My college coach sent me a message the other day because he was putting together a presentation on “things successful runners do.” He was surveying some former athletes on things they felt like they did that made them successful. With as many great athletes as he’s coached that were much better than I ever was, I was flattered. I told him that I always felt like I did a good job of taking care of my body, even as a college athlete when the environment wasn’t always conducive to getting good sleep and eating well, among other things.
I don’t remember having any race or many workouts where I was at less than 100% because I decided to make something other than running my priority. Selective memory perhaps, but the point remains that the most successful runners take care of their bodies the way a pit crew takes care of a race car. Unfortunately, with the exception of the professionals, most of us don’t have a lifestyle that allows us to dedicate our entire day to doing what’s best for our running. In the absence of that, you can still incorporate a few of the little things the professionals are diligent about into your daily routine, all without having to quit your job and neglect your family.
Rest is the part of training that the vast majority of runners overlook or completely omit despite it being one of the most important components of training. At ZAP Fitness we like to say that rest is not the absence of training, it’s part of training. I know that most people aren’t able to take a 90 minute nap in the middle of the day like the pros do, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paying closer attention to how much rest you’re getting. I’m not telling you to sleep in and skip your morning run, but I am telling you that the day of and the day after a hard workout that turning the TV off a little early and getting to bed will help you reap the benefits of the hard workouts.
Post Run Nutrition
The 30-minute post run window is a critical time in terms of caloric consumption and beginning the recovery process. You should get in 200-300 calories with both carbohydrate and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run. This will jump start the recovery process and put you in position to recover faster and feel better day-to-day.
Daily Eating Patterns
Most of us tend to consume our calories in 2-3 large meals, creating insulin spikes in the blood and causing the body to convert more of our energy to fat than it would with more even caloric intake throughout the day. Being able to even out your caloric intake doesn’t have to be as big of an inconvenience as it sounds. Eat a couple of hundred calories (if you have a weak stomach try liquid calories) in the morning before your run and then another couple of hundred calories after your run. Take a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack to work with you, eat a light lunch, and you won’t make the mistake of gorging yourself at dinner because you haven’t eaten in six hours. Spreading out your caloric intake evenly throughout the day will improve your energy throughout the day and increase your lean muscle mass to fat ratio.
Everyone knows they should drink more water, and no, coffee doesn’t count. (Interesting side note: coffee doesn’t technically dehydrate you, it just doesn’t hydrate you. And the performance benefits of 200-400mg of caffeine within an hour of a workout or race are undeniable.) Get a water bottle and carry it with you all day. If you make it present on your desk you’ll be more likely to drink consistently, and frankly, there are no excuses with this one, even though we all have them. Drink more water!
Move Your Legs During the Day
If you’re at your desk all day, get up and move around a bit every hour. One of the worst things for runners and is to sit in a chair all day – hamstrings, glutes, psoas, calves – you name it, sitting for a prolonged period of time is bad for it. Try this: on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays stand up and do 5 body weight squats every hour and on Tuesdays and Thursdays do 5 standing lunges every hour. (And go to the water fountain to refill your water bottle!) This will help keep the muscles loose in the body’s mid-section where people tend to run into problems, and you’ll get the added benefit of two good exercises at the same time.
Who has time to go through a 30-40 minute core routine 2-3 times a week? Setting aside a big chunk of time can be difficult and make it less likely that you do anything at all. Try breaking up your exercise routine into 2 groups and do the first half one day and the second half the next day. It may be tough set aside that big chunk of time, but setting aside 10-15 minutes more frequently can be more manageable and make it more likely that you get the work in.
Five extra miles a week can seem like a lot, but if you just add an extra mile here and there where you have the time it can add up quickly and give you that extra boost of strength to see some jumps in performance.
Time is a precious commodity, and for many runners it’s the little things that often slip by the wayside. However, add those little things up and over time they will make a big difference in performance, especially if you’re able to prevent an injury that could cost you weeks of consistent training.
*This Article Originally Appeared in the September 2015 Issue of Running Journal