Should I Eat Before I Run? #RunFormFriday

Eat before runSome runners can’t walk out of the door for a morning run without having something to settle their stomachs. Others cannot have a bit of food in their stomach without causing stomach discomfort. The overarching theme of sports nutrition is “every athlete is different”. That doesn’t specifically help you much, does it?

The idea of this article is to try and help make the question “to eat or not to eat” a little easier. Hopefully as a result you can set yourself up for a great session.

 

Eating for different types of runs

In a typical week for me, there are 3 types of runs to consider: easy/recovery runs, long runs, and workouts. Each type of run is associated with different fueling needs and different physical responses.

  • Easy/recovery runs are at a comfortable, conversational pace and usually don’t last longer than 60 minutes.
  • Long runs vary by pace and are longer than 60 minutes.
  • Workouts – or sessions – are shorter in duration but higher in intensity than the other two types of runs.

Eat before run

Reasons to eat before a run

Liver glycogen, which maintains a normal level of blood sugar, gets depleted overnight. A small amount of food before exercise will increase your blood sugar and help prevent hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia could cause lightheadedness, blurred vision and fatigue.
Food also helps settle your stomach and absorb some of the stomach juices that can cause discomfort, especially if you haven’t eaten in awhile.

Finally, a pre-exercise snack is a last chance to fuel your muscles. Food eaten far in advance of a workout will be stored as muscle glycogen, but food eaten in the hour before exercise can be used as instant fuel if the exercise intensity is low enough to still allow for digestion.

Reasons not to eat before a run

It is a common belief that exercising on an empty stomach will enhance the body’s use of fat as a fuel source, allowing one to burn more body fat. While this is true, burning body fat to fuel exercise does not necessarily mean that one will lose body fat overall. To lose body fat, you still need to have an overall calorie deficit by the end of the day. If exercising on an empty stomach just sets you up to eat more later in the day than you would have if you ate before running, then there is no benefit. Also, a small snack before may allow you to exercise harder and run longer, resulting in burning more calories.

Fears of getting a dodgy stomach or feeling sluggish are other reasons why one might choose not to eat before exercise. Avoiding foods that are known to cause distress and eating the right kinds of foods can resolve these issues. Also, getting an adequate amount of food the day and night before a morning workout will decrease your need to eat much in the hours before. This is certainly the case for me!

What to eat before each type of run

The next questions to consider are the intensity of the run and the timing of the run.

The body’s ability to digest a recent meal depends on the intensity of the workout. If the pace is generally easy and is something you could easily keep up for 30 or more minutes, then your body should still be able to digest a recent meal or snack and use it for fuel. If you need some pre run snack ideas, we’ve written a great article on how to find the optimal time to eat and what to eat before a run.

The more intense a workout is, the more blood flow will be shifted away from the stomach and to the muscles, decreasing the body’s ability to digest. Therefore, more planning needs to go into pre-workout meals as compared to meals before easier runs.

Now let’s consider the timing of sessions.

Morning workouts

As stated above, liver glycogen will be depleted overnight and you may wake with low blood sugar. Care should be taken in the day and night before a workout to make sure muscle glycogen stores are full. However, a small snack before a workout can help bring your blood sugar back up and maintain normal levels.

A general rule is to eat about 1 grams of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight up to one hour before a workout. For a 70kg runner that would be 70 grams, or 300 calories worth of carbohydrate. This carbohydrate load can be achieved through a combination of solid and liquid, such as a bowl of cereal or a bottle of sports drink/squash. The sooner you eat the better so that the body has time to digest before an intense effort.

Afternoon or evening workouts

Afternoon and evening workouts give you more time to fuel your body with good carbohydrates and adequate amounts of fluids. It is important on these days to start off with a good breakfast and continue on with a healthy lunch 3-4 hours before the workout.

Choose foods that are high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and low in fat. Fats and proteins delay gastric emptying. Focus on complex carbohydrates for a sustained source of energy, but avoid very high fiber foods.

Eat before run

Bottom line

Tolerances vary from person to person so you have to use trial and error to find out what foods work for you and if you exercise better with having something to eat.

My recommendation would be to have something to eat before long runs and efforts so that you can get the best training effect out of your run. Easy and recovery runs do not require pre-exercise foods most of the time, just be sure to fuel your body well throughout the day for your sessions later in the week.

