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6 Nutritional Power Players for Healthy Runners

Getting the right vitamins and minerals is imperative to running and feeling your best. Here's six powerful players.

Getting the right vitamins and minerals is a vital part of proper running nutrition to help prevent injuries and maintain healthy energy levels.

No matter how much training you do, it’s only as good as the nutrition you have to support it. Zero in on these five power players to keep your body strong and healthy so that you can run and feel your best.

Vitamin C

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Our bodies don’t produce these, so it’s essential to incorporate them into the diet on a daily basis. Vitamin C helps to maintain cartilage and bone tissues, and it also builds proteins for scar tissue, blood vessels, collagen, skin and tendons. Vitamin C also helps prevent damage to amino acids and glucose, both of which are important to athletic performance, and facilitates the production of norepinephrine, which is essential to the nervous system.

Because its an antioxidant, Vitamin C protects the body from free radical damage that can result from high-intensity and aerobic workouts. Berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, goji berries), cherries, lemons, oranges, sprouts, spinach, peppers and broccoli are all food sources packed full of Vitamin C and other antioxidants.

Vitamin A

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Foods rich in vitamin A—such as sweet potatoes, carrots and squash—are important for white blood cell production. Although the body produces white blood cells to prevent foreign substances from infecting the body, they also play an important role in nutrition for runners for maintaining a healthy immune system and keeping the body functioning at its best.


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It is critical for runners to have enough iron in their system in order to get oxygen to their working muscles. This is because hemoglobin proteins within the red blood cells that bind oxygen are partially made up of iron. Put simply, iron is essential for the body’s metabolism and oxygen transport system to function properly—and this is especially important in an activity like running. Another reason runners especially need to focus on iron is because when their feet strike the ground when running, part of the red blood cell supply is destroyed via impact force. The red blood cells are constantly being renewed and need iron for the process.

Iron is the most common nutritional disorder in the world, particularly among women. According to the CDC, men need at least 8 mg per day while women up to age 50 who are not pregnant or breastfeeding need 18 mg daily. But if you’re a runner you likely need more. You can get iron through red meat, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, beets, lentils, and spinach, among other sources. You can also take an iron supplement.

Calcium and Zinc

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Calcium is also an electrolyte that contributes to muscle function and hydration. It is also crucial to bone maintenance and formation. Notably, calcium needs vitamin D to be properly absorbed. You can find calcium in lentils, almonds, dairy, eggs and collard greens are all good sources of this important nutrient.

Zinc helps maintain the immune system as well as break down fats and proteins for the body’s use. In fact, zinc deficiency has been linked to increased injury rates. Zinc can be found in red meats, shellfish, sprouted nuts and seeds. Ideally, these minerals should be consumed through whole foods rather than taken in supplemental form.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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Our bodies can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. But omega-3s are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch, and instead we must get them from food. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate inflammation. (Inflammation leads to the breakdown of the body’s immune system and the destruction of its building blocks for athletic performance.)

Maintaining a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from sources like fish oils, flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds and cold-water fish can help off-set that inflammation. Grass-fed beef is also a good source of omega-3, but it’s important to take in plenty of protein from other sources such as chicken and eggs, and plant-based sources like beans, in order to offset the breakdown and inflammation that occurs during and after running.


From Women’s Running