Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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The four all-time best supplements for runners

Sodium citrate, caffeine, sodium bicarbonate and carbohydrates. Going by the evidence in published studies, these are the best supplements that runners can use to enhance their performance. Sports scientists from California State University at Chico will soon publish their findings in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

For their literature study Matthew Schubert and Todd Astorino tracked down 60 studies in which runners tried to improve their times by taking supplements. In the end the researchers were able to use 23 of these for their analysis. They wanted to provide runners and their trainers with a list of tried-and-tested supplements for runners and they could expect from the supplements. The figure at the bottom of the page summarises the studies they used.

Runners should take 30 g of simple carbohydrates in the form of a sports drink every 60 minutes while running. This quantity is enough for runs that last 1-2 hours. For runs lasting 2-3 hours the amount of carbohydrates can go up to 60 g every half hour. And for runs that last longer than 3 hours an intake of 90 g carbohydrates per half hour gives good results.

In second place comes sodium bicarbonate, a supplement that can improve times of runners who do distances from 400-1500 m. Runners obtain good results with a dose of 0.3 g sodium bicarbonate per kg bodyweight. This dose can be dissolved in 7 ml liquid per kg bodyweight. The runners can drink the liquid two hours before the run, preferably accompanied by a high-carbohydrate meal.

In third place of the Top Four Runners' Supplements comes caffeine. For distances between 1500 and 5000 m doses of over 3 mg caffeine per kg bodyweight improve times by 1.1 percent. The best time to take the supplement is one hour before the run.

Bringing up the rear in the Top Four is sodium citrate. Runners who take 0.5 g sodium citrate per kg bodyweight two hours before a run can expect to reduce their middle-distance times by 0.3 percent. Sodium citrate works in the same way as sodium carbonate. It's also milder on the stomach, but causes a temporary increase in weight.

"In summary, more research is needed on female runners and recreational runners, who represent the majority of competitors in road racing", the researchers conclude. "The use of multiple supplements to attain a synergistic effect remains a relatively unexplored area of ergogenic aid research. Research in this area is important, because combining supplements such as caffeine and carbohydrate is a common practice for endurance athletes."

J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Aug 10. [Epub ahead of print].

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