While a person runs, hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline use oxygen to stimulate muscle tissue. When a runner inhales, oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream from the lungs. Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, carry proteins called hemoglobin that are responsible for transporting oxygen to muscles. If muscles do not receive enough oxygen, their performance suffers. Runners need to maximize their oxygen intake and processing to avoid muscle cramps, injury and tissue damage.
Iron serves as a key mineral in the protein hemoglobin. Without hemoglobin, the red blood cell cannot transport sufficient oxygen throughout the body. Low iron, a condition called anemia, leads to fatigue, shortness of breath and lower physical ability. Anemia remains prevalent in women who undergo menstrual cycles, as bleeding causes low iron. By taking iron supplements, a female runner can ensure proper oxygen transport both during and after exertion.
Vitamin B often contributes to the health of red blood cells and oxygen transport. For example, vitamin B6 helps the production of oxygen-carrying proteins. Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell maintenance and neural health. Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is another popular supplement that increases the body's processing time of oxygen while running. Vitamin B supplements prove especially important for female runners, since contraceptives may deplete the body's natural vitamin B reservoirs.
Vasodilators are supplements that widen the walls of arteries. During exertion, wider artery walls enable faster transport of blood and faster intake of oxygen. A number of supplements that have been advertised as vasodilators include theobromine and vinburnine. Arginine produces nitric acid in the cell, which athletes use to increase blood flow, oxygen intake and performance. In a study by The Journal of Nutrition, supplement combinations using arginine greatly improved the blood's capacity to carry oxygen. However, studies by the International Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that a lone vasodilator like nitric acid cannot increase athletic performance.
Magnesium is a popular supplement used for many reasons. Magnesium orotate, for example, can improve the runner's oxygen intake by maintaining a proper balance in muscle cells, and permitting appropriate contraction of the lungs. The supplement also removes lactic acid buildup and prevents muscle cramps. Magnesium is lost through sweat, and deficiencies develop quickly in serious runners. In fact, some doctors have prescribed athletes magnesium supplements for muscle cramps.
- TeachPE.com: Oxygen Debt and Recovery
- Mayo Clinic: Iron Supplement
- Oregon State University: B-Vitamins Play an Important Role in Athletic Performance
- Better Nutrition Magazine: Magnesium: The Missing Link to Better Health
- Los Angeles Times: What Can Nitric Oxide Do For Me?
- Elmhurst College: Oxygen Transport
Jacob Broadley has been a writer since 2008. He has a Bachelor of Science in cellular biology from the University of Louisville and is pursuing his M.D. from the American University of the Caribbean.