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Vitamins and Nutrients for Runners

While nutrition is incredibly important to staying healthy, it isn’t something runners discuss as much as their training runs, paces, distances, upcoming races, and so forth. But it’s something that is important to consider, especially for new runners!

In this article, we’ll cover the important vitamins and nutrients runners need and describe why each vitamin and nutrient is important as well as some foods that it is found in. Then you’ll have an easy cheat sheet anytime you go grocery shopping to know what you need to get!

Vitamins and Nutrients Benefits for Runners

Why Runners Need the Right Vitamins and Nutrients

If you want to stay healthy and injury-free, you need to make sure that your body is getting the nutrients that it needs. Your body turns food into energy, which gives us the ability to run well and hard.

Getting the proper nutrients will ensure that your bones are strong, your body has heightened immunity, and your muscle tissue is repaired. In fact, deficiencies in particular vitamins and nutrients can lead to sub-par workouts.

So if you want to up your fitness game, PR at your race, and run the best that you can, make sure that your body is getting the vitamins it needs!

Why It’s Important to Get Them Through Real Food

As with anything in life, the real option is always better than a fake one. While it is possible (and easier) to take a pill instead of eat a salad, one is much more processed than the other. The better option is obvious!

Plus, if you are getting them through real food, you have to think about what your body needs and plan accordingly. You’re more involved in the process and can tailor your meals to your body’s needs more easily.

Finally, I just think that real food takes better. Sure, I might need to take 4 more minutes to make a salad rather than swallow a pill, but in my mind, the taste and just knowing that it is real is worth it to me!

The Vitamins/Nutrients

There are a variety of vitamins and nutrients that are essential to runners, and we’ll cover them here. This is a great opportunity for you to double-check that you’re getting everything that you need. Maybe you’re great at getting Vitamin C through oranges, but need to up your Vitamin D game.

This list will give you the tools that you need to ensure that your body is well-nourished and properly fueled for your training runs and upcoming races.

Iron

Why It Is Important

Iron is important because it keeps your bones strong and helps your body make myoglobin, a protein that helps your muscles receive oxygen. If you get tired easily and feel like you just can’t make it to the end of your run, you might need some more iron in your diet.

Iron tends to be one of the greatest deficiencies for runners, particularly for females, so it’s worth double-checking to make sure that you have plenty of it in your diet. A runner needs strong bones to pound the pavement!

Common Foods It is Found In

If you like meat, you can try beef, pork, poultry and liver. These all have heme iron, which is easier for the body to consume. However, if you don’t eat meat, try black beans, kidney beans, fortified grains, spinach, raisins, and apricots.

Salad - healthy fitness couple eating food

Magnesium

Why It Is Important

Magnesium plays a lot of different roles. You need it for strong bones, and it also helps regulate a good balance between calcium and vitamin D. In addition, magnesium is important for blood-sugar control, essential for any runner.

Common Foods It is Found In

The best way to get magnesium is through leafy greens like spinach and through many whole grains, seeds, and nuts. You can also find some magnesium in seafood, beans, and dairy products.

If you love guac, you’ll be happy to know that avocados have magnesium, and for you chocolate lovers out there, so does dark chocolate!

Calcium

Why It Is Important

Every child growing up probably knows that calcium is good for strong bones and teeth, but calcium also assists with our muscles and nerves working properly. Calcium also plays a role in blood clotting, and if you’re not getting enough of it, you’ll be at an increased risk for stress fractures.

Common Foods It is Found In

We all know the answer to this one: dairy! Whether that is milk, yogurt, or cheese, you’ll get the most calcium from dairy. If you can’t eat dairy, though, you can also try options like fortified orange juice and leafy greens.

B Vitamins

Why They Are Important

Energy metabolism comes from B vitamins, which include Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B-6, Panthothenic Acid, Biotin, Folate, and B-12. Some of these vitamins help to produce energy during exercise while others produce red blood cells and repair tissue.

Common Foods They Are Found In

You can find B vitamins in enriched and whole grains as well as meat, nuts, dairy, and green vegetables. Eggs, beans, and peas will also help you get all the B vitamins that you need.

Vitamin D

Why It Is Important

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and helps your bones to grow stronger, but many people are lacking in vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to a lowered immune system, meaning that it is harder for your body to fight off infections.

Common Foods It is Found In

Obviously, sunlight is the best way to get vitamin D, but we’re talking about foods, so you should consider eating eggs and fish (salmon, tuna, and cod) and drinking plenty of milk, especially in the winter when there isn’t as much sunlight.

Potassium

Why It Is Important

We don’t talk about potassium very much, but it’s very important for your health. It can assist in reducing your chances of stroke. It’s also good at controlling blood pressure and water retention. Finally, it can fight against osteoporosis and kidney stones.

Common Foods It is Found In

You can get potassium from a variety of different foods from beet greens and kale (on the more adventurous side) to peas, salmon, sweet potatoes, avocados, portobello mushrooms, white potatoes, pinto beans, and yams. Bananas are probably the source of potassium that is most common to people.

Sodium

Why It Is Important

Your body needs sodium, just healthy levels of it, and this is especially important for runners who lose sodium through sweating. You want to keep just enough sodium or salt in your body that you’re topped off but not too much that it’s bad for your body.

Common Foods It is Found In

You might want to try pretzels, salted almonds or other nuts, cheese, or black olives to get healthier forms of sodium. Obviously, you can find plenty of sodium in processed foods, but the key is to get enough sodium and not go overboard.

vitamins for runnersVitamin C

 

Why It Is Important

Vitamin C is good for many things—keeping your gums, bones, and blood vessels healthy, helping you heal and recover from wounds more quickly, and helping your body to resist infections and illnesses.

Common Foods It is Found In

Most commonly, vitamin C is found in citrus fruits like oranges, limes, grapefruit, and lemons. However, if you have acid reflux or something else that doesn’t allow you to eat citrus, like my sister, there are other alternatives.

You can also find vitamin C in strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, sweet red peppers, and kiwi. And of course in orange juice, although you should be careful about the sugar content.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also find vitamin C in guava, papaya, pineapple, mango, and Brussel sprouts. As a tip, you’ll get all the vitamin C you need in a day plus some in less than ½ cup of guava.

Vitamin E

Why It Is Important

Vitamin E serves a variety of purposes: it is an antioxidant, so it can assist in aging, it also helps the body in keeping the immune system strong and forming red blood cells. By working as an antioxidant, it helps protect tissue from damage.

Common Foods It is Found In

You can find vitamin E in almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, oils, avocados, spinach, and butternut squash. Typically, it is found in four broad categories: vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.

As a tip, sunflower seeds are the best way to get vitamin E, but if you’re more of a PB&J type person, you can also use peanut butter!

Zinc

Why It Is Important

If you want to protect your immune system, improve your energy, and help to build and repair your muscle tissue, you need zinc!

Common Foods It is Found In

You can find zinc in red meat and dark meat poultry, but if you don’t eat meat, you can also try raw oysters (not my favorite anyway!) or whole grains and enriched grains.

Related: Foods to reduce inflammation

In the end, getting the proper vitamins and nutrients is an important step for your training plan. You want to make sure that you have the energy you need and that your body is prepared to fight off illnesses and injuries. You can do that by making sure that you’re eating the right food!

The Wired Runner