 

Final tips for eating before a run

  • Eat adequate, high-carbohydrate meals on a daily basis so that your body is always ready for a run or workout.
  • For longer runs (more than 60 minutes), choose slowly digested carbohydrates like yogurt, apples, bananas, and oatmeal. Also consider similar foods for fueling during the long run.
  • Avoid sugary foods like soft drinks, candy, and sugary gels that can quickly spike the blood sugar and actually lead to hypoglycemia.
  • The more calories you eat, the more time you need to give your body to digest, especially before intense sessions.

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about eating before run training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Long Runs And Making Them Interesting #RunFormFriday

Long Runs And Making Them Interesting #RunFormFriday

The long run is a rite of passage for most runners. Everyone from your weekend warrior to the world champions includes this staple workout as part of their weekly training schedule. If everybody is doing it and it has stuck around this long, it obviously has a lot of merits. But are you getting the most out of your long run; or are you just trudging through the miles and in need of a new stimulus?

The long run is no different than any other session. In order to continually adapt, the stimulus has to be slightly altered. In a set of repeats on the track, we might decrease the rest. Or we may increase the pace or the length of the repetitions. For a long run, we can obviously increase the length or pace, but those options are limited to an extent. The good news is that there are a few different ways we can squeeze out a little more adaptation. How do we accomplish that? Simply, by adding “stuff” to your long run.

What do we mean by “stuff”?

“Stuff” refers to adding strides, surges, pickups, or progressions to the typical easy or steady long run. The goal in adding these components is to change the stimulus for adaptation ever so slightly. By adding in some faster running toward the end of the long run, you force recruitment of muscle fibres that generally are never trained at an easy or steady pace. By slightly changing which muscle fibres are recruited, you now train those harder-to-recruit fast twitch-type fibres under aerobic conditions, therefore increasing their endurance.

Strides and surges are two easy ways to get more bang for buck during long runs without adding much fatigue. They both work by changing the muscle fibre recruitment slightly and can prevent the post-long run flatness that often occurs. This happens because faster segments change the tension in the muscles and leave you with some “pop” in your legs instead of staleness. Strides should be done immediately after the completion of the long run. They should include four to ten by 100-meter runs in length at about your 10K race pace. This should be seen as an introductory session, which then progresses to surges over the following weeks. Surges should be done during the last 3-4 miles of the long run and should include segments where you pick it up to around 10K race pace and then back off to your easy pace for a short segment. This should not be a taxing workout, but instead a comfortable surge that lets the legs loosen up a little bit.

Long runs

Don’t “just run”

Pickups and progressions are two slightly more challenging options for adding some spice to your long run. The goal of these runs is to press the pace down so that the body gets used to increasing speed, increasing the aerobic demand, and recruiting muscle fibres when glycogen levels are getting progressively lower at the end of the long run. Once again, we are looking at training muscle fibres that aren’t normally trained aerobically; triggering the body to become more efficient with using its glycogen stores. Pickups should be introduced in small doses. Start by accelerating your pace to marathon race effort or slightly faster during the last 5 minutes of your run. Every few weeks, increase the length of the pickup by 5 minutes until you get to the point where the last 20 minutes of your long run is done at a quicker pace. A progression long run, on the other hand, should take a gradual approach. Rather than making just one sudden change in speed, spread that speed increase out over a longer distance. Start with a gradual progression over the last quarter of your long run (the last 4 miles of a 16-mile run, for example) and increase that until the last half of your long run is spent gradually ratcheting up the speed. The goal is the same: get down to just faster than marathon race pace by the end of the long run.

Anytime you add new workouts to your regime, it’s important to do so gradually. Keep your easy long run in the rotation, but start adding some bits to it every other week. By adding “stuff” such as strides, surges, pickups and progressions to the long run, you’re increasing the number of stimuli your body has to deal with, and more importantly, adapt to. So stop slogging through the same old long run–add some stuff to it!

