Am I Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Am I Getting Enough Vitamin D?

In our most recent series, we explored why you might be low in iron, how to tell, and what to do about it. Now let’s look at another vital micronutrient: vitamin D. Like iron, it’s essential for performance and health, and yet many people are chronically deficient. Keep reading to learn which functions vitamin D performs, what happens when your levels dip, and how to get them back up again.

What does Vitamin D do for me?

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium and phosphate from our intestines and then helps to regulate their storage & blood concentrations throughout our body, making it essential for the formation of new bone and the preservation of existing skeletal mass. Without enough Vitamin D, our bones can become brittle. Vitamin D is also involved in both innate and adaptive immunity, according to a team of British and Canadian researchers. It’s also involved in cardiovascular health and has a neuroprotective effect on the brain.

Why are so many of us Vitamin D deficient & how common is it?

It’s arguable that vitamin D is the most prevalent micronutrient deficiency. While many other vitamins and minerals can be consumed through a well-rounded diet, vitamin D’s production is mainly prompted by exposure to direct sunlight, and specifically UVB rays. We’ll look at some food sources in a moment, but Vitamin D is not prevalent in the foods we eat most often.  Combine that with the fact that American adults spend the majority of their time indoors, and it’s little wonder that up to 90 percent of the population is vitamin D deficient, per a paper published in Frontiers in Physiology.

I mostly train outside. Won't I get enough Vitamin D?

One would assume yes, but the research on vitamin D shows that even people who are active in sunny, warm climates have a high rate of deficiency. This is particularly prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere during winter, as the weak sun, cloudy weather, and early sunset conspire to keep us from synthesizing enough vitamin D. Plus, if you’re training in cold wintry conditions, you’re most likely layering up and covering parts of your body – like your hands and head – that are open to the sun at other times of year. Or, if you’re always running before the sun comes up, no Vitamin D production there. So just running outdoors might not be cutting it from a vitamin D standpoint.

How do I know if my Vitamin D is too low? What should my level be?

Vitamin D deficiency often has no symptoms at all. Symptoms may include fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, or mood changes. As some of these can be linked to other issues and multi-factorial, I often encourage my athletes to get a blood panel that includes serum vitamin D. I typically recommend that my athletes target 40 ng/mL or more. Anecdotally, around 75 percent of my athletes tested who are not supplementing have low Vitamin D. 

How can low Vitamin D impact my health & performance?

Insufficient vitamin D puts you at greater risk of getting sick and could prolong certain symptoms, which is not helpful from a performance standpoint. If you have a bone injury, it may take longer to heal if you have insufficient levels of Vitamin D. But perhaps the most concerning side effect of low vitamin D is the elevated incidence of stress fractures. 

A study of 802 NCAA Division 1 male and female athletes discovered that they increased their risk of stress fracture by 12% when their serum vitamin D was lower than 20 ng/mL and/or they didn’t take a vitamin D supplement, when compared to those whose serum vitamin D levels were >40 ng/mL and athletes with low vitamin D who were supplementing. The authors wrote that “Low vitamin D levels along with high-intensity athletic training may put an athlete at increased risk for a stress fracture.”

What can I do to increase my Vitamin D level?

If you know or suspect that you’re lacking in vitamin D, researchers from the University of Wyoming suggest a three-part strategy. First, try to get outside in direct sunlight for 5-30 minutes between 10 am and 3 pm as often as possible, as this is the easiest way to stimulate your body’s production. Skip the sunscreen for this short duration and try to get your sun session at least twice a week. (Note: We are not suggesting to skip your sunscreen altogether – as little as 5 minutes per day can help improve Vitamin D levels. If you are at high risk for skin cancer or have other skin conditions, this may not be an option for you, please consult your physician.) You can also try to eat more salmon, mackerel, tuna, and other oily fish, along with plenty of eggs (don’t toss the yolks!). As a bonus, these all provide inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Animal foods like these contain D3, the most readily absorbed form, as do some fortified products like milk and cereal. Plant-based sources include leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, and mushrooms, but these are in the D2 form, which has less bioavailability. 

Even the richest food sources are unlikely to supply the consistent amount of vitamin D you need, which is where a third tactic becomes useful: supplementation. 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day is a solid starting point. Your doctor or dietitian might recommend more, depending on your situation. The NCAA researchers noted that if you’re low in vitamin D, supplementation helps elevate serum levels and reduces the risk of stress fracture. 

1. Emma L Bishop et al, “Vitamin D and Immune Regulation: Antibacterial, Antiviral, Anti-Inflammatory,” JBMR Plus, September 2020, available online at 2.Igor Bendik et al, “Vitamin D: A Critical and Essential Micronutrient for Human Health,” Frontiers in Physiology, July 2014, available online at 3.David Millward et al, “Association of Serum Vitamin D Levels and Stress Fractures in Collegiate Athletes,” Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, December 2020, available online at 4.Kentz S Willis et al, “Should We Be Concerned About the Vitamin D Status of Athletes?” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, April 2008, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Hydration Tips for Winter

Hydration Tips for Winter

Wherever you are in your running journey right now, it’s important that you’re hydrating adequately. For those who live in a climate with chilly winter months, hydration this time of year isn’t top of mind for most people. But, if you’re going to get the gains you want and recover well, it’s essential. Let’s roll through some best practices for keeping your hydration on point while it’s chilly outside.

Why is it hard to stay hydrated in the winter?

When you’re working out in hot and/or humid weather, getting enough fluids and replenishing your electrolytes can be tricky because of the conditions and the amount you’re sweating. But at least the need to hydrate is pretty obvious because of what you feel and observe about your body, and to keep you alive, your body’s thirst mechanism is finely attuned when it’s warm. But when the mercury plunges, you probably don’t feel hot and clammy and can’t see the sweat on your skin, so you’re without the usual cues that prompt you to drink. 

A team of researchers from the University of New Hampshire found that during moderate exercise (at around 50 percent of VO2 max) and at rest in the cold, participants’ thirst sensation dropped off by up to 40 percent, which they speculated might be because of peripheral blood vessels constricting. In other words, drink to thirst tactics that serve you well for the rest of the year aren’t as effective during winter.

Do I need to drink less in cold weather?

