Nutrition pre and post workout

When you’re training hard, whether it’s for a race, match or just life in general, you’d be wrong to think that your hours spent training are all that’s important. The amount you train can only get you so far – your food intake fuels your training and so what you eat can determine your progress day by day. Trying to workout without any fuel is like trying to go on a roadtrip without filling up with petrol: you’re not going to get very far!

If you’re working hard on your regime it’s important to compliment it with a good diet. Learn the best foods to eat before and after your workout to get the most out of your training.

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Make sure you fuel yourself properly before doing intense exercise (photo by David Wren)

Before you workout

When it comes to fuelling for your workouts carbs are your best friend (hooray!). They can provide energy that is easily accessible to your body and means that you won’t burnout half way. Complex carbs will keep you fuelled for long periods of time, whereas simple carbs are immediately available for your body to use, and are helpful for that extra kick of energy. If you’re training hard you’re also likely to sweat a lot, so consider eating something that has a little salt/minerals too (bananas!).

Food is important, but be careful of eating too much, too close to your workout. After we eat (especially carbohydrates and large meals), we release melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep. Try to eat around 2h before attempting an intense workout. The smaller the snack and the less intense the workout the closer together they can be. Boost your energy without causing a food coma by eating something like these (and don’t forget to keep hydrated!):

  • Fruit (banana)
  • Slice of wholemeal toast and an egg/ ¼ avocado
  • Energy ball
  • Small smoothie

 

After you workout

Your body has worked hard for you during your training session, breaking down muscle fibres to rebuild new, stronger ones. You will have depleted your glycogen stores in your muscles too, especially with endurance exercises, so these need to be restored. However, be careful of the ‘I earned this mentality’ – whilst a protein shake or lean protein and toast may help, it doesn’t follow that an entire extra meal and packet of crisps will be better! Try one of these balanced options within 30 minutes of ending your workout to replenish your muscles without ruining your progress:

 

  • Wholemeal toast, peanut butter, ½ banana
  • Protein shake with berries
  • Low sugar protein bar or ball (preferably homemade)

 

There are so many contradictory pieces of advice out there when it comes to fuelling your workouts. It doesn’t help that all our bodies are different, as are our training styles, goals and lifestyles. What really matters is finding something that works for you and your routine. You should do what feels good and healthy to you – some people can’t eat at all before a workout, others can’t finish a workout without food. What is most important is that you’re feeding yourself enough of the vital nutrients to achieve the fitness gains you want to see – our bodies are engines designed to run on the fuel of food, and deprivation will lead to minimal improvement, if any.

 

What I do:

I eat up to 1.5h before a workout, usually something small like a homemade oat biscuit, slice of toast or banana. If I’m really tired and I know I’ll be working out later, I’ll also have a coffee a few hours before, but I save this for emergencies so it continues to have an effect! After I workout I’ll just have a simple protein shake with milk to allow my muscles to recover, but at the next meal (usually dinner) I’ll eat carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen stores.

How to get better at running

Running is something that people usually either love or hate… But hate it or love it, there is something to be said for getting out of the house and feeling the wind on your face (not to mention the many health benefits and that runners high!). I’ve gone from HATING running to actually enjoying it almost every time, and I put that partly down to getting a lot better at it. It’s taken me about 5 years of running to actually look forward to my runs. Here are some bits of advice to help you improve too!

 

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The excitement is real

  • Ease yourself in to a new routine

Routine is very important when it comes to improving at anything and whilst in a moment of energised madness it could seem like a good idea to attempt a 10 mile run out of the blue, most of us would be put off by any programme that suggested that was a good idea. It is important to ease yourself into any new routine, and running is no different. Using different muscles can leave you with severe DOMS, and a new programme should allow for some recovery without leaving too long between runs. If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to start a programme such as a ‘couch to 5k’ or join your local running group for some motivation. Not every run you complete needs to be as fast and far as you can – leave room for enjoyment too, as 2 weeks of an intense plan before giving up is nowhere near as good as months of a slower plan that you actually enjoy.

Whatever plan you do, make sure it’s sustainable and feasible to fit into your everyday life, without allowing you to slack off and take it too easy. It should challenge you without you burning out. The key is to stay consistent week to week and then no matter how slow, improvement is still improvement.

 

  • Track your progress and set goals

As with anything, it is difficult to improve without keeping tabs on your current standard and setting goals within defined timeframes. Keeping track of runs and progress means you’re more likely to stick to your plan and be motivated for future runs, especially when you also measure how the runs made you feel.

 

  • …But don’t record every run

This is important to keep your love of the sport. Whilst it is often fun to have every analytic of your run, becoming obsessed with numbers can lead to disappointment. I used to only head out for runs if I knew I was going to smash it, which ironically led to avoiding running altogether for fear of ‘failure’. A bad run is better than no run, and a ‘bad’ run isn’t really a thing if you’re not tracking it! Enjoyment is as important as anything else when it comes to improvement.

 

  • Run FAST

Speed work is something often ignored by casual runners, because it is short-term painful and nowhere near as relaxing as a potter around the park on a Sunday morning. However, if you want to get faster, speed work is vital. In addition, mixing up your running routine is important to minimise plateaus, as your body has to work harder on every run. Speed work with active recovery also lowers recovery time, meaning that the more you do, the more you can do – it’s a positive cycle of improvement. Look up running intervals sessions and hill sprints. Some are possible to do on the treadmill (perfect for winter when it’s too miserable to go outside but you don’t want to take a day off) and others are better outside. Be strict – the point is that it pushes you as this is when you improve. Classes such as Barry’s or Best’s Bootcamps and 1 Rebel can help improve speed if you’re not sure where to start by yourself.

 

  • Stay consistent

Whilst not everything, a large part of improving your running is getting more time on your feet. After all, it’s hard to improve at something you rarely do! This means training consistently week after week, and doing as many of your planned sessions as possible. Depending on your goals, this can mean going out for a run everyday, or just doing a couple of longer runs a week. Set yourself a goal of running at least X miles/km per week to keep on track. Download Strava to keep track of your runs (and get route inspiration from others in your area). Consistency is key to improvement, and as you get better you can set yourself more and harder targets.

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Cross training is great for improving strength and reducing injury

  • Cross training

As with everything, it is possible to over-train when it comes to running. Everyone’s tolerance is different – I can’t run long distances 2 consecutive days without injuring myself! One of the best ways of improving running without over-training is to cross-train on non running days. Cross training is where you practise another kind of fitness training to complement your running, and is key to any running programme. Examples include cycling, weight-training, swimming etc. The advantages of cross training are many: it adds variety to training, which reduces chances of injury, prevents boredom and utilises muscles that aren’t used when running, building strength and stability.

The goal of cross training is to improve strength, cardiovascular fitness and/or speed up your recovery. The exercises you choose for your cross training should reflect these needs, and can vary over time. Getting the right balance of cross-training and running can be a challenge, and it’s important to remember that if you are training for a specific purpose, your training should be based around the runs, not the cross training. Too much or too little can lead to exhaustion and reduced progress with your running.

In general, you should complete 1-3 cross training sessions a week, including a lower intensity one, such as yoga or pilates if you are doing multiple sessions a week. Aim to strength train (lift weights) once a week to build muscle and strength.

Ultimately figure out what works for you, and don’t underestimate the power of recovery. Ensure your workouts are timed so you are still able to carry out your usual running routine (i.e. don’t do a heavy leg day before a sprint session). And enjoy them! Variety is the spice of life 🙂

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Whatever you do, just get out there and enjoy yourself!