Dr. Michael Greger’s Nutrition Facts website has a sliver of videos and articles highlighting high standard clinical studies on nutrition and athletic performance. If you are a nutrition junkie with a running addiction, this series of videos is a valuable resource for your athletic and health pursuits.
Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables has been clinically proven to boost recovery by attenuating creatine kinase activity post-workout. Specifically, eating lots of spinach and possibly other high nitrate leafies (arugula, beets) and dark berries (and juices from tart cherries and purple grapes) blunts delayed onset muscle soreness dramatically enough that it supports that anecdotal plant-based athlete claim that hard training is possible sooner after a demanding workout.
While a quick recovery is great, the benefits of eating dark leafy greens and berries comes with a broad host of health and athletic benefits. For one, time to exhaustion is prolonged and strength is enhanced. All this, plus the anti-inflammatory and disease- fighting properties attributed to high levels of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, make dark leafy greens and berries an essential tool for athletes.
It’s been a while since I posted something to my running/nutrition blog, but while I ran hills this morning I thought it would be worth sharing a bit of the last year or so of training failures and successes.
I’m totally in for a 50 miler this spring. After two weeks of hard training things are looking good – my knees are holding their own. This has placed me in a very good state of mind lately and it’s mainly due to the energy I have been deriving from harder training. This has not always been the case. I’ve spent the last year somewhat sidelined due to nagging injuries while trying to maintain a healthy aerobic base and enough supplementary strength work to rehabilitate/preserve/restore those injuries.
As a relentless self-experimenter, halfway through my training for my first 50k, I started to experiment with becoming a better “fat-burner” after reading about Zach Bitter and some lower carbohydrate using endurance athletes. I don’t know whether or not this improved my ability to use fat as energy. It must have because I was not using carbohydrates and something was getting me through the long runs. But, in retrospect, I feel like I was not running my best. I have a sneaking suspicion that my performance took a turn for the worse close to the end of my 50k training schedule. When you self-experiment, you have to learn from your mistakes and adapt or adjust.
There are studies now showing certain positive aspects to adapting your body to use more fat for energy (i.e. develop a strong aerobic base) especially for endurance athletes. However, if you train in one modality, I feel it will limit your potential. In my experience, after 8+ months of aerobic threshold training and lower-carbohydrate eating, I found my speed diminishing considerably. Despite strength workouts, my hill running became non-existent because my heart rate monitor would demand a slower pace. Doing this without fuel was perhaps a mistake but there is so much literature and “experts” out there encouraging the train low race high without addressing common pitfalls. What is worth noting, too, is that my enthusiasm for running started fading and energy for other endeavors also started wavering.
I recently re-reread Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight, and Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. I also started to read and watch lectures by clinical nutritionists (and members of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and Physicians for Responsible Medicine) who go through the evidence to support dietary decisions. It prompted me to embrace whole grains and a plant-centered diet revolving around whole foods. I also start fueling again during most training runs and guess what? My performance is getting better by the second. Literally. I’m faster, my workouts are more intense, I’m more positive, I have more energy post-workout, and my endorphins are on the rise. I will still do some fasted workouts but I will be more strategic about it. So, the takeaway points, for me in this training cycle are what might seem like back to basics for most experienced runners but they are worth noting:
Vary the modalities of your training: long, tempo, hill sprints, solely aerobic (heart rate), cross-training, strength, etc…You can try to cram two or three modalities into one week but do low-intensity between hard days (long, hills, tempo). Don’t be afraid to walk.
For god’s sake, eat real food (lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, tubers, nuts and seeds) or as mobility and CrossFit guru, Kelly Starrett, says, “Don’t eat like an asshole!” If you are putting in the miles, eat a lot of carbohydrates before (2+ hours) and fuel with carbohydrates and protein (brown bananas, mangos, spinach, and vegan protein smoothie work for me!) afterwards to recover quickly.
You will become a better fat burner if you wait 2-3 hours after a meal to do your workout. It’s a-ok to fuel while you run if you are doing a hard workout. You may burn more glycogen but your metabolism will make up for it post-workout by utilizing more fat while you recover. My favorites intra-workout fuels right now are: Tailwind and Skratch.
Running a lot can really take a toll on your body if you have issues with moderation. I’ve been itching to start ramping up running mileage but do not want to do it while I still have unresolved issues. Knees have suffered but I am now incorporating (as prescribed after much research and a visit to my orthopedic doctor and physical therapist) LOTS of single leg squats at a very slight decline (like 5 sets of 20 for each leg before a strength workout). Apparently, the eccentric component of this exercise stresses the patellar tendon enough to increase blood flow which in turn jump starts more effective healing. So far, it’s sort of been miraculous. I haven’t taped up my knees for the running that I am doing and they are not as sore, if at all. After I ran a 50k in October, I was too eager to get back into training and after a quick run felt a twinge and tightness in what appears to be my left gluteus minimus (though I keep 2nd guessing that it may be a strained tfl). The problem manifests itself as tightness near the insertion point to my upper pelvic crest. Nevertheless, it is for this reason that I am not wholeheartedly ramping up the miles. So, scaled back miles, icing after diminished runs, rolling around on the foam roller, and strength training to support running are what I’ve been doing lately so that when I can ramp up, everything is functional and strong. Here is one particularly tough strength workout I’ve been incorporating into my week 2 times (once the day after my long run to get that back to back action) to make up for less mileage. It was inspired by Dr. Metzl’s workout for runners but I’ve modified it to help sort out my own issues. As a side note, I do it fasted (though I do have water and electrolytes). It’s not easy.
Strength Workout (running focus)–
2 sets bodyweight 25-30 reps
4-5 sets single leg squat 20 reps/leg
6-8 sets squat jumps 15 reps
circuit 1 (2-3x)
bicycle 25 reps
circuit 2 (2-3x)
walking lunges with weighted vest or jump lunge 10 reps/leg
dumbbell deadlifts 12 reps
circuit 3 (2-3x)
mountain climbers 30 reps
flutter kicks or sit-ups 30 reps
circuit 4 (2-3 x)
squat with weighted vest and dumbbells 15 reps
dumbbell overhead presses 10-15 reps
bicep curls (mimic running arm movement) 10-15 reps
First and foremost, it is a flexible blueprint. Mondays and Tuesdays are interchangeable, there are road and trail specific training runs, weeks where I cycle down to recover, some back-to-back long runs (26+10, 28+10, etc.) and a staggered but relentless climb to a 50K a few weeks before the race. I plan to crosstrain (mainly bike) a bit as I wrestle with knee issues, do some full body circuit strength training on hard days with an emphasis on the weaker parts of my legs, and incorporate long hikes with a weighted vest to help train for that inevitable component of most ultras.