As we enter the New Year a little heavier following the Christmas period, it’s traditional for many people to set goals to eat healthier and get fitter. This blog is not about how to achieve these goals, but for those who will be motivated to get out and start running, possibly with the resolution to run a marathon this year. Starting off is always the hardest bit and knowing how to train and what to eat to fuel your body to boost performance (and lose the Christmas weight) is sometimes the reason people lose their motivation to continue. Here are some simple guidelines to help you get started.
1. Don’t run before you can walk
When you start training for an event you want to be able to run the full distance in your first attempt. If you’re new to running then it’s much more sensible to find your feet and start off by covering just a couple of miles and gradually building on that. You should also not be disheartened if you do need to stop and walk whilst on the first few runs, but instead use that as motivation to surpass this distance without stopping next time. Set realistic targets, monitor your progress, and push yourself.
2. Plan your training
Simply running as far as you can every time you train is not the most beneficial way to structure your training. This may not be practical based on your lifestyle and may prevent you from training at all that day. Therefore, planning your training for the week ahead can make the most of your time and training. Set one day for the longest run (typically at the weekend), with varied distances and intensities for the other 2-3 runs the rest of the week.
3. Warm up, cool down
Warming up before training is important to get the muscles warm prior to training to reduce injury risk. Spend the first 5-10 minutes fast walking/slow jogging with a few static and dynamic stretches, and after you’ve trained don’t collapse in a head but walk around for another 5 minutes to allow your body to cool down properly. Static stretching will also improve flexibility when performed whilst your muscles are warm and elastic after training.
4. Gradually increase your distance/time
When training for an event it may be down to the individual whether they aim to run for a certain time or cover a certain distance. Either way gradually increasing that goal will help to improve performance, as ultimately the longer you run for, the further you’ll go, and vice versa. Try to add an extra 1-2 miles or 15-20 minutes per week and before you know it you’ll be running your target distance without stopping.
5. Recovery is important – listen to your body
If you’re a beginner it’s important not to overdo it. Training with insufficient recovery time isn’t good for anyone, but if your body is not used to being stressed physically then you have an increased risk of injury and may lead to long-term problems. Your body will tell you if you’re doing too much and if it needs to rest, so listen to your body, and remember that recovery is just as important for adapting to training as training itself. Slow recovery could also be a sign of poor nutrition, so look at your diet and the points below could help.
6. Preventing injury
When training for a marathon there’s nothing worse than being injured, however when you put your body through the stress of exercise, especially continuous high impact sports like running, the risk of injury is high. There are a few training and nutrition related interventions you can do to help prevent injury:
- Warm up and stretch well before every training session
- Strength training 1-2 times per week
- Wobble board, resistance band, uphill walking, plyometric training, and general posture fixing exercises
- Invest in appropriate footwear
- Ensure you diet has sufficient carbohydrate and protein for energy and recovery
- Calcium and vitamin D support bone and muscle health
- Maintain good hydration
7. Carbohydrates – Fuel your training
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source during moderate-high intensity exercise. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen and as exercise intensity and duration increases, glycogen stores become depleted causing fatigue. Consuming sufficient carbohydrates in the hours before, during (if training for >1.5 hrs) and after training will help to fuel your training and replenish glycogen stores that were used in that training session.
Focus on high-quality carbohydrates foods such as fruits and vegetables, sweet and white potatoes, pulses and grains such as oats, whole-grain/brown rice and pasta, quinoa, lentils and beans.
If you’re training for a marathon and can run for 2 hours or more and not already including carbohydrate during your training, energy drinks/gels like Energel can support performance and help you run that bit further and faster.
8. Protein – recovery
Proteins are your recovery foods as they help your bones and muscles to grow and develop, repairing any damaged tissues and promoting important adaptations in response to training. Eating a source of high-quality protein foods with each meal (4-6 times per day) is important to support these physiological responses to training and maximise recovery. This can include lean meats and fish, offal, eggs, dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese), legumes, nuts and seeds.
Consuming 20-30g whey protein soon after training will promote recovery, and can be as a post-training meal if available, or snack options may include a pint of milk (best option as it also enhances glycogen and fluid replenishment better than any supplement), fruit smoothie with milk/yoghurt, or Nutrition X’s Big Whey protein supplement for convenience.
9. Fats – where do they come in?
Dietary fats should make up the rest of your daily calorie intake once carbohydrate and protein requirements have been met. Foods that are rich in unsaturated fatty acids should be prioritised ahead of saturated fats as they offer the best health benefits. Saturated fats should not be neglected and can be included as part of a healthy and balanced diet, as they support hormone production and cell formation.
Omega-3 fatty acids should be prioritised (2-3 servings per week), sourced from oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout), flaxseeds and walnuts. Omega-3 plays a vital role in reducing inflammation, boosting immune function, brain function and cardiovascular health as well as stimulating protein synthesis.
Other healthy unsaturated fat sources include nuts and seeds, eggs, avocado, olives and olive oils. Saturated fats are found in animal produce, typically red meat, dairy, egg yolks, and also coconuts. Consume red meat 2-3 times per week to support iron levels with other saturated fats on rest days or after training.
Hydration plays a key role in endurance performance. Excessive losses of body water and electrolytes during exercise is associated with reduced work output due to a greater reliance on carbohydrate for fuel, impaired thermoregulation and concentration, and increased perception of exercise intensity.
To prevent dehydration ensure you are well hydrated (urine is clear and not a dark colour) before training, and drink to thirst during. Drinking water should be fine if you’re training for less than 90 minutes; any longer and the use of carbohydrate drinks and Energels will provide additional carbohydrates and electrolytes to maintain energy levels.
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