As most runners and endurance athletes can attest, injury prevention during training is just as important as the training itself. When you put in long, hard hours on the road or in the pool, your body goes through an immense amount of repetitive stress.
So what can you do to prevent running injuries (or any overuse injury for that matter)?
Over time and many miles, overuse injuries become all too common. While not all injuries are preventable, there are some steps you can take with your diet to make sure your body stays in tip top shape for injury prevention.
As you train for the next big race, injury prevention should become a part of your training regiment. It’s also an important thing to think about if you want to enjoy your endurance sports into an older age.
To help support you as you integrate more beneficial supplements and nutrients into your life, we’ve put together a list of the top seven supplements and micronutrients for injury prevention in endurance athletes.
Before we jump right to the list though, let’s talk about how nutrition is tied to injury prevention in the first place.
Nutrition and injury prevention
As an endurance athlete, your nutrition and diet play a major role in your overall health.
Most experts recommend a whole foods diet that is rich in fiber, micronutrients, macronutrients, and your daily calorie count.
While supplements can be very beneficial in your sports nutrition, they should not be seen as a replacement for a healthy, balanced whole foods diet. As the name “supplement” suggests, they are meant to supplement and enhance your diet.
While no two athletes will have the exact same diet that works for their needs, a well balanced diet should include grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.
On average, most athletes eat around 50-60% complex carbohydrates (not refined, so these include unprocessed grains, vegetables, and fruits), 20-30% healthy fats (not saturated), and 15-20% proteins. This is also known as the 50-30-20 meal plan.
As more research comes out regarding the effectiveness of this type of diet for athletes, weight management, and diabetes medical nutrition therapy, it has gained popularity in the fitness industry.
The 50-30-20 diet is far less restrictive than other types of dietary lifestyles (i.e., keto) and provides your body with the necessary nutrients needed for things like injury prevention. It is also a diet that supports general nutrition for runners and other long distance athletes.
Now that you understand how diet and nutrition affect your athletic performance and health, let’s dive into the seven best supplements and micronutrients to take for injury prevention.
7 supplements and micronutrients that may help with injury prevention
Before adding additional supplements to your diet, be sure to consult your doctor. Drastic changes in your diet (especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have underlying conditions, or take prescription medications) can have adverse effects.
Additionally, these supplements are not meant to replace any nutrients you get from the food you eat. Remember, a balanced diet can include supplements, but it should consist primarily of whole foods.
When used to enhance an already well-balanced diet, here are our top recommendations for keeping you at the top of your game.
1. Vitamin C
It is widely known that vitamin C can help boost your immune system, but did you know that vitamin C is an essential part of your body’s natural collagen production?
Since vitamin C helps your body synthesize collagen, it strengthens your connective tissues, which means it can be an integral part of your injury prevention plan (we’ll detail collagen a bit more later).
Beyond it’s boost to your collagen production, vitamin C may also provide your body with additional antioxidants and have some anti-inflammatory properties. This can help not only with injury prevention, but with injury recovery as well.
There are several foods that give you easy access to vitamin C, especially when following a whole food diet. Some foods high in vitamin C include:
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
- Tropical fruits
You can also add a vitamin C supplement to your diet, but if you are already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, you likely are consuming enough vitamin C through your diet.
2. Magnesium and zinc
Magnesium may help improve bone strength and, since it contains several amino acids, can help your body with protein synthesis as well. Magnesium is also a part of your body’s muscle contraction and relaxation, which suggests that it may help support healthy muscle movement.
You can take magnesium supplements, but you can also get plenty through whole foods like:
- Black-eyed peas
- Potato skins
- Brown rice
Zinc may play a role in wound healing, tissue repair, and tissue growth because of the contents of enzymes and proteins. All of these factors make zinc an important nutrient for injury prevention in athletes.
Getting enough zinc in your daily diet often isn’t difficult if you eat the right things. You can take a zinc supplement, and that may be necessary, especially if you follow a plant-based diet. Zinc is found in whole foods, including:
- Pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas)
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
Joint injuries are among the most common sports injuries out there, especially for runners and endurance athletes. Since that is the case, it makes sense to include glucosamine in your diet, especially as you age.