At first glance, it might be tempting to look at the winter thirst study and think that maybe the people involved were just using way less water. But in fact, the typical recommendations for around three liters of fluid intake per day that the National Academies of Sciences outlined (while noting that this is merely the median in their data and that individuals’ needs vary based on activity level, bodyweight, and other factors) hold true all year long. Sure, you might not be sweating as much as at the peak of summer, but exercise still drains your fluid reservoir and you need enough water to also preserve the function of your nervous, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and other systems during daily life.

How do I know how my fluid needs change in cold weather?

For many athletes, it should be enough to know that although you don’t feel or see sweat as obviously when it’s cold, you’re still sweating and internally, your body is using fluid just like it does in warmer weather. But maybe you like to quantify your physiology and training and want to explore your own seasonal hydration variations. In which case, you could use a simple sweat rate calculator like the one on my website to dig a little deeper. Or if you have a continuous hydration monitoring device such as an hDrop, you could use this during your runs, rides, and gym workouts to objectively measure your sweat rate and composition. 

Also take into account that the amount you sweat and how many electrolytes you lose can be altered by many factors, per a paper published in Sports Medicine. Whether you’re training outside on roads, trails, or a track or inside on a treadmill will likely make a difference, as will your layering strategy when you’re outdoors, the volume and intensity of your training, and other factors. The key is to experiment with all these variables and then dial in your fluid intake accordingly to ensure you’re getting enough fluid.

If I don't want to measure sweat rate, how much should I drink?

You might not want to take it as far as quantifying your winter hydration needs. In which case, following a few generic rules of thumb may be sufficient. Here are some best practices I suggest to my clients: 

  • Start your day with 16 oz of fluid like water, coffee, tea, or a sports drink (or a combination of these)
  • Keep a water bottle full of fluid with you throughout the day
  • Drink water with meals and snacks
  • Take fluid with you on runs lasting over 1 hour 
  • Rehydrate after runs and workouts

Remember that these are merely guidelines and be sure to adjust them based on what’s working well and what needs to be tweaked. You’ll know you’re not getting enough fluids if your performance drops off, you struggle to bounce back between sessions, or you start feeling off in general. In addition to drinking plenty of water and using your usual sports drinks before, during, and after longer lifting and endurance sessions, you can also top up your fluid levels through your diet. Most fruit and vegetables have a high water content, making them the perfect complement to your winter hydration strategy.

1.Robert W Kenefick et al, “Thirst Sensations and AVP Responses at Rest and During Exercise-Cold Exposure,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, September 2004, available online at 2.National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2015), available online at 3.Lindsay B Baker, “Sweating Rate and Sweat Sodium Concentration in Athletes: A Review of Methodology and Intra/Interindividual Variability,” Sports Medicine, March 2017, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

1-on-1 vs. Group Nutrition Coaching

1-on-1 vs. Group Nutrition Coaching: Which One is Right for Me?

In the previous two parts of this series, we shared how to enjoy holiday foods to the fullest and why the off-season is the best time to focus on your body composition goals. While we hope these articles and other content is helpful, sometimes you might want to dive deeper into optimizing nutrition to improve your performance, health, or both. In which case, expert coaching from a sports dietitian would be the way to go. Let’s take a look at the differences between 1-on-1 and group nutrition coaching.

How can I benefit from nutrition coaching?

A lot of clients come to me when they’ve decided to commit to training and racing and have big goals. This could be a new thing for them, and they might not know how to fuel the increase in mileage and intensity that a new program demands. Or, perhaps a more seasoned athlete who has been competitive for several years could be working with a running, cycling, or triathlon coach, have dialed in other areas of performance, but never focused on nutrition. Another reason why people reach out is that they’re struggling with a serious acute or chronic injury and think that eating better could help, but don’t know how. Or maybe they are stuck on a plateau or have seen their training paces and finish times stall.

What do my clients like best about 1-on-1 nutrition coaching?

1-on-1 coaching is great for anyone looking to improve their nutrition and is also looking for accountability and a personalized approach. One of the advantages is that you’ll receive more dedicated and personalized attention from me on an ongoing basis. We’ll also be able to take a comprehensive view of your previous training, racing, and injury history and see exactly where you’re at currently with your eating and supplementation. Then we can map out a plan for how to move forward to reach your goals. This is a good option if you do better in 1-on-1 conversations, rather than in a group setting, have a complex medical history, or feel like you need more accountability. 

Depending on the package you choose, we’ll have weekly calls or email check-ins. These will be very personalized to your needs, lifestyle, and goals. We can focus on performance nutrition, hydration, body composition, food allergies, or whatever you need. Over time, we can change directions or explore other areas as needed. I believe in creating lasting relationships that continue to deliver long-term value and welcome the chance to team up. 

If you’re interested in a personalized, 1-on-1 plan, the first step is to complete an application to get on the waitlist. Then as soon as possible, our team will contact you to get going once a spot opens up.

When is group coaching the right fit?

Clients often come into one of my nutrition coaching groups seeking the education and community that a team environment provides. It’s an opportunity to not only learn about and apply sound nutritional principles to training, racing, and life, but also to develop new friendships and a lasting support system. Athletes who’ve typically trained alone often come alive in this group setting, as they welcome being part of a tight-knit community of runners who are pursuing similar performance goals. This option might be best if you need more encouragement, like to hear other people’s suggestions and experiences while sharing your own, and respond well in a class environment. 

My group program features weekly live classes taught by me, which are also recorded in case you have a scheduling conflict or want to re-watch a session later on-demand. Each class topic focuses on an aspect of performance nutrition and hydration that will prepare you to train for and race in half and full marathons. In addition to class sessions, there are weekly slides, tools, and homework to supplement the course content. We offer support via a private Slack channel and there’s an opportunity to be as much or as little involved as you like and your lifestyle allows. 

We have new race and distance-specific groups opening up now for 2023. Fueled for Boston is for anyone running Boston 2023, and we’re also offering spring half or full marathon coaching that’s best for races after April 11, 2023. Click here to learn more and sign up today!

No matter what level of nutrition coaching you are looking for, we have something for you! Not interested in coaching just yet but want some help gearing up for a specific race? Take a look at our Customized Nutrition Plans or apply for a one-time consultation. And make sure you are taking advantage of our free resources: Instagram, carb loading, hydration, race day fueling & recovery.

