The use of sports nutrition supplements among runners has increased steadily in the last few years as research demonstrates their benefits. However, sports nutrition supplements are not all created equal - so which are worth taking, and which are a waste of time and money?
Do you need sports supplements?
Probably the most popular type of sports nutrition supplement among runners is the ubiquitous sports drink. You see everyone drinking them, from super fit athletes to little old ladies puttering around the gym once a week. So do you need them? Typically, no.
Sports drinks are well marketed, but they are, in essence, sugared water. And while they typically also include essential minerals such as potassium and sodium, chances are you aren't deficient in these minerals. Most experts reckon that unless your workout is going to last over an hour, there is no need to drink sports drinks - they are just extra calories you probably don't need.
Another popular supplement among athletes is protein shakes. Whether you buy the protein powder and mix your own, or buy ready made protein shakes, these are a good way to supplement your protein intake while not adding any extra carbs to your diet. Many experts believe that athletes can be protein deficient, so adding some extra protein to your diet makes sense, particularly if you are also doing other forms of training such as weights.
If you are supplementing with protein shakes, the best form of protein for most people is whey protein - it digests quickly and has numerous health benefits. If you buy shakes from a shop, watch out for the sugar content. Loading them up with sugar somewhat takes away the point of a lower carb supplement!
Finally, there are the various supplements such as creatine and beta-alanine that strength training athletes take - are they of benefit to endurance athletes such as runners? The jury is still out on that one - while they do add muscle mass if you are doing resistance training, some studies have shown an increase in endurance.
If you are training for long races such as a marathon or a triathlon, they may benefit you.