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about long run training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For a more in-depth understanding of how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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Training With Heart Rate #RunFormFriday

Training With Heart Rate #RunFormFriday

Training With Heart Rate

The potential benefits of training with heart rate monitors have been so positively encouraged in running magazines that many runners feel it’s a necessity to train with heart rate. Heart rate monitors can keep you in the right training zones, prevent overtraining, and help monitor progress. But, what if those benefits are outweighed by the limitations of training with heart rate? Could it be possible your heart rate monitor is holding you back from reaching your potential? In my experience as a coach and athlete, training by heart rate is less accurate and more problematic than training by pace, feel and RPE unless you are a very experienced runner. Therefore, I don’t recommend it to the athletes I coach. Here are three reasons why:

1. Many changes in heart rate do not match up to effort levels

The biggest limitation to heart rate training is that many changes in your heart rate do not correlate to your fitness level. Sleep, stress, and dehydration can all raise or lower heart rate on any given day. As normal people with jobs, families, and otherwise busy lives, these outside influencers are common and can have a drastic effect on your heart rate readings. Sleep and heart rate variability Studies have concluded that a lack of sleep, will elevate your heart rate 5-10 beats per minute (bpm). While this may not seem like a big change, coupled with the other factors below, a lack of sleep could cause you to train at heart rate levels that are below your optimal training zones. In addition, you naturally have a lower heart rate in the morning than you do at night. Even further, heart rate can vary by 2-4 bpm from one day to the next without any changes to fitness or fatigue. Therefore, you need to adjust your heart rate to accommodate for the time of day you’ll be attacking the roads and factor in daily variability. Stress Stress has the same effect on your heart rate as a lack of sleep. One study, in particular, showed that workplace stress raised heart rates by 4-6 bpm. This is an important statistic for runners who train after work. Unlike sleep, an exact measurement of your stress level, and therefore the exact increase in your heart rate, is difficult to determine. While running is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, the elevated heart rates you experience while in a stressful state will change the heart rates at which you should be running. Caffeine As runners with busy lives, caffeine often becomes the fuel that runs our day – for better or worse. While staying awake at work is ideal, studies have shown that caffeine elevates heart rate for up to 24 hours after ingestion. Like stress, it is difficult to measure the exact change in heart rate you’ll experience when consuming caffeine because we all react individually to its effects. Runners who are accustomed to caffeine will be less affected than those who only drink the occasional cup. Weather Weather also has a dramatic influence on heart rate. During hot days, your heart rate will increase as your body works to cool itself down. In hot and humid conditions, blood is sent to the skin to aid in the cooling process. This means there is less available blood and oxygen for your working muscles. Therefore, your heart has to work harder to maintain the same pace and effort during your run. Conversely, heart rate will decrease (or more accurately underestimate the intensity of exercise) in response to training in cold environments. Researchers posit that training in cold temperatures results in an increase in stroke volume and thus a higher V02max, which will lower the perceived effort and reduce your heart rate. Dehydration Finally, dehydration has a profound effect on heart rate. In one study, researchers found that cyclists who exercised in a dehydrated state exhibited heart rate readings that were 5-7.5% higher than normal. Like the above factors, training in a dehydrated state can drastically influence your heart rate training zones. While each of these factors in itself isn’t cause to throw your heart rate monitor out the window, when you combine their effects, you can easily be exercising outside your target heart rate zones on any given day. Likewise, the exact measurement of your stress levels, caffeine intake, and heart rate variability can be difficult to pinpoint, leaving you guessing at your actual heart rate levels.

Heart rate CAN be a good indicator of training effort, but don't be a slave to it!

Training by heart rate

2. Lack of concrete data needed to establish training zones

Another inherent drawback to heart rate training is how difficult it is to establish your max heart rate and accurate training zones. While a quick Google search reveals a myriad of formulas to help you find your max heart rate, the problem with formulas is that they are based on an average. What if you’re not average? Not only that, but is maximum heart rate really the best predictor of training zones? In order to establish proper training zones, an athlete must first determine their maximum heart rate (MHR). Unfortunately, a majority of runners use simple heart rate formulas (does 220 minus age ring a bell), which have a high degree of error. To get an accurate measure of your maximum heart rate, you should partake in a graded exercise test, but locating a facility that can accommodate this type of testing isn’t easily found. Likewise, a graded exercise test won’t be appropriate for a beginner runner who can’t handle such a stressful workout. Therefore, many runners who control their effort by heart rate may be doomed from the start by using faulty max heart rates. Training zones and correlation with lactate levels. Training with a heart rate monitor requires adherence to a specific set of heart rate zones, each of which is designed to elicit a particular exercise intensity. Unfortunately, maximum heart rate is not the ideal way to measure the bodies response to exercise. Rather, blood lactate levels are more accurate. In fact, research has demonstrated that there is no predictable relationship between heart rate and lactate threshold. Lactate threshold tends to occur at around 90% of maximum heart rate in well-trained runners, but it can occur at 50% of maximum heart rate for beginners. Therefore, your optimal training zones could be far outside what traditional heart rate training advocates suggest.

