I started running when I was 19 when I made the life changing decision to terminate my degree in Nursing at University of Surrey and transfer to Birmingham to study Sports Science. I had 9 months between courses and thought I needed something to aim for. The London marathon became my goal. I clearly remember running my first proper run, getting home and measuring the distance I had covered using a piece of string and map. I was thrilled I had run 4 whole miles…it seemed so far! I ran that first marathon in 2000 in 3:45, not bad after running my first 4 miles ever 6 months before. After that, I was hooked and I intrigued to know how could I become a better athlete.
5 Years in total studying Sports Science and Nutrition and Dietetics gave me some of my personal answers I was seeking. I had had aspects of disordered eating where I would see food as something negative but over my university years I gradually changed my nutrition and realised my food was fuel that my body needed not something that I needed to avoid. The difference in my performance was substantial. Within 3 years of my first marathon I was standing on the Championship start of London marathon behind some of the greatest female marathon runners on the world.
Don’t let me fool you into thinking though I always nail the perfect training nutrition because I don’t. Like most of you here I wear a lot hats. I’m a parent, run a business, I’m a coach and I run ultra distances, so my time escapes me as well. The main reason my athletes come to me is because their performance isn’t how they want it to be and this tends to be due to lack of time and therefore lack of ability to recover properly. For most of us life is demanding and time is precious.
The importance of rest, sleep and down time is becoming more talked about recently. It is common for runners to think about their before and during exercise but once they are done, especially if busy rushing back to work or do something for the children, recovery is neglected. The Kenyans are superior running beings, we all know that. The one thing they do very differently to western runners is the art of recovery. They go to bed when the sun goes down and get up when the sun rises and go out running. After their run they eat simple foods that are nutritious and energy rich and rest. They don’t worry about jobs or chores, they don’t bother with social media, they sit, drink tea, chat with friends with their feet up until their next session.Although I am not suggesting this is the only way we can recover, my point is, just slow down a little and think about how your body is going to rest. This is because, if we can recover quicker we can train better. A great tip with nutrition is to programme it the same way we would programme a training programme. If you wanted to run your first marathon you wouldn’t go from 5 to 42 km with no training in between would you? No! You make a plan, change things slowly and progress bit by bit. The same should be with your nutrition. Start with something easy, like focusing on recovery strategies. Do it regularly. Progress gradually and make sure you understand why you are doing what you are.
When I ask people what they think of when I mention recovery almost all will say replacing the calories they have just expended in exercise. That is true to extent but a calorie isn’t a calorie and it is how those calories are made that is the important bit. Protein is always the nutrient that is associated with recovery. Indeed it is the main driver for muscle protein synthesis, the process that instigates muscle repair and adaptation. However for runners, carbohydrate is just as and maybe slightly more important. We run, we use up our fuel (muscle glycogen) and when we finish the tank is empty. If we don’t replenish these stores our next training session will be hampered.
Post run I want you to think about the three R’s.
Rehydrate - 500mls fluid then little and often until urine is clear or you have reached your pre run weight.
If you have 24 hours between sessions your strategy can be a little more relaxed. Follow your daily carbs needs for an endurance athlete and ensure a we balanced meal within an hour or so of finishing exercise
If you have less than 8 hrs between sessions this is where you need to be more exact. Take between 1-1.2g carbs / kg bw each hour for 3-4 hrs to maximise glycogen synthesis.
Rebuild - 20 g protein post session and then regularly at each meal and snack for remainder of the day.
Even by taking these simple steps, after every training session, it will ensure you will recover quickly and perform better in subsequent sessions. You many not hit it head on everyday, after every session but think 3 R's when you finish training, keep it simple and be consistent and it will eventually become habit and part of your routine.