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Focusing on Nutrition & Body Composition in the Off-Season

Focusing on Nutrition & Body Composition in the Off-Season

During the racing season, most of your goals are probably performance focused, whether that’s finishing your first marathon, setting a PR, or stepping up to a new distance successfully. So you try to use your nutrition to support the pursuit of these targets, like fueling right on race day. But with spring events still to come and the holidays behind us, maybe you’ve got different aims in mind now. I’ve recently had a lot of people reach out asking for help with body composition changes they want to make during the off-season, which is what this post is all about.

Why is the off-season a good time to focus on nutrition for body composition?

Unless you’re gearing up for an early 2023 race, you might have eight to 12 weeks (or more) of downtime, which provides you with the perfect opportunity to dial in your nutrition. During racing season, it’s difficult to do much around body composition because you’re fueling for performance in training and competition. But now that there’s less mileage, intensity, and frequency for a while, you’ve got more bandwidth to focus on other elements of your overall well-being.

What’s the best way to approach nutrition for body composition?

The key is concentrating on healthy eating. This isn’t the same as dieting, which implies restricting or eliminating certain foods and attaching unhelpful “good” or “bad” labels. When people diet, it puts the focus on the scale and eliminating certain foods or food groups. In many cases, it is extremely harmful and can start to create compulsive behaviors and obsessions, not to mention, these restrictive diets are not sustainable. You’ll be better off setting a goal that isn’t weight-centric, such as increasing lean muscle mass, getting stronger, or feeling better in certain clothes.

How can I evaluate my eating habits?

A good starting point when you’re targeting body composition changes is to evaluate your current meal and snack patterns. Which areas are you nailing, like sticking to consistent eating times? And is there something you could get better at, such as including protein with every meal? Once you’ve assessed what you’re doing currently, you’ll have a better understanding of what needs to change, what you can keep the same, and what you can double down on.

Should I track my nutrition or not?

Some of my clients have an intuitive feel for what they’re eating and when, while others struggle to get a handle on what their eating patterns look like from day to day. If you fall in this second category, you might find it helpful to see where you’re at and what you could tweak. Don’t get fixated on every single detail, start weighing your food, or count calories, but rather stick to the basics of recording meals & snacks, timing and monitoring feelings of hunger, satiety, and boredom related to your food.  If you’ve struggled with disordered eating or anxiety, tracking probably isn’t the best approach for you.

Which changes can I start making now?

It might seem counterintuitive, but big body composition wins can come from just a few small changes. For example, if you often skip breakfast because your morning is hectic or fitting in lunch around your work schedule is tricky, you might overeat later to try to compensate. In which case, getting intentional around eating those essential meals every day is an easy fix. The off-season can also be a good time to get back to eating things you’ve missed, like big salads or extra veggies. You might have more time to cook and bake if you’re training less, which could allow you to make some new snacks like pumpkin spice and mint chocolate energy bites and gingerbread blender muffins that will keep your energy level high between meals and power you through your off-season workouts. If you find that you’re not getting the right balance of carbs, protein, and fat, you could start trying to include all three in each meal.

How can I get help with my body composition goals?

Recently, I’ve had a lot of people writing to me via Instagram and the Fuel for the Sole podcast asking questions about their nutrition at this time of year. This led me to create a new Off-Season Body Composition Series. It features four virtual classes that you can watch and replay at your convenience. Then you’ll get homework that will guide you on what to evaluate and focus on before the next class. 

We’ll cover how to evaluate body composition, take genetics into account, and set goals in week one. Then in week two, we’ll review macronutrients and look at how to better balance meals and snacks. Moving into week three, you’ll learn how to spot behaviors you can change and when to create new ones that support your healthiest body comp. Finally in week four, you’ll discover the reasons that your weight might fluctuate, which goals it’s better to focus on instead, and how to chase them effectively. 

This is NOT a weight loss course or crash diet. It’s a way to empower yourself to self-identify your strengths, find controllable factors you can improve, and forge sustainable habits for life. If you commit to practicing these consistently, then you’ll get the positive changes that you’re hoping for – not only in your body composition, but also your performance and overall health. 

Sign up now for the Off-Season Body Composition Series, and we’ll send you the first class right away. You’ll then receive the remaining three over the coming weeks. 

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Enjoying Holiday Foods Guilt-Free & Getting Back on Track After the Holidays

Enjoying Holiday Foods Guilt-Free and Getting Your Nutrition Back on Track Afterward

As the Andy Williams song reminds us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This sentiment should extend to the meals and snacks we share with family and friends, but for many people, the holidays may bring up feelings of guilt or shame around eating choices. In this week’s post, let’s explore how to positively change your attitude to season’s eatings and then take a healthy transition into the New Year.

Struggling with eating around the holidays? You aren't alone.

One of the reasons that Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and all the time in between can become so tricky from an eating standpoint is that many people cut certain things out of their diet completely for most of the year. Then when the holidays roll around, it’s a free-for-all, as if they fear never having these “bad” things again once the season ends. So instead of incorporating favorites foods into their diet, they overindulge for a few weeks, which can lead to feelings of guilt during and after the holidays.

What’s a more constructive way to think?

Labeling foods or drinks as “good” or “bad” is subjective and not something that I recommend. While it’s true that some options are healthier than others, eating a little of most things is very unlikely to torpedo your overall health or performance, particularly if you maintain a balanced approach to eating well overall throughout the year. 

At my house, we have a tradition of making frosted sugar cookies around the holidays. We eat a few, freeze some more, and relish every last bite. You should give yourself permission to enjoy whatever food-based traditions your family has created. If you’ve normalized these treats, then you won’t go through mental anguish, will savor the flavor and experience more, and won’t feel pushed to overeat something that you’ve labeled as forbidden.

What can I do to avoid overeating or binging?

One of the common challenges many people share about their holiday nutrition is sporadically going too far and over-consuming their festive favorites. When I dig a little deeper, I usually find out that this is preceded by them not eating enough or foregoing a meal altogether because they’re expecting to binge. Going too long without eating will inevitably compromise your willpower and planning to over consume will set you up to do just that. Even if a relative is planning a huge family feast at lunchtime, make sure that you eat a normal breakfast – because skipping that meal will leave you too hungry and more likely to overeat at your holiday gathering.

How else can I keep my nutrition steady through the holidays?