Glucosamine is naturally found in the fluid surrounding your joints. It is necessary for the creation of other connective tissues in the joint structure, including your tendons, cartilage, and ligaments.
While your body can produce glucosamine naturally, if you are someone that uses your joints a lot and is at high risk of overuse, adding a glucosamine supplement to your diet could be beneficial in injury prevention.
Keep in mind that most glucosamine supplements are made from shellfish and would not be suitable for a plant-based diet or people with shellfish allergies and iodine sensitivities. However, some glucosamine is made from fermented corn. Please read the labels carefully.
4. Vitamin D and calcium
It may be common knowledge that we need calcium to build strong bones, but we also need vitamin D to help with calcium absorption, which is why they are grouped together.
Other than bone and teeth health, calcium is also considered a vital part of your muscle contractions and your body’s nerve signaling system. There are several calcium rich foods that allow you to reach calcium nutritional needs through your diet, including:
- Calcium-fortified tofu
- Plant milks
- Leafy greens
As mentioned, vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and therefore may be helpful in injury prevention. You can get a fair amount of vitamin D from sun exposure, and your body is able to store vitamin D for later use. That means that you can’t really have too much of it!
However, if you live in a climate that has limited sunshine, you may need to supplement your vitamin D during parts of the year.
Several animal products such as liver, oily fish, egg yolks, and red meat may also contain some level of vitamin D. Other foods, like breakfast cereals, may also be fortified with vitamin D.
5. Omega fatty acids
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids and other omega fatty acids may help your body reduce inflammation, which is a common symptom many endurance athletes experience in their joints.
Many omega-3s can be found in foods including:
- Chia seeds
Omega-6s can be found in foods such as:
- Sunflower seeds and oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
If you are worried that you do not have enough omega fatty acids in your diet, you can supplement with algae pills or fish oil.
If you are an endurance athlete though, some studies have suggested that after a sports injury, a diet too high in omega-3s may inhibit your ability to build back muscle mass. That said, it may be better to try and get more omega-3 fatty acids from your diet than supplements.
Fiber is an important part of any balanced diet, and that includes a diet focused on injury prevention. Most fiber-rich foods include several nutrients, including vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc, which were all already mentioned for the possible injury prevention properties.
Some fiber-rich foods to include in your diet are:
- Whole grains
7. Collagen peptides and other proteins
Protein has been the reigning champ in sports nutrition for a long time, and for good reason! Protein rich diets may help athletes maintain and build lean muscle mass. While protein has long been seen as a good way to build muscle, it may also help with injury prevention as well.
All proteins, including collagen, contain necessary amino acids that act as the building blocks for connective tissues in your body. Since many sports injuries involve connective tissues, proteins become an essential component during any type of sports injury treatment and injury prevention.
Depending on your diet, getting enough of the right type of protein can be difficult, and that can weaken certain areas of your body, like your connective tissues. Some research has suggested that because your body’s natural collagen production declines with age, your chance of exercise-induced injury may increase.
As your natural collagen production decreases, the collagen that you make is delegated to vital organs like your heart, blood vessels, and brain. Other parts of your body like your skin, cartilage, and joint structures may be shorted in their collagen supply.
The lack of collagen sent to these important connective tissues may be part of the reason that older athletes tend to be more susceptible to injury.
Adding high-quality, easily absorbable proteins to your diet then makes sense. When your body has the apportioned amount of amino acids to restructure into necessary proteins like collagen, your connective tissues may be stronger and able to rebuild after an injury faster.
Protein is also an important part of post workout recovery.
The type of protein you are consuming does matter though. If you are specifically looking for a protein that can help with injury prevention, then collagen peptides may be the best option for you.
As with most supplements, not all collagen supplements are created equally. Look for collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen, or nano-hydrolyzed collagen specifically because it has a much better absorption rate or is more bioavailable.
Frog Fuel liquid collagen protein is one of the highest quality collagen supplements on the market today, and is digestible in just 15 minutes! As a nano-hydrolyzed collagen, it is easy to absorb, and we included digestive enzymes to make it gentle on your stomach.
Frog Fuel collagen supplements are actually a complete protein supplement. That’s because they are fortified with the amino acids that collagen normally lacks. If you are looking for the best supplements for injury prevention, Frog Fuel is great to have on your list.