Should female runners take supplements?

There are so many supplements on the market aimed at runners, but for optimal health and fitness, do we really need any of them?

Dr Dawn Harper NHS GP, presenter on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies and author of the Iron Report, says:

“Female athletes need to keep their immune system in peak condition to avoid winter viruses. Supplementing with vitamin C and zinc may help, while omega 3 supplements are good for joint and heart health for anyone not eating enough oily fish. There’s also evidence that female athletes with suboptimal iron levels may have reduced exercise endurance and performance.

A recent study and Cornell University looked at 42 women with low iron levels. Half the group was given a daily iron supplement, the other half a placebo, and all given the same exercise programme. All women showed an improvement in endurance performance, but it was 10 percent better in the iron group.

Iron is an essential mineral, which plays an important role in the metabolism of energy, cognitive and immune function and the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin. Daily iron requirements depend on age, gender and activity level, but women of menstruating age require a daily intake of 14.8mg per day. Yes, it should be possible to get this iron from our diets, but the truth is many people don’t achieve that intake.

If your iron levels are low, it may be time to talk to a GP or pharmacist about an iron supplement.”


Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist of five years who works for Chemist Click, says:

“I’m not a huge fan of most supplements, especially those said to ‘enhance physical performance.’ Certain vitamin-based supplements are beneficial, such as iron tablets, folic acid for those who are pregnant, and vitamin D for those who are deficient. But a majority of others don’t benefit us in the way they are marketed.

If the research and evidence was strong enough to prove supplements were beneficial for our health, they would be available on the NHS. But they’re not. For example, vitamin C has been widely marketed to help boost the immune system. But multiple clinical trials have shown it doesn’t help to cure or prevent the common cold. I’m also yet to find any evidence that vitamin B complex helps to boost energy levels.

Your body requires vitamins and minerals in balance, and that comes from a good diet. An excessive amount of anything is bad for you, and overloading your body with supplements is likely to cause health defects. Fat burners and pre-workouts are a definite no-go. A lot of them contain unhealthy amounts of caffeine and stimulants that can increase blood pressure, headaches and insomnia.

A well-balanced diet is likely to provide your body with all the goodness it requires to function optimally.”


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