Another mental challenge that seasonal eating presents is that people can come to expect a drastic yo-yo effect every time Christmas approaches. First comes cramming cookies, cakes, and other sweet treats for a few weeks, quickly followed by rigid self-denial or cutting out certain types of foods (i.e. gluten, sugar, dairy, etc). This sharp contrast can create emotional & mental anguish, undermine positive habits you’ve spent all year building up and also mess with your hunger cues and metabolism.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like that. If you can keep nailing the basics of nutrition that you normally stick to, you’ll have a much better holiday experience and avoid unnecessary upheaval. Tips for eating during the holiday season:

  • Continue to eat 3 meals per day + snacks
  • Stick to regular eating times, as much as possible
  • Include carbohydrates, protein & fat at each meal
  • Fuel before and after runs & workouts
  • Don't let yourself get too hungry
  • Give yourself permission to enjoy holiday foods

How can I incorporate holiday foods into my diet?

While your nutritional habits, routines, and structures can help you stay consistent, these don’t have to be overly rigorous. Give yourself a little grace and deliberately build in a bit of flexibility. One way to do this is to get creative with your eating before and after training. Instead of throwing down a couple of graham crackers or pieces of toast before heading out on a run, you could occasionally sub in a cookie or two (read more on why you shouldn’t be scared of carbs). 

And after you’ve finished your training session, remember that you need post-run fuel.  So as long as you’re including some post-workout protein – which could come from holiday meal leftovers like quiche – this could be another time where a holiday treat can come in handy to serve as your post-workout carbohydrates. Once you’ve changed your mindset, you should be able to fit these foods into a performance nutrition approach.

These are just examples of ways that you may choose to add holiday foods in, but there are no rules. Eat a piece of pie after dinner and eat a Christmas cookie (or more) with your children. Enjoy your time without stress around food.

What should I do if I eat too much?

This comes back to having the right perspective and allowing yourself a little latitude. Remember that you’re a person, not a robot, and accept that while it might make you feel overly full, one gigantic meal or snacking session isn’t the end of the world. If you eat too much one evening, don’t deny yourself breakfast or lunch the next day to try and compensate. Instead, just get back on track with your regular routine.

How should I approach eating in the New Year?

Once the celebrations are over, don’t get stuck in a cycle of regret and self-shaming. Instead, be honest with yourself about the practices that you might have drifted away from, and then return to them. Refocus on eating to fuel your performance and health, feel good, and power toward your goals. Get back to nutrition fundamentals, like planning three solid meals per day, adding healthful snacks as needed to support your activity level, and fueling before and after every run and strength session.

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Increasing Iron & Ferritin Levels Through Food & Supplements

Increasing Iron & Ferritin Levels Through Food & Supplements

In last week’s post, we shared how you can use blood testing to figure out whether your iron and ferritin levels are too low. If they are, this might be the cause or a contributing factor to feeling fatigued, heavy, and slow in training and other issues you’ve struggled to get to the root of. Now let’s explore how you can increase iron and ferritin through a combination of nutrition and supplements.

What should I do with my lab results?

Once you’ve gotten the blood panels we recommended, it’s helpful to work with a dietitian to interpret the results, look at the broader context of your training and lifestyle, and if you’re low in ferritin and iron, come up with a plan to remedy that. Getting the data is necessary but interpreting it the right way is even more important. This is important: We don’t ever want to blindly start an iron supplement – it can be dangerous if your iron levels get too high. I highly recommend consulting a dietitian or doctor prior to starting any iron supplement.

At what levels should I start increasing iron in my diet or supplementing?

As I wrote in part two of this series, the clinical range for an acceptable ferritin level is very broad – 10 – 120 ng/mL for women and 20 – 250 ng/mL for men. But from an endurance performance standpoint, the baseline should be 40 ng/mL, or 50 ng/mL if you live at high altitude or are planning to train in it. If your panels come back with lower numbers, it’s probably wise to start supplementing and getting more iron in your diet.

What foods contain iron?

There are two kinds of iron found in food. Meat, fish, and other animal products contain heme iron, which is more readily absorbed. Solid sources include shellfish, beef, bison, lamb, turkey, ham, and eggs. Plant foods have non-heme iron instead, which is found in chard, kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin seeds, brussels sprouts, nuts, lentils, and dark chocolate (bonus!). Fortified cereals and other foods also contain non-heme iron.

What increases iron absorption?

There are some substances that can enhance the amount of iron you get from your diet. You’d do well to pair iron-rich foods with those that contain vitamin C, like peppers, citrus fruit, and kiwis because it increases absorption. Fermented products like kombucha, kimchi, and dill pickles also seem to increase iron uptake, as does alcohol. Another sneaky tactic is to use a cast iron skillet to cook with. A study conducted at Texas Tech University found that cooking spaghetti sauce in this kind of pan increased participants’ iron uptake by 2 mg, while they got 6 mg more from apple sauce. 

What interferes with iron absorption?

Things that interfere with iron absorption include calcium, magnesium, zinc, soy protein, phytic acid found in some grains, nuts, and seeds, and, sadly for the caffeine crowd, tea and coffee. It doesn’t mean that you should avoid any of these – just try spreading them out a bit from your iron-rich meals.

Why might food not be enough?

As a registered dietitian, I always encourage clients to look to their nutrition first, if possible, and then utilize supplements. The recommended intake for iron is 8mg for men, 18mg for menstruating women, 27mg for pregnant women, and 8mg for post-menopausal women. So, as you can see, many women need several to many high iron foods per day, which is difficult for many people to consume. There’s another challenge, in that your body can only absorb 15 – 35% heme iron from animal sources, and just 10 – 15% of non-heme iron from plant-based foods. That’s why you may need to pair iron-rich nutrition with supplementation to get your ferritin and iron up. 

Other reasons food alone may not be enough include if you’re extremely low in ferritin and iron, are training hard, are planning to train or race at altitude, or have a lot of extra life stress. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may need a supplement because the iron you’re getting from non-heme foods probably isn’t sufficient.

What are the best practices for supplements?

There’s a pretty broad range of potency with iron supplements, from 20 to 85 mg or more. How much you take depends upon what your diet looks like and how low your levels are. As with most supplements, it’s best to start with a low to moderate dosage and then build up from there if needed. A review out of Cornell University found that supplementing with just 20 mg a day increased iron stores, leading to improved performance and health outcomes. 

In terms of timing, one hour before a meal or two hours afterward seems to be a sweet spot. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that if you run in the morning, taking your iron supplement afterward will increase iron absorption. Like I advised for food-based iron, avoid taking your iron supplement with others that contain magnesium, calcium, or zinc, as it will reduce absorption. This is why a standalone iron supplement is better than a multi from an iron perspective. Conversely, if you take vitamin C, you could do so with iron to increase absorption. 

