Your Runner’s Guide to Nutrition and Technique
Whether you are brand new to running or you’ve been hitting the pavement for years, everybody wants to know how to become better at running. You can get lost in articles that get extremely specific and narrowly focus on only one aspect.
What you need is a good solid overview of what it takes to become a better runner. That involves the nutrition you need, the techniques you practice, and the supplements that aid your performance.
In this article, we’re going to cover the running basics that allow you to excel on every level. We explain the pre, mid, and post-run nutrition basics. We cover techniques to help you improve your running form. We also touch on the supplements that runners need to improve their speed and endurance.
Improving Your Running Nutrition
The Upcoming Run
If you’re eating a full meal before you run, allow at least 2-3 hours to fully digest your food. You won’t have the issue of cramping on your run. As we mentioned in our pre-workout article, your pre-run meal should be high in carbs and protein. Simple carbs like fruit quickly break down to glucose that your body can immediately use. Protein will metabolise into amino acids that your body uses to synthesise muscle tissue.
If you don’t have time to eat a full meal before you run, eat a small snack at least 30 minutes before.
Your body will use between 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise. Plan to use carbs as instant energy source to avoid depleting your stored glycogen deposits. For an average-pace run up to an hour, try these pre-run foods:
- Two bananas
- Two slices of toast with honey or jam
- 75 g of dried fruits
- 2 low-fibre muesli bars
Every gram of carbs you store requires you also store 3 grams of water. Make sure to pre-hydrate before you run so your performance doesn’t suffer from fatigue or muscle soreness.
Midway Through the Run
Should you try to refuel during a run? Normally, no. With any type of run under an hour, you can either prepare by eating before you run, or replenish after you finish.
With runs that last over an hour, you should be drinking water along the way. If your run lasts more than 10km, use a sports drink to replenish those lost electrolytes. Long distance runners should also use a high-carb gel or energy drink to refuel along the way.
The Run is Complete
Your muscles are tired and depleted - your energy needs to be topped up right away. Use this time to eat a high-carb, high-protein meal to boost energy and rebuild muscle tissue from the amino acids in protein. While a pre-run meal should be high in simple carbs that metabolise quickly into glucose, a post-run meal/snack should incorporate more complex carbs that release a slow-glucose intake to the bloodstream.
It doesn’t have to be a huge meal, but you should aim to eat 30-60g of carbs and 15-30g of protein to use the anabolic window where your muscles are desperate to intake nutrients. Use these simple snacks to effectively restore the nutrients and energy you’ve lost in your run.
- Fresh rolled oats with milk and dried fruits.
- 3-egg omelette with 2 rashers of bacon and slice of toast
- A can of tuna on baked pita bread
Tweaking your Running Technique
Now that you’ve got your eating sorted, let’s focus on what it takes to start to improve your performance. You want to boost your speed, your endurance, and your power.
Your speed comes from a proper balance in your muscles. You need to train your muscles to be strong and work together. This is also known as functional strength.
Functional training involves working out in such a way that improves the performance of how you move every day. For runners, this means doing multi-joint movements that target the muscles you use for running. Focus on your glutes, your knees, your hips, and your quads to increase the strength in your legs.
You also need to do functional training in related muscle groups like your back and your core.
- Single and double leg squats
- Leaping lunges
- Planks to push-ups
Try doing a combination of these movements 3-4 times a week to increase the strength in your muscles.
Want to run for 10km, 20km, 30km runs? You need to build your endurance, in both distance and speed.
Endurance is like load-training in weight lifting. It’s a progressive additional load every time to train to build up that ability to go longer. In weight lifting, you don’t come in to the gym and expect to lift the same weights every time. You push yourself to add 2.5kg or more to the bar, progressively pushing further than what you previously did. It’s a great way to avoid plateaus in your progress.
The same goes for endurance runs. Start off with a certain mileage that you are comfortable running and add a kilometre every week. Make sure it’s no more than this. It’s this slow progression that has the most effective results on your performance. Make it steady and consistent. Otherwise you could exhaust your body.
If you feel like it’s becoming too much, decrease a couple kilometres for a week. So, if you were running 8 kms and it’s too difficult, run 6 kms next week and rebuild your progression after that.
If you want to increase your speed endurance, try the Yasso 800. If you have a marathon time in mind in hours and minutes, run 800m in that time in minutes and seconds. Want to run a sub-4 hour marathon? Try running 800m in under 4 minutes. This will train your body to the speed you need to reach that target.
If you feel like you’re dragging your feet, you need to add some power to your stride. This power is going to propel you faster and farther on your runs.
Use a high-intensity exercise like plyometrics to exaggerate your movements when you train. Plyometrics are jumping based exercises which require your muscles to use maximum force in a short span of time. Incorporating plyometrics into your routine just once a week is enough to add some power to your stride.
Leg Bounding - For 100 metres, run with a leaping motion forward. Lift your knees higher than you normally would and spring forward with each step. Walk back to the starting line to recover and then repeat 5 times.
Jump Squats - With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and then leap straight up. Bring your knees to your chest and lift your hands over your head. As you land, bend your knees, touch the ground and squat again. Do this for 20 leaps.
Accelerations/Decelerations - Start a jog at a slower than normal pace. Over the course of a minute, gradually increase your speed until you’ve reached a full sprint. From a full sprint, slowly decrease your speed again over a minute until you come back to a slow jog again. Rest for 3 minutes and repeat 3 times.
Let’s look at some of the supplements that enhance your ability to perform better and recover faster. These are specific to runners and the requirements they have for joint health, endurance needs, and recovery times.
Not just for bodybuilders and weightlifters, creatine is an established supplement that runners will appreciate. It builds up and improves your ATP stores, the energy your body uses for everything. From endurance to speed, an enhanced creatine supply will build up your anabolic performance and your stores of energy directly available to your muscles.
Fish oil, especially the Omega-3 fatty acids are great for runners who need endurance. The omega-3 opens up the blood vessels which allows more blood (and more oxygen) to reach the muscles you use. It’s also essential for joint health, a common complaint among runners.
Magnesium is an electrolyte that you rapidly deplete on long runs. Even a decrease of 2% will cause a lack of performance and a drop in speed. Keep your magnesium levels up with a good supplement that sustains you during a long run.
Straight after a run, your body is depleted and your muscles have tiny tears that it rebuilds with amino acids. Whey protein is a quick-acting protein that is fully metabolised in your body within 45-60 minutes of ingesting it. Have a whey protein smoothie right after a run to fully supply amino acids to the muscles that need it right now
Your Running Guide Takeaway
Your running health isn’t a sprint but a marathon (sorry, we had to). Your health goals aren’t short-term, but require a dedication to healthy nutrition, proper and effective training, and a good balance of supplements that enhance your performance on the track and on the road.
Take good care of your body and you’ll be running for years to come.