Sure, if you want to run, you can simply lace up your shoes and take to the pavement. But running can take its toll on your body if you don’t treat it right. And if you’re training to cover some distance — like 26.2 miles, for instance — you really need to be spot on with your training.
Muscle & Performance has picked the brains of expert trainers and nutritionists (who also run for fun and competition) to assemble the following runner’s checklist that you can use to make sure you get the most out of your favorite activity.
To be a bona fide runner, you need to make sure you do it regularly. “Even if you don’t get in the mileage you’re supposed toduring the week, run what or when you can,” says Michelle Basta Speers, NSCA-CPT, a personal trainer based in South Pasadena, Calif. “However, regarding the long runs on weekends when you’re training for an endurance event, make sure you do hit the mileage on those.”
“Running can create trauma to the tissues, so recovery and regeneration need to be a priority,” says Rachel Cosgrove, CSCS, owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif., and author of The Female Body Breakthrough (Rodale Books, 2009). Include foam rolling, stretching and icing to your post-run recovery. “Freeze a small water bottle, and after a run, use it as a massage roller, rolling it on your [iliotibial] band, rolling your feet over it, and rolling up and down your quads,” she says.
Strength Train And Crosstrain
“Runners often fall into the trap of just running, and this is a big mistake,” says Rebecca Wroten-Brink, NASM-CPT, running coach and owner of SELF Concepts LLC, a personal coaching service based in Lakeland, Fla. “Running moves the body in only one direction — forward — and uses certain muscles more than others. If all you do is run, the body begins to become imbalanced and certain muscles get overused.”
Cosgrove agrees: “Consider strength training as injury prevention. The stronger each joint is the less likelihood of injury and the more impact your body can handle.” Add in some basic strength training a few days a week, even if it is only right before or right after a run. Wroten-Brink suggests a simple circuit of walking lunges, lateral lunges, jump squats, push-ups, cobras, bridges and planks.
Make Friends With Carbs
You need energy to run, and it is the often-shunned carbohydrate that is best to get you through whatever mileage you chose. Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., co-author of The Health Professional’s Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006), marathoner and chief science officer of SupplementWatch.com, suggests matching your total carbohydrate intake to your mileage. If you are training hard, you’ll want to have 5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight. For example, if you’re a 160-pound man, convert your weight into kilograms (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds), and then do the following calculation: 72.7 kg x 5 g = 364 g carbs per day (which equals 1,456 calories). Now if you experience symptoms, such as fatigue, irritability, or weight gain or loss, tweak the gram per pound each day or week as you train. You should feel energized.
How to put that carb intake into practice? “Two hours prior to your run, consume 2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight, or one hour prior, choose 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight,” says Debra Wein, MS, RD, owner of Sensible Nutrition Inc. in Hingham, Mass. Consider oatmeal or a whole-wheat bagel with a little peanut butter and a fruit salad.
Practice Race-Day Nutrition
All our experts told us the same thing: If you’re going to race, then practice eating before the big event. You want to train and race with the same fuel. “Long distances can make your stomach sensitive, so stick with what it knows,” Basta Boubion says. Wroten-Brink suggests finding out what race organizers are serving at the aid stations and then try it. “You don't want to get surprised on race day when you find out that a particular supplement sends you straight to the porta potty,” she says.
This includes drinking. Wein suggests setting up a schedule for drinking, such as taking a sip every 15 minutes. “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty,” she says. And, on the other end of the spectrum, it will insure that you won’t over-hydrate. If you’re running for more than 60 minutes, drink an undiluted sports drink.
Talbott suggests taking Cordyceps and Rhodiola to help with oxygen utilization and endurance, and also branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine to help with recovery. “Glucosamine and chondroitin are good choices for people who are experiencing cartilage-related knee and hip pain (like arthritis),” he says.
Take An Electrolyte Supplement
If you sweat a lot, this is key, says Basta Speers, who has run 30 marathons and ultramarathons and counting. “Read the packaging so you know exactly what you’re taking and how and when to take it. Nailing this down could make the difference between cooperative muscles and a calf or hamstring that decides to call it quits at mile 18,” she says.
Dress For Distance
Basta Speers cautions that you should always choose your running clothes carefully. “Whatdoesn’t chafe in 15 miles could very well cause severe chafing just a few miles later,” she says. “The cumulative buildup of sweat and salt combined with small changes in biomechanics as you tire those last several miles increase the risk of chafing.” Wear thin articles of clothing with wicking properties, and don’t forget the Bodyglide.
Do What Works For You.
“We’re all unique,” says Cori Colombe, longtime runner and co-owner of Overland, Kan.-based Eat Well Move More. “What works for one person may not work for another. That’s why I think it’s very important that you experiment [to find out what’s] working for you.” And she means trainingwise and nutritionally. For instance, her half-marathon supplement staples include Carb Boom! Energy Gels, Greens Plus Energy Bars, Living Harvest Hemp Protein and Garden of Life’s Vitamin Code multivitamins.