There can be side effects from taking iron – most typically constipation and GI distress. If you struggle with these, then cut back your intake or split it into two at different times of day. As heme iron is better absorbed, you might be able to take a lower dose of it than you would with the non-heme kind. Some supplements have a combination of both, and others are slow release, which can be gentler on your stomach. You can check out some of the products I use and recommend here.

How long will it take to notice a difference after starting a supplement?

People can start to notice positive changes with certain supplements like vitamin B12 almost right away. But iron stores take longer to increase, so don’t expect a “wow” factor after a day or two. Consistent daily iron supplementation should start to make a difference in about two weeks, and a month in, you may observe noticeable impact on your performance and recovery. However, for some people, it will take months for ferritin levels to increase, so be consistent & patient.

Do you need an expert to interpret your labs? The Featherstone Lab Consult is now available!

1.  YJ Cheng and HC Brittin, “Iron in Food: Effect of Continued Use of iron Cookware,” Journal of Food Science, March 1991, available online at 2. Diane M DellaValle, “Iron Supplementation for Female Athletes: Effects on Iron Status and Performance Outcomes,” Current Sports Medicine Reports, July-August 2013, available online at 3.Rachel McCormick et al, “The Impact of Morning versus Afternoon Exercise on Iron Absorption in Athletes,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, October 2019, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Evaluating Iron Status in Endurance Athletes

Evaluating Iron Status in Endurance Athletes

In the previous part of this series, we looked at what iron does in your body, why so many runners (particularly women) deplete their stores, and which symptoms might indicate that you need to top up on this mighty micronutrient. Now let’s switch our attention to the best and most objective way to confirm if your ferritin and other iron markers are too low.

How do I know if I'm iron deficient?

I’ve worked with enough athletes to suspect when someone is low on iron, especially when they’re dealing with performance shortfalls, persistent fatigue, and some of the other symptoms we mentioned in part one without any other probable explanation. But I always like to have confirmation for my hunch by having my clients get bloodwork done. We always, always, always want to check our labs prior to supplementing, so we know that we are treating and supplementing correctly. 

Where can I get lab work done, and what labs should be checked?

Your primary care doctor can order labs to be drawn, whether it’s in-office or they send you to a lab. This option will likely be the most cost-effective if you have health insurance. Other options are to order your own labs from somewhere like Quest Diagnostics or Inside Tracker. Try to make sure you wait at least 48 hours after a race or hard training session before testing so you don’t skew the numbers. Once the panel has been drawn, you should get the results fairly quickly. 

There are several iron-related labs that can be checked. While ferritin is a common indicator of iron stores, it can give a false reading if you’ve been sick or under intense training or lifestyle stress. In which case, other markers can be useful. It’s also helpful to see the “whole picture” when it comes to iron labs <aka not just looking at one stand alone lab value>, so it’s important that you ask for CBC, iron panel and ferritin.

What should my ferritin level be as an endurance athlete?

Once you get the test results back, you’ll want to know whether your ferritin level is low, high, or just about right. The tricky thing is that the range is very broad – what’s considered to be “normal” at your doctor’s office is 10 – 120 ng/mL for females and 20 – 250 ng/mL for males. However, in running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, and other endurance disciplines, performance is usually optimized at or above 40 ng/mL, per a study by Japanese exercise scientists and other papers. At altitude, this can rise to more than 50 according to a study by Swiss researchers, as at higher elevation we need more oxygenated blood to sustain pace and power output. To make it even more complex, optimal ferritin levels can vary from person to person – Person A may feel great with a ferritin of 40 ng/mL, while person B might need theirs at 50 ng/mL.

My doctor said my ferritin level is ok, and my sports dietitian says it is low. Why is there a discrepancy?

There could be different parameters than your physician is currently not aware of – you’re probably the healthiest person they’ve treated all day, and labs within normal limits are typically a good sign. However, just because your iron levels are within normal limits for baseline health doesn’t mean that they’re optimized for endurance performance – the two goals are completely different. Your doctor isn’t wrong, but may only be looking at your ferritin and other iron markers through a lens for an average <sedentary to mildly active> adult. 

It’s this kind of contrast that shows why you might benefit from working with a registered dietitian or other specialist. Just having blood test data is only the first step – it’s what you do with the information that’s most important. So you need someone who has the right knowledge & experience to interpret the results, take into context your training and medical history, nutrition, and other factors, to help you come up with a plan. 

If you need a sports nutrition expert to analyze your labs & provide recommendations, take a look at our Featherstone Lab ConsultSimply answer some questions, attach your labs, and Meghann will analyze your lab work & send you an email with recommendations with in 10 business days.

How often should I check my iron status?

As levels of ferritin and other iron markers fluctuate over time, a one-off test might only give you a snapshot view of your body’s stores. Here’s a suggested frequency if you’re interested in ongoing testing that might enable you to keep tabs on your levels so you can address deficiency and even make pre-emptive changes if an initial panel shows a decline. 

Annually Once a year might be fine if you do not have a history of iron deficiency, and you have been feeling well during training and races.

Biannually: A test every six months might be better if you have a slightly low ferritin and are trying to increase with high iron food, are a female endurance athlete, or have the intention to increase training or head to altitude within the next 12 months.

Quarterly: Getting a panel every three months is advisable if you have a long history of iron deficiency, are currently supplementing trying to get an increase in ferritin, are vegetarian/vegan, see evidence of low energy availability, are continually training at high volume and intensity, struggle with ongoing fatigue/lethargy, or plan to train at altitude within six months.    

Check back next week, when we will share how to increase your iron and ferritin levels if they’re too low.

Do you need an expert to interpret your labs? The Featherstone Lab Consult is now available!

1. Yuki Kobayashi et al, “Attempt to Determine the Cut-Off Value of Serum Ferritin for Iron Deficiency in Male College Student Runners,” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 2020, available online at 2. German Clénin et al, “Iron Deficiency in Sports – Definition, Influence on Performance and Therapy,” Swiss Medical Weekly, October 2015, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Iron Deficiency in Runners

Iron Deficiency in runners: Causes, Symptoms & Why Female Runners Are at Greater Risk

In our recent post on recovery supplements for runners, we almost included ferritin but decided that it deserved its own three-part series. One of the reasons is that I get a lot of client questions about iron and ferritin and often trace my endurance athletes’ limitations back to a previously undetected deficiency. Let’s look at what ferritin is, why runners are often low in it, how you might be able to tell if you’re iron deficient, and why female athletes are more susceptible.

