Tight hips, stitches, back pain and fluctuating energy levels can be a problem for casual and intermediate runners. Running is a full-body workout, or at least it should be, so if you’re doing it right, sure, it’s going to tax you in lots of different ways.
We love running, and to celebrate the arrival of summer, we’re sharing some of our top tips for improving and making the most of your running and recovery time.
Warm up and stretch
All too often we don’t give our bodies enough time to warm up before a run. I’ll be ok once I’m moving. Tell that to your hamstrings and lower back, who’ve gone from sitting down, to kilometers of vigorous stretching and pounding. Not to mention your chronically tight modern-day hip flexors.
Take plenty of time to warm up and stretch before going on your run. Afterwards, ideally a few hours later once your muscles have settled down, really stretch them out.
Tip: Stretching immediately after your run is ok, but your muscles are already lengthened then. Stretch later, when they tighten up.
Use your core – Pilates Anyone
Notice what your core is