A few runners FAQs

All of the recent icy weather has made winter running a bit treacherous…and a bit unappealing to be honest. But with the weather warming up, many of us are dusting off our old running shoes, on a mission to get health and weight back under control. And some are wondering whether it’s time to take up running as a new venture but are still a bit unsure about a few aspects of it.

A few questions are coming through on the subject of running. Seems like a good time to answer them….

I’M STRUGGLING WITH SLEEP AND POOR ENERGY – WILL RUNNING HELP?

Sleep is seriously under-rated when it comes to health and weight-loss, as well as mood and energy.

Poor sleep means we look for sugar and fat-rich food the next day to give us energy and consume up to 400 calories more as a result according to some studies. Plus, feeling tired can making us less inclined to exercise, which may make us more overweight…and being overweight can affect our sleep quality. A vicious circle. Getting out for a run (though not too late at night) not only helps us burn calories but can improve our sleep too. Partly from making us physically more tired, but also, I suspect, from helping us clear our mind and de-stress. Which has got to help our sleep. And if we sleep better, we tend to feel more energetic and eat healthier the next day. So, running is good for sleep, energy and weight loss, as well as physical and mental health. Not bad!

WHAT’S THE BEST FUEL FOR RUNNING?

Eating before a run can give some people a stitch…though the jury is still out on what causes these stabbing pains which may also be related to poor warm-up routines.

In fact, the body can run well enough for a short period without fuelling up first. But a bit of energy helps to keep us going. So for a pre-workout snack, a small amount of fast-absorbed, low-stodge carbs like simple sugars are best. Sugar in sweets, cakes or the sugar bowl, is devoid of any nutrients. But take it as nature intended – in fruit such as a banana – and you get the vitamins and fibre as well as the energy. Win-win!

Of course, longer-distance running may be a different story, when more sustainable fuel is needed. As a more substantial pre-workout snack you may want to include a bit of nut butter or some yoghurt – just keep it easily digestible. Take some small snacks to sustain you if blood sugar levels start to dip. The energy gels are convenient but have too many and you can find your bowels start protesting. Plus they are often expensive, over-hyped and over-kill for amateur athletes. There’s a lot to be said for more natural energy snacks like dates…and they are easy to keep in the pocket.

And make sure you are hydrated, ideally during the hours beforehand rather than downing a pint of water as you head out the door. Many scientific studies suggest a mild degree of dehydration doesn’t affect performance – but why take the chance?

After a run is the time to replenish with a combination of quick absorption carbs and protein, ideally 30-45 min after the run. Around 50-100g of carbs will help replenish your glycogen energy stores. Combining these with protein is the best way to recover your exercise performance according to the latest evidence from the American College of Sports Medicine. Apparently, you should be aiming for around 20-30g of total protein to increase whole body and protein muscle synthesis.

What does that mean in practical terms? Well, it depends on when you are planning your next main meal. But here are some good options:

100g bowl of Greek yoghurt or Quark (mild soft cheese) with a handful (approx. 25g) of almonds and a handful of mixed berries for 15-20g of delicious protein and some natural energy boosting simple carbs in the form of fruit sugar.

Tuna omelette with around 60g tinned tuna, heaps of fresh veg and an egg plus two added whites with a slice or two of wholemeal toast for over 30g of protein.

Thick and delicious smoothie with Greek yoghurt, oatmeal and fruit.

Rehydrate with cheap and cheerful H20. Electrolyte drinks aren’t generally needed as long as you are eating nutritious food, which will give you all the vitamins and minerals you need.

I’M RUNNING… BUT IT ISN’T HELPING MY WEIGHT-LOSS

How frustrating is it when running doesn’t actually shift that extra weight. Especially if that is your main motivation for getting out there. Here are a few reasons why it may be the case…

Studies have shown that some women who go out running may then feel virtuous and end up doing less the rest of the day. The end result is that they may not be any better off (in weight-loss terms, anyway) than women who simply walked.

Again, that virtuous feeling may spill over into eating more. It’s not surprising that we feel more hungry after a run but, in theory, the body’s signals should be tuned in to tell us when we have had enough food to make up our energy needs. Unfortunately, years of yo-yo dieting or fad eating seem to have blunted our ability to listen to our body and we may therefore end up undoing our good work.

Finally, whilst aerobic exercise is good and certainly keeps our leg muscles in shape, women, in particular, are generally losing muscle at the rate of around 8% per decade. And muscle is our weight loss ally, burning more calories even when we are sitting still. So, we mustn’t neglect resistance exercises, especially in our upper body.