What is ferritin and why does iron function matter for athletes?

Ferritin is a blood protein that is your body’s preferred storage form of iron, which it releases as necessary. Around 25 percent of all the iron in your body is typically contained in ferritin. The demand for iron goes up when you’re training or racing because it’s the building block for hemoglobin in the bloodstream, which delivers oxygen from the lungs to your muscles via red blood cells. Iron is also needed to regulate myoglobin, a protein found in muscles that binds to and releases oxygen, and cytochromes, a key catalyst of energy production. It plays a part in immunity, DNA synthesis, pH balance, and many other processes too. Unlike some other micronutrients, your body cannot make its own iron, so you have to take it in through food and/or supplementation.

Why does iron deficiency or low ferritin occur and how prevalent is it in endurance sports?

According to a study on female basketball players, “Athletes experience disturbances of systemic iron homeostasis, especially during training periods characterized by intense training loads.” The authors stated that iron in female athletes can be twice as low as in sedentary groups. It’s also arguably more common. A review published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology stated that five to 11 percent of male athletes tested in previous trials were low on ferritin, which is an indicator for inadequate iron. This rose to a whopping 15 to 35 percent of female athletes. Other studies have pegged these numbers even higher, suggesting that up to 56 percent of female endurance athletes have insufficient iron stores. 

So why is this? We can lose iron through sweat and urine, the GI tract, frequent use of NSAIDs, and a phenomenon known as foot-strike hemolysis. This occurs when red blood cells in the feet are destroyed as you pound the pavement or trail, which not only results in the loss of iron, but also needing to utilize more to repair the damage. That might explain why runners, basketball players, and athletes in other sports that involve a lot of ground contact have higher rates of deficiency. 

Why are women more likely to be iron deficient?

There are several reasons why low iron might affect more female athletes than males. First, some can be lost during monthly menstruation. Second, I see more women who are on vegan or vegetarian diets. While you can find iron in some plant-based sources, it’s more difficult to absorb because it’s in the non-heme form. Whereas fish, meat, and poultry all contain the more available form, heme iron. Those who eat fortified foods find it easier to boost their intake. The overall quantity of food female athletes eat may be significantly less than a larger male athlete making it harder to get sufficient iron. 

What are the symptoms of low ferritin/iron deficiency?

The authors of the basketball study wrote that “Insufficient reserves of iron in the body can reduce athletic performance, which may be manifested as fatigue, exercise intolerance, or even cognitive function impairment.” I often hear clients complain of not being able to hit or maintain their target paces in training, feeling like they’re exerting more effort than usual, hitting the wall sooner, and generally feeling heavy and lethargic. They might also notice decreased adaptation to their training and failure to recover fully between sessions. Increased resting and active heart rate, dizziness, and shortness of breath during exercise can become issues too. 

Certain sessions like sprints and intervals can become harder because power output declines and time-to-exhaustion is reduced when ferritin levels are low. Some athletes might experience irritability and other mood disturbances, find it hard to focus during workouts, or become apathetic and lose interest in training altogether. They could also start struggling with niggling injuries and more frequent bouts of illness. In these ways, iron deficiency can be mistaken for chronic overtraining, as many of the symptoms are the same.

Next week, we’ll continue the ferritin series & explore how testing ferritin and iron levels can help identify if you’re iron deficient and inform what to do about it.

1. Justyna Cichoń et al, “Effect of an Acute Exercise on Early Responses of Iron and Iron Regulatory Proteins in Young Female Basketball Players,” BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, April 2022, available online at 2.Marc Sim et al, “Iron Considerations for the Athlete: A Narrative Review,” European Journal of Applied Physiology, July 2019, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

How to Use Caffeine for Endurance Performance

How to Use Caffeine for Endurance Performance

One of the ergogenic aids I get the most questions about is caffeine. Many athletes swear by their daily fix, but a few avoid it at all costs. Some might stick to tea or coffee, while others prefer caffeinated gels or a combination of both. In this post, we’ll examine what caffeine does in your body and brain, why you might have good or bad reactions to it, and how to use it to power your training and racing.

The three responses to caffeine

How or if you respond to caffeine might seem totally random, but research shows that it’s actually hardwired into your genetics. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise stated that a variation in the CYP1A2 gene that regulates caffeine was likely responsible for three different outcomes in cyclists who consumed it. One group finished a time trial faster with two and four mgs per kilo of bodyweight, a second experienced no effect, and a third had a decrease in performance. The takeaway? Keep using caffeine if it helps you or you enjoy the taste of tea or coffee, but don’t force it if it doesn’t seem to do anything or makes you feel worse.

The physical & mental benefits of caffeine

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that blocks tiredness-causing adenosine from binding to receptors in your brain, while stimulating the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and catecholamines, which include the so-called “happy hormone” dopamine. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) includes caffeine on a very short list of supplements that it states are backed by “good evidence of benefits,” along with creatine monohydrate, nitrate, sodium bicarbonate, and beta-alanine. 

Studies have shown that caffeine helps increase time to exhaustion, improve speed, and boost power output. The ways it does this include decreasing pain and the perception of effort and fatigue, which may help you push past your usual limit and keep going harder for longer. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, caffeine also has cognitive benefits, including increased vigilance, attention, and overall acuity, suggesting that it helps you maintain focus on your performance.

Caffeine right before running

A Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research review of previous studies discovered that the impact of caffeine on endurance performance varies greatly, from a 0.3 percent decrease to a 17.3 percent increase. In addition to the genetic factor, they explained that caffeine consumption habits, timing, dose, and method of ingestion can all contribute to this variable impact. While your response is individualized, caffeine seems to peak in your system around 60 minutes after consumption, with the beneficial effects lasting around 1 hour. With this in mind, it’s important to consider when you’re going to use it with optimal timing for training and racing. 