3. Faulty readings and flawed monitors produce inaccurate data

While I have been rather scientific so far, perhaps my biggest gripe in regards to heart rate monitor training is the unreliable data. From a training and coaching standpoint, I am not willing to make my training decisions based on devices that barely work half of the time. As a coach and a runner myself, If I am going to rely on the data I am receiving to make the best decisions about training, I need to be confident that it’s correct at least 95% of the time. Otherwise, I may be making training decisions based on irrelevant and inaccurate information. Now, this doesn’t mean I never use heart rate or think it’s a terrible idea altogether. Simply speaking, I don’t trust it and would rather develop a runner’s more fine-tuned internal sense of effort and pace. If you use a heart rate monitor currently, you don’t have to stop – just keep these three caveats in mind. As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about heart rate training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For a more in-depth understanding on how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Keep Your Head Up #RunFormFriday

Your head position when you run is crucial, but people don’t think about it enough, and it’s often something that can hold you back that you don’t realise. How you hold your head is key to overall posture, which determines how efficiently you run. Lets look at how your head position affects your entire body.

Running head position

 

Head Position

Your head position ultimately determines the shape of your spine and position of your stomach while running. Let your gaze guide you. Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, and scan the horizon. This will straighten your neck and back, and bring them into alignment. Don’t allow your chin to jut out.

The mistakes that people often make are looking at their feet, and letting their head sink into their shoulders. Looking down and consequently flexing through the chest and neck causes various effects. It causes the spine to lose alignment, it causes potential impingement and consequent tightness in your shoulders/arms, it can effect movement of the arms which is crucial for rhythm and tempo and it also causes greater weight to be placed on the lower body and your movement lever to be reduced. Altogether this makes you less efficient and heavier as a runner.

Running head position

 

Posture

All this has a positive effect on overall posture. By keeping your head up and eyes forward, it allows you to engage your core better. This in turn will allow your feet to land under your hips better, stronger and more stably. The more you can keep a good strong posture, the more relaxed you can be. The upshot of all this is that you should have more energy to run faster or harder!

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Running Posture #RunFormFriday

Running Posture #RunFormFriday

Firstly, let me preface my following comments by saying that running technique isn’t a one size fit’s all subject (for example the heel striking vs midfoot striking debate). Every runner is different. However, we are all bound by the same laws of physics! As such, there are aspects of good running technique, such as posture, which will commonly apply to the vast majority of runners and triathletes.

The most important thing to appreciate with reference to running posture is that gravity can either work for you or against you. When good running posture enables you to engage gravity and use it to your advantage, you get the feeling of controlled falling forward and developing “free speed”. In contrast, if your running posture is poor, you end up fighting against gravity to push yourself off the ground.

So what constitutes good running posture? There are many elements from head to toe, in all three planes which on a segmental level interact to create a balanced posture. For the sake of this article I’m going to focus on what commonly occurs around the hips and pelvis – and what that then creates above and below.

Arguably the most important factor in achieving correct running posture is the slight forward lean… Not “whether” a slight forward lean is achieved, but “how”.

We’ve all seen runners who look tired and laboured as they bend forwards from the waist as they run. Contrast this image with one of a runner who remains straight, long and strong from head-to-toe, achieving a whole-body forwards lean from ankles upwards.

The difference between the two postures: alignment. The runner who bends forwards from the waist, flexing at the hips and losing alignment will tend to sit their butt backward to counter balance their upper body’s forward position, a result of weak glutes and poor core strength. This “sat back” posture often results in an over-striding style, increasing braking forces and impact as the foot lands way ahead of the centre of mass. Due to the way in which the hips and pelvis are sat back behind the point of initial contact, the effect of falling forwards and using gravity can’t be achieved. Instead, more energy is expended to push-off from stride to stride.

