Six Nutrients Runners Need to be Aware of

February 19, 2019
Running. Is. Awesome.

It releases endorphins. It takes us to our happy place. It gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. But when we are tired and stressed, getting to this place of freedom can seem like a constant uphill run. 

It’s not you. You may be suffering from Nutrient Deficiencies that can leave you feeling like you are never going to be able to climb out of the ditch.  With a few simple tweaks, you can be up and running towards your goals again.

Runners often ask me, which nutrients do they need most? Here is the run down on Six Nutrients Runners Need:

Vitamin C.

We have all heard of Scurvy. Scurvy is a severe version of Vitamin C deficiency that is not commonly seen in North America. However, a Vitamin C deficiency can occur as part of general undernutrition or illness. If you have experienced any of the following lately, your bodies need for Vitamin C may have increased: fever, inflammation, diarrhea, stress from extreme temperatures and sunburns. Smoking, hyperthyroidism and iron deficiency can also increase these demands.

  • What runners should look for: Symptoms of deficiency may include fatigue, irritability, depression, impaired wound healing, gingivitis and muscle pains[i].
Vitamin D.

Runners love to get outside. The reality of a Canadian Winter is we may be pushed inside to the treadmill more than we like. As I am writing this, it is -18 and a healthy snowstorm is in the works – Not an ideal day for running.    

Lower Vitamin D levels may contribute to decreased performance and impaired immune function. Keep in mind, that genetic and environmental factors also influence our Vitamin D levels[ii]. There is also a misconception that running outdoors guarantees you satisfactory Vitamin D levels. This fat-soluble vitamin has many other factors that can influence its absorption, including Magnesium which we will talk about below.

  • What runners should look for: Getting Stress Fractures? Vitamin D is important for runners as this vitamin supports bone health. Research shows that vitamin D deficiency plays a role in stress injuries and fractures.
Vitamin E.

Vitamin E is also a fat-soluble vitamin. Therefore, dieting and eating diets low in fat may exacerbate low Vitamin E levels. Women who run longer distances are more susceptible to deficiencies[iii].  

  • What runners should look for: Interestingly, this Vitamin can be deficient in women who have irregular periods. Low Vitamin E levels can also have an impact on those trying to conceive.

Amenorrhea, or lack of a period, is common in women who engage in intense exercise regimes. However, a study conducted during the 2015 London Marathon found that 1/3 of the participants suffered from a heavy period – despite the increased training load. Only 22% of the runners found to have heavy periods sought medical advice[iv]. Ladies, this a huge red flag. If something is off, we need to pay attention. It turns out heavy periods are more common than we thought.  The increased flow can contribute to a condition called iron deficiency anemia. These irregularities are symptoms. They should and can be treated. 

  • What runners should look for: Iron depletion could affect the ability to train and recover from strenuous runs. Common deficiency symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, reduced mood and energy levels. This can have a negative impact on quality of life and productivity[v]

Magnesium is an electrolyte that can be lost when we sweat. The “Standard American Diet” (notice how the acronym is ironically “SAD”), has been noted to contain only about 50 percent of our magnesium recommendations[vi]. Yikes, that’s pretty low, especially when considering all of the amazing things magnesium can do in our body including regulating hormones, helping you sleep and preventing muscle cramps.

  • What runners should look for: Muscle twitches, spasms and cramping can indicate a deficiency. Heavy exercisers may experience a buildup of lactic acid, shin splints and painful muscles during and after exercise.

A zinc deficiency can be difficult to detect. Women who are dieting or carbo loading may be susceptible to a zinc deficiency. Loading up on carbs while limiting protein and fat contributes to deficient levels of zinc[vii]Those who are switching over to becoming vegetarian tend to gravitate to carb heavy diets until they learn how to properly balance their diets.

  • What runners should look for: In runners, a zinc deficiency can lead to a loss of appetite resulting in a significant loss in bodyweight, fatigue with decreased endurance and a risk of osteoporosis[viii].  Frequent colds and infections can be a sign your zinc status is off.

How can you tell if you are deficient in one of these Nutrients?

Test. Naturopathic Doctors have access to epic tests that provide unique insight to your individual code. Identifying deficiencies can be a catalyst to your energy and how you and your body respond to your running program. 

Take Home Note: Remember, having a running schedule or training program is a must to improve your distance or time.  What many of us forget is that is only a part of what makes you successful. Ensuring you are absorbing your nutrients and your organ systems are functioning in an optimal window will be what drives you to the Runners Dream place.

If you found any of this information useful, share it with a friend who you think may be heading towards a deficiency. If you are suspecting a deficiency in yourself, let’s test. Click on the link below to book your appointment.  Don’t worry if you are in your off season.  This is the ideal time to support your health to start your season off with a bang.  Together, we will identify your deficiencies and create an individualized powerful protocol to give you relief from your symptoms.  I am here to guide you in your journey to becoming STRONGER INSIDE.










Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence-based practice with a focus on sports and performance-based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation. In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!


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