Before you head out the door to run, it’s best to stick to your usual daily caffeine schedule, as your body and brain will get bamboozled if you’re used to a morning and/or afternoon cup of coffee or tea and suddenly avoid it. The same goes for race day. Conversely, if you don’t normally consume caffeine before a run, it’s not best to try it out for the first time prior to a long or hard session, or right before you show up to the start line. Nor should you jack up your caffeine consumption in the belief that if some is good, more must be better, as studies show that beyond a certain point there’s no extra benefit and you might actually start to develop jitters, tummy troubles, and other unpleasant side effects. 

Consuming caffeine during training & racing

In the IOC position paper, the authors wrote that “Caffeine consumption during activity should be considered concurrent with carbohydrate (CHO) intake for improved efficacy.” This is where caffeinated gels can come in handy. Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription here, but what I’ve found to be effective for marathons and other longer races is to alternate caffeinated and non-caffeinated products. Three to six milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight before and during training and racing is the amount many studies have found increases endurance performance by 2-4%. 

This range is really broad, but 200 mg is a sweet spot for many runners. That’s two cups of coffee or two stronger gels, like Maurten Gel 100 Caf 100. Good products like this that have been vetted by NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport accurately list the caffeine amount, making your trial-and-error process easier. As with any supplement, start with a low dose and carefully build up as needed. 

Remember that it takes an hour for caffeine to fully kick in and that a lot of runners need it most in the second half of a race. So, if you were running a three-hour marathon and wanted to keep pushing hard in the last 10K, take a caffeinated gel at 60 minutes. Or if you’re on pace for four hours, caffeine at the one- and two-hour marks might help you finish strong. As I advised for your overall nutrition/hydration plan in a previous post, practice your caffeine strategy on long runs so that you iron out any kinks and dial in timing and total dosage to tap into the performance benefits on race day.

1. Nanci Guest et al, “Caffeine, CYP1A2 Genotype, and Endurance Performance in Athletes,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2018, available online at 2. Ronald J Maughan et al, “IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, April 2018, available online at 3. Nanci Guest et al, “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Caffeine and Exercise Performance,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, January 2021, available online at 4. Matthew S Ganio et al, “Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, January 2019, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Recovery Nutrition for Injuries

Recovery Series Part III: Recovery Nutrition for Injuries

In parts one, two and three of this series, we looked at how eating and supplementing right can help you recover from endurance and strength sessions. Nutrition is undoubtedly important when you’re healthy, feeling good, and training hard. But it’s equally as crucial when injury stops you in your tracks. That’s what we’ll take aim at in today’s article.

Maintaining energy balance and avoiding muscle loss

The biggest mistake I see clients making with their post-injury recovery nutrition is underfueling. This is often born of the belief that “I’m not training so I need to eat way less, right?” Wrong! Although you’re not moving as much so you won’t be burning through as much energy as usual, your resting calorie needs are greater than you think. This is due to having more lean mass and a higher metabolism than a sedentary person, plus, your body has nutritional needs to help repair the damage from your injury. 

Consuming adequate nutrition is imperative so you don’t sink into a calorie deficit, which can lead to delayed recovery, weight and muscle loss, hormone disruption, and more nasty side effects. A paper published in Nutrients stated that “During rehabilitation, simultaneous carbohydrates and protein intake can inhibit muscle breakdown and muscle atrophy.” This combo will also keep your energy level high, stabilize your mood, and support your healing process. 

When you’re injured, you actually need around 20 percent more protein to promote healing, which is why the study authors recommend getting as much as two grams per kilogram of bodyweight daily. Shoot for 20 to 40 grams per meal, adding in a complete protein supplement if necessary. The amount of carbs you need might dip a little, but they’re still your primary energy source, so include them in all meals and snacks and adjust portion sizes to take into account your lower activity level, without cutting back too far. 

Tackling inflammation 

The researchers also mentioned getting sufficient fat during your return-to-running process. This is valuable from an energy perspective, as it contains nine calories per gram versus four for protein and carbs. Fat is also used in the repair of joints and soft tissues. While you might not need quite as much total fat as when training hard, eating more omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial. Initially, inflammation is necessary to prompt the healing process, but if prolonged, it can hinder healing. This is when omega-3s can be beneficial. They’re found in plant sources like flax & chia seeds, walnuts, and almonds; although, fish provides higher levels of EPA and DHA, along with micronutrients involved in the healing process, such as copper. You may consider a marine-sourced supplement daily to ensure you’ll get enough. 

Once you’ve moved out of the acute inflammation phase right after injury, tart cherry juice could be another useful supplement. Its active compound, anthocyanin can help decrease inflammation and reduce joint and muscle pain.

Healing soft tissue and bone injuries

The two most common types of acute injuries suffered by runners are bone issues such as stress fractures and injuries to soft tissues like muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Both require the fuel supplied by the balanced diet described earlier. You can support the healing of a bone injury by ensuring that you get enough calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K, all of which are vital to bone health and growth. Dutch researchers found that low vitamin D levels delay bone injury recovery, and other studies have shown that they greatly increase the risk of stress fractures. If it’s consistently sunny where you live, then you might get enough D just by being outside, but with winter closing in, you may need 2000 IU a day in supplement form just to be sure. If you are vitamin D deficient, you will likely need a higher dosage supplement. Fatty meats, leafy greens, and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin K, and some vitamin D supplements include it. If you eat 3 serving of dairy per day on average, you’re probably getting enough dietary calcium, and if not, look for fortified non-dairy alternatives or a calcium supplement. 

Soft tissue injuries typically heal quicker than bone damage, but blood flow to ligaments and tendons is much lower than to muscles, so they can be tricky to rehabilitate. Taking a combination of collagen – which is a key component of soft tissues – and vitamin C 30 to 60 minutes before whatever exercise you’re cleared to do can help. Australian researchers found that combining this supplement with calf strengthening exercises enabled participants to recover faster from Achilles tendinopathy. Vitamin A – which you can find in sweet potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers – also plays a part in collagen formation. 

To promote injury recovery, make sure you’re getting enough total calories, protein and carbs to support healing, maintain energy balance, and prevent muscle loss. Include enough total fat and boost your intake of omega-3, supplementing if necessary. Also consider taking collagen with vitamin C to support soft tissue healing and ensure you’re getting enough calcium, vitamins D and K to promote bone repair. 

Check back next week for a new post on how and when to use caffeine to boost your training and racing.

Need help to nail your recovery nutrition? Check out our Recovery page w/ Recovery Calculator, 1-on-1 and group coaching options.