In contrast, keeping your body in alignment, by maintaining a whole body forward lean from ankles upwards (keeping hips and pelvis from sitting back) will move your body mass forwards, closer to over the top of where the foot makes it’s initial contact. This will vastly decrease braking forces and impact. The slight forwards lean of the whole body in alignment from head-to-toe will bring your centre of mass up and over the top of your base of support (foot), enabling gravity to pull you forwards as you begin to “fall” forwards.

Hey presto – increased forwards momentum for minimal effort!

What cues and imagery works for you to keep your posture on the run?

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Free Up Those Hips #RunFormFriday

Free Up Those Hips #RunFormFriday

I talk regularly about how posture is key to a strong, stable and fast run (and swim and bike!). To have good posture, you require a strong “core”. If the core isn’t strong enough to do the job, it will change position to provide the stability it needs. This typically means the hips, hamstring and mid back become tense to try to give some stability to the area. Those chronically tight hip flexors? Yep, they attach to the spine, and if you’ve got a sloppy set of abs you’ll get your hip flexors trying to hold your spine together and they’ll stay tight as a drumskin for as long as they need to give up that stability.

Think of it this way.

The spine with a weak core is like some guy who can’t get any attention from the ladies at the bar. As a result, needs a wingman to close the deal. He’s got himself dressed up, a thick layer of Lynx Body Spray on, but still can’t get the job done on his own. In order to seal the deal, he needs someone else at the wheel.

That’s really the great thing about the body, no matter what happens, it will always find a way. We’ve all seen someone who limps, hitches, sticks their bum out, or leans over at the hips; we think “that can’t be comfortable.” These are all ways to reduce strain on some part of the body and get the individual to feel the least amount of pain and be the most efficient possible; even if it’s not ideal.

Compensations are an efficient, less painful way of getting the job done.

Now if we look at the hip specifically, we see no reason whatsoever that it should be restricted and less than mobile, at least from a structural perspective. It’s a very open ball and socket joint and can go through a huge range of motion before it gets to an actual end-range due to bony contact or capsular ending.

Running from the hips

The ease of motion is aided further by synovial fluid to reduce friction, thick cartilaginous lining, a strong but flexible labrum, and positioning on the side of the pelvis to allow the greatest range of motion through multiple planes of movement compared to if it were simply in a hinge formation like the knee or elbow.

So how do our hips affect our running?

As we run, from the moment our standing foot begins to pass under our body, the overall goal is to create optimal forward propulsion (and some upwards displacement). This propulsion is created by us effectively pushing the ground away beneath and behind our forward moving centre of mass. We can clearly see great examples of this propulsive extension pattern in many elite distance runners. Running pace is governed largely by the combination of stride length and stride frequency (running cadence).

The ability to extend well through the hips is key to developing running speed and efficiency. Remember the length of our strides should come from the leg extending behind us rather than reaching out in front. If the hips are tight, then the likelihood is that the pelvis will get pulled out of its optimal, stable position. This results in many of it’s attaching muscles are subsequently positioned in a disadvantaged position; they cannot effectively fulfil their role.

 

Running from the hips

When doing a hip flexor stretch, ensure that you’re still maintaining good strong posture.

 

If a runner lacks hip extension, they won’t be able to increase stride length enough to realise their true potential pace while remaining efficient. When it comes to movement, we humans have a remarkable ability to cheat. Our body finds ways to “get the job done” – as mentioned above.

 

How to mobilise your hips

The muscles of the hip that resist motion are primarily found on the outside/front of the hip. These muscles play a key role in providing stability to the spine along with other parts of the core. This is where the side plank comes in. It can help to stimulate these muscles and force them to work together to help stabilize the spine in a position that doesn’t allow compensation, and therefore can re-set the hip and core to allow the hip to move properly. Throw a leg raise in there and you have some great stability and strength.

A good front plank should make your glutes incredibly tired from forcibly making them contract. Your hip flexors should stretch and the abs bite down harder.

Hopefully, this will allow you to get an easier knee lift, and also leg extension to your running stride. This should go some way to giving your run more power, more speed and more stability.

The proof is always in the pudding. If you do something with a specific goal in mind, what you are doing should be moving you closer to achieving that goal. If it doesn’t you’re barking up the wrong tree. Give this a try, and let me know if it works for you

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For a more in-depth understanding of how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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