin B 12 also boosts red blood cell formation, helps speed the conversion of sugars. Uping your Vitamin B12 will prevent heath deficiencies, such as anemia, constipation, vision problems even depression. Moreover, if you find yourself easily irritated throughout the day, or exhausted after a morning run, try taking vitamin B complex first thing in the morning. Vitamin B complex is calming, yet energy boosting that will make feel good all day long. Vitamin B complex also has opioid-like effects, tampering down pain signals, thereby relieving chronic pain. And it doesn’t make you constipated or drowsy like most painkillers.
Vitamin B-complex can also add years to your life. According to research in the journal Life Sciences, taking a vitamin B-complex, especially when paired with 500-mg of vitamin C, protects your DNA from the free radical damage that causes age-related illnesses. Overall, this health-boosting combo was found to slow aging by 43%.
Another way to shake up your fatigue is with iron supplements. A study out of Penn State University linked chronic fatigue, physical fatigue and brain fog to low levels of iron.
Even more critical, taking a multivitamin daily helps the thyroid regulate the release of energizing hormones. In addition, taking a mult-vitamin with calcium is even better because it strengthens bones and cartilage.
I consider coffee as a supplement for good health and well-being because its an all-natural mix of antioxidants and other natural compounds and is well-documented to ease joint pain by taming inflammation and it also makes for an effective blood-sugar stabilizer because it improves insulin sensitivity. You can also rub ground coffee on a sore muscle to accelerate healing. Try rubbing 1/2 coffee grounds mixed in 1 cup coconut oil on your sore area. Massage coffee scrubs such as this increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels. Also, coffee contains vitamin K which is an antioxidant that reduces swelling
For a more topical approach, add 2 drops of lavender essential oil to your lotion , especially before you go to bed as the scent of lavender prompts alpha waves in the brain which help reduce muscle aching.
If you struggle a lot with sore legs or cramps, uping your intake of potassium is a sure way to squash leg pain. Vitamin A is also great for reducing pain. According to research in the journal JAMA Surgery, taking 10,000 IU of vitamin A per day significantly reduces pain and inflammation and boosts recovery time by nearly 50%. How does vitamin A do this? The same study found that vitamin A repairs damaged muscle cells by increasing the production of immune cells. And if you are a sun-worshiper like me, and love to run in the middle of the afternoon on a hot, sunny summer day, you can protect your skin by applying topical vitamin A after your run. Vitamin A oil is a wonderful remedy for burnt skin because it is full of anti-oxidants that kill skin-damaging free radicals, thereby decreasing the appearance of age spots and wrinkles.
It’s important to get a good nights rest for recovery, but if you have trouble sleeping, you may need more magnesium in your system, as this mineral was found to increase the ‘sleepy’ hormone, melatonin. Magnesium is also key in regulating bowel movements by stimulating muscle-pumping (peristalsis) in the intestinal tract, helping your waste pass through your pipes more quickly. Magnesium also improves adrenal gland function, helping you feel more energized!
Who doesn’t want to pop out of bed with tons of energy? If you want to feel energized before an early morning run, try spraying your room with lavender mist the night before. According to a British study, folks who slept in a room scented with lavender, woke up feeling 20% happier and with more energy.
The number one important thing for improved running performance is to have the energy to do so. This is why I include supplements with guarana, which is high in uplifting compounds, such as choline and theobromine –found in chocolate and it works by increasing blood flow to the brain — which sharpens your focus and motivation.
Often times during the winter, we get the flu, and during this time, we need to get lots of rest, taking time off of running to recuperate. This is no good for endurance. This is why turmeric with curcumin, a curry spice, is so amazing because research has found that it stops infectious cells from replicating in its tracks! Its anti-inflammatory properties also makes curcumin an excellent candidate for the treatment of osteoarthritis (Henrotin et al. 2013). Another benefit of curcumin, is that like running, it also boosts mood. According to work in the Phytotherapy Research, taking 750 mg of curcumin daily treats bad moods and depression as effectively as anti-depressants. It works by increasing nutrient-rich blood to the brain and also repairs the damage of aging brain cells, helping you think more clearly with less brain fog.
I have a big appetite and I fuel lots before a long run, but, the longer the run, the hungrier I get. To avoid this naturally, Garcinia Cambogia, a citrus fruit extract, was found to be a highly effective and safe appetite suppressant that also speeds the conversion of fat to energy in the liver, and stops emptied fat cells from filling back up.
The secret to building better endurance is in part, having a shorter recovery time, so you can get back out there and push harder and harder and this is what Whey protein powder was deliberately created for! Whey protein powder also nixes sugar cravings, and another big bonus of Whey protein powder is if you are not a morning person, it boosts mood by increasing the ‘happy’ hormone in the brain called serotonin.
If you lack motivation and stamina for running, try this blend of natural compounds of ashwaganda and other fruit and root extracts. It will make a huge difference in your life and running performance because it helps with everything from reducing anxiety to halting sugar cravings to helping you sleep better, too!
Still extremely nervous before a big race? Take a wiff of lemon balm essential oil because it has been proven to work great for inducing relaxation. It helps you relax and recharge by activating calming GABA receptors in the brain that soothes mental tension, stress and it even clears brain fog by increasing acetylcholine. You can also relax before a race by snacking on sunflower seeds because they are high in copper, vitamin E and B6, which collectively help calm your nerves while boosting alertness, according to Researchers at Stanford University.
Instead of cooking with vegetable oil, try cooking with tea seed oil (which is different than
tea tree oil). Tea seed oil has so many more health benefits than other cooking oils. Tea seed oil is high in oleic acid, vitamin E, it has less saturated fats and is also high in EGCG which is a potent anti-inflammatory that helps reduce cell damage.
Another super healthy oil to consider is peanut oil. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and is a smart way of protecting the heart because it reduces inflammation and bad cholesterol, help keeping the heart clear of plaque.
Another way to stop sugar cravings from creeping up is 5-HTP and it does this by also increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which helps crush cravings for sweet foods. Another bonus of increased serotonin is better attentional focus, helping you get in the zone when running.
If you are struggling with a cold or have the tendency to feel sluggish, try taking a blend of detoxisifed iodine and organic orange peel, cilentro and humic acid, because it prevents blood-sugar spikes and cleanses the colon by releasing built-up toxins.
Rhodiola Rosea is another all-natural, safe appetite suppressant that will stop you from getting pre-mature hunger during a run. Take after a meal, and it will extend the feeling of fullness. Even better, taking 500-mg of Rhodiola Rosea boosts energy and mood by allowing the happy hormone, serotonin, to linger around in the body longer, according to researchers at Columbia University. Eating more soybeans is another way to boost serotonin levels because soybeans contain more tryptophan (a building block for serotonin) than turkey, according to USDA researchers.
Even if you are a runner, you can still have high blood pressure. If your stubbornly high blood pressure wont go down, you can try taking CoQ10 supplements daily because its a natural remedy that relaxes the muscles that line the arteries, making your heart more efficient at delivering oxygen-rich blood to nourish the organs and muscles.
If you feel stiff in the morning, green tea tames leg pain. By drinking 3 cups a day will reduce swelling, joint stiffness and muscle pain. Black tea also does a body good by fighting DNA damaging free-radicals and it also lowers the stress hormone known as cortisol. White tea is effective at banishing inflammation and it also keeps your thyroid young. If you are running for weight-loss, white tea can also drive better weight-loss results as its polyphenols acts as a team player for halting blood fats from being shuttled into adipose (fat) tissue, according data in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism.
Another natural way to combat joint aches and pain is with bromelain, which reduces overall inflammation in the body, according to a study in the Journal of International Oral Health.
If your hormone levels and thyroid activity are out of wack, try taking some nascent iodine because it not only flushes out toxins, but it helps stabilize blood-sugar levels, gives you long-lasting sustainable energy and boosts immunity. It also acts as a mild-pain reliever, too!
If you are having tremendous success with running, but are not loosing weight, you are going to lose weight faster by boosting the serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a ‘happy-mood’ neurochemical in the brain that slowly reduces as we age. However, taking poppy seed extract was found to be really helpful with aiding in weight loss because it boosts serotonin production, helping reduce hunger pangs and cravings. Another bonus is it that helps you get a deeper, more restorative sleep, which helps with regulating metabolism.
Garlic is another effective way to tame swelling. It especially reduces harmful inflammation inside blood vessels. Garlic is also heart healthy! It was found to reduce heart disease by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. Another added benefit of garlic is that it gives you energy for running! Taking 400-mg of garlic in the morning was found to boost mental energy, improving mental alertness and thinking that lasts all day!
I love Tulsi tea because it kills two birds with one stone in that it sharpens your focus and knocks-off your pre-race nervousness.
If you wake up feeling irritable and bloated, ginger was found to reduce GI bloating by lowering excess water-weight and gas. For treatment of inflammation, you can also try sipping on some ginger tea. And according to European research, the compounds in ginger reduces pain-triggering inflammation. One study also found that drinking ginger tea improved adrenal gland function which led to reduced inflammation and greater energy levels, too! You can also stop stomach pain and bloating by sipping on some spearmint tea because spearmint contains a highly potent antibacterial that helps combat gastrointestinal upsets, especially excessive gas.
St. Johns wort also reduces indigestion because its active compound increases serotonin, which not only makes you feel happier, it also gets rid of bloating and irritability.
During the winter, upping your zinc intake is a great way to bump up your defenses because zinc may stop the replication of respiratory viruses.
If you are a woman runner that’s nearing menopause and is struggling with hot flashes, try taking genistein supplements, a plant-based compound that was found to significantly reduce hot flashes and night sweats by helping normalize estrogen levels, according to Michelle Neil Sherwood, DO., coauthor of The Quest for Wellness.
To maintain bone health, try IP6 which is a vitamin B-like nutrient that stops bones from thinning and it does this by reducing osteoclasts which are bad cells that destroy bone tissue.
If you struggle with sluggishness, mental fog, trouble getting motivated to run, bacopa herb extract helps with these problems by expanding focus and attention for 8 hours and longer. It also improves mood and motivation, helping you go from being a good runner to a better runner. Another bonus of bacopa herb extract is that you don’t crash with fatigue once it wears off.
Another effective way to prevent brittle bones is by increasing calcium absorption in bone cells and taking vitamin D supplements is one of the best ways to do that. One study found that increasing your vitamin D intake will slash your risk of brittle bones by 33% and it does this by shuttling more calcium to bone cells. Another bonus of vitamin D is that it speeds up weight loss! According to Boston University researchers, taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 can help you lose twice as much weight by reducing fat storage. It works by transporting fat into muscles cells where it is used and burned for energy. Another winning benefit of vitamin D3 is that its necessary for immune support. According to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking 3,000 IU of vitamin D3 can prevent colds by 67%, thanks to the vitamins anti-viral and antibiotic compounds that are more effective than flu shots at preventing illness.
Vitamin D can also relieve stomach problems. Taking 3000 IU vitamin D daily helps prevent serious intestinal problem, such a colitis and Crohns disease. It soothes stomach aches by reducing inflammation, helping improve the digestive tract lining’s function. By the way, vitamin D also keeps your muscles relaxed. According to research in the journal Spine, found that this nutrient helps the body absorb and use muscle relaxing minerals more effectively. On helpful tip from Dutch researchers: taking a Vitamin D3 supplement with 16 oz of water could provide up to 10 hours of feeling pain-free.
Aside from revving your immune system, vitamin C was also found to soothe inflammation. Another benefit of vitamin C is that it reduces stress, so if running doesn’t curb your stress, uping your vitamin C intake will help as it was found to reduce the output of the stress hormone, cortisol.
If you struggle with motivation, vitamin B was found to be an effective mood-booster because it stimulates the release of serotonin (the happy, feel-good neurochemical) in the brain. It’s a great source of revving motivation and happiness!
Calcium is another factor implicated in mood-regulation. If you are continuously in a funk, you may be low on calcium as low calcium levels is linked to depression, especially in women.
If you get a little shaky when you are running, but you’re not hungry, your blood/sugar levels may be a little out of wack. If this is the case, try taking some phytosterol supplements because it enables your body to use sugar properly, and stalls spikes in blood sugar levels.
Another way to stop blood sugar spikes is with carotenoids, which is a nutrient that protects and has healing affects on the pancreas. When your pancreas is healthy, so is your blood sugar levels!
Get nervous before a race? Try sipping on some linden tea, it makes your nerves feel less rattled by calming the autonomic nervous system which is in charge of regulating heart rate and blood pressure.
Sore from running? Add some hemp seeds to your meals because they are loaded with inflammation-fighting fatty acids found in fish. Hemp seeds also sharpen focus, improving concentration. So, take some before a race to really help you get in the zone and less distracted.
For the summer, runners need to protect their skin from sun damage. In addition to wearing sunscreen, taking 320 mg of cocoa flavanols daily helps repair sun-induced skin damage. According to Yoon et al. (2015), cocoa contains skin enhancing anti-oxidants that work by increasing the skins elasticity, repairs UV-damaged skin cells and reverses age-related skin damage via smoothing out the skin and fading wrinkles. Also, flavonoids improves mood, mental clarity and reaction time by increasing blood flow to the brain.
If you need a little boost with mental clarity and focus, try sipping on some dandelion tea before you run. This tea is ultra high in vitamin B, a natural brain force booster and other neuro-chargers such as the healthy unsaturated fat, lecithin, which prevents age-related destruction of neurochemicals involved in memory and learning.
Feeling bummed-out despite all the running you do? Try taking 1000 mg of DLPA, it’s an amino acid that increases dopamine (feel good hormone) in the brain, helping you overcome the blues.
Forgot to wear your sunglasses while running, now you’re stuck with a nasty headache? You can effectively ease your headache by sprinkling some cayenne pepper on your snack, or add some to a pasta meal, smoothie or even lemonade as doing so also enhances flavor. According to Italian researchers, the active ingredient that gives peppers its hotness, calms overactive pain nerves.
I hope you find these healthy recommendations useful, because I really think that all of these recommendations will help you break out of your training plateau.
More From Run Forefoot:
Henrotin et al. Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis: curcumin for osteoarthritis management. Springer Plus, 2013; 2(56): doi: 10.1186/2193-1801-2-56.
Yoon et al. Cocoa Flavanol Supplementation Influences Skin Conditions of Photo-Aged Women: A 24-Week Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial. Jounral of Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/jn.115.217711
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.