 1. Sousana K. Papadopoulou, “Rehabilitation Nutrition for Injury Recovery of Athletes: The Role of Macronutrient Intake,” Nutrients, August 2020, available online at 2. EA Gorter et al, “Vitamin D Status and Adult Fracture Healing,” Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Trauma, 2017, available online at 3. Stephen FE Praet et al, “Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Combined with Calf-Strengthening Exercises Enhances Function and Reduces Pain in Achilles Tendinopathy Patients,” Nutrients, January 2019, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Recovery Supplements for Runners

Recovery Series Part II: Recovery Supplements for Runners

To nail your post-run and workout recovery, you need to first make sure you’re getting enough carbs to replenish glycogen and adequate protein to help your muscles repair, which was what parts one and two of this series were about. But, there may be times when you need something extra, that you either can’t get from your diet or that is hard to obtain from food because of your schedule. Let’s zoom in on several supplements that can help you recover better from your runs and workouts.

Are there any recovery supplements that I should take daily?

One supplement that you may need daily is protein. Yes, you can get enough from food in your diet, particularly if you eat a lot of eggs, meat, fish, and dairy. However, many people find that due to time restraints and convenience, protein supplements help to hit that recovery window right after training.  Personally, I prefer a whey product like Momentous Essential Protein (click here to get 15% off). It tastes great, mixes easily, is grass-fed, and contains enzymes that help ensure you’ll digest it without any tummy troubles. Momentous also offers a non-dairy option for those with an allergy, sensitivity, or dairy-free diet. 

The key to choosing a protein supplement is to find one that’s tasty and make sure it’s a complete source, which means that it contains all nine essential amino acids, including an adequate amount of leucine. This doesn’t include collagen, which is an incomplete protein that doesn’t contain enough of certain aminos to trigger muscle protein synthesis. (We’ll suggest a better way to utilize collagen in the next part of this series.) The timing and amount of protein is just as important as selecting the right source. A research review recommended 20 to 40 grams within an hour of finishing training.   

Another supplement you might need every day is Vitamin D. “But I always run outside!” you might say. That’s great, and sometimes during the spring, summer, and fall, you may getting all the vitamin D you need from the sun. But, during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re probably not. Inadequate Vitamin D can compromise bone health, immunity, and muscle repair, which can be detrimental to runners. It is suggested to take 2,000 IUs a day, for maintenance. This dose is not adequate if you have a deficiency, so it’s a good idea for runners to check Vitamin D levels at least annually, and more frequently if a deficiency is detected, and supplement accordingly. 

What recovery supplements might I need occasionally?

There are some supplements that you’ll benefit most from occasionally to help with recovery during peek training weeks. One example is tart cherry (TC) extract, which is a potent source of antioxidants that can minimize the damage done by exercise-related oxidative stress. A meta-analysis found that taking a tart cherry supplement reduced muscle soreness and led to a greater recovery in muscle strength and power. Other research has also noted the beneficial impact tart cherry has on sleep duration and quality. This makes tart cherry an ideal evening supplement, and you could take another dose during the day to recover quicker from hard training or racing. 

A second situational supplement is omega-3s. A review published in Nutrients noted that EPA and DHA can help you delay muscle soreness, minimize inflammation, speed recovery, and even boost your immunity. You can get these fatty acids from fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and plant sources such as walnuts, chia and flax seeds. But many people’s diets don’t have enough of these to take advantage of the anti-inflammatory benefits you might need when dialing up training volume and intensity, which is where a supplement is useful. 

Look for a product that’s marine-sourced, contains 2,000 mg or more of EPA and DHA. As with tart cherry, wait a few hours after training to take omega-3s, as you don’t want to blunt the acute inflammation response that prompts repair and recovery. 

How do I choose a high quality supplement?

There are over 85,000 supplements on the market, and they vary wildly in purity, quality, and efficacy. To ensure you’re getting a supplement that helps instead of harms and is worth the investment, look for products that have been tested by Informed Sport, NSF Certified for Sport®,or USP. These rigorous processes ensure that supplements are free from contaminants and banned substances, live up to what’s on their labels, and are produced in a responsible way. They remove the guesswork from your supplement shopping and give you peace of mind that what you’re taking is safe and effective.  

It’s important to remember that supplementation should never be a substitute for nutrition. So make sure you’re getting enough post-run carbs & protein and taking in enough energy throughout the day first. Then turn your attention to supplements we just discussed to support recovery and overall wellbeing.

Check back next week for part 4 in this series: nutrition for injury recovery.

Need help to nail your recovery nutrition? Check out our Recovery page w/ Recovery Calculator, 1-on-1 and group coaching options.

1.Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld “Nutrient Timing Revisited: Is There a Post-Exercise Anabolic Window?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, January 2013, available online at 2.Jessica A Hill et al, “Tart Cherry Supplementation and Recovery From Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, March 2021, available online at 3.  Frank Thielecke and Andrew Blannin, “Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Sport Performance—Are They Equally Beneficial for Athletes and Amateurs? A Narrative Review,” Nutrients, December 2020, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.

Berry Good Smoothie Bowl

If you haven’t tried a smoothie bowl yet, what are you waiting for? Just like smoothies & shakes, smoothie bowls allow you to toss together a bunch of healthy ingredients, blend & enjoy. But, with a smoothie bowl, you can add toppings, and eat it with a spoon, which makes it oh-so-enjoyable! In this recipe, we use Vitamin Water XXX açaí-blueberry-pomegranate – it’s delicious and provides carbs, vitamins & electrolytes that are needed post-exercise. Then, we add in protein, more carbs & whatever toppings you’d like to make a well-balanced smoothie bowl.

Berry Good Smoothie Bowl

  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 container (5.3 oz) or 2/3 cup vanilla greek yogurt
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 tbsp nut butter
  • 1/2-3/4 cup Vitamin Water XXX açaí-blueberry-pomegranate
  • Optional toppings: chia seeds, sliced fruit, granola, nuts, extra nut butter

Directions: Blend together. Adjust the amount of Vitamin Water for desired consistency.

How to enjoy – 

For athletes: The ingredient combo here is perfect for your recovery meal post-run or workout. <You may need to add more protein & carbs.>

For healthy eating: The balance of carbs, protein and healthy fat is what we hope to achieve in our meals. Try this for breakfast or lunch.

For kids: Kids can enjoy this, too! Take 1/4-1/2 of this recipe to give to kids as part of a meal or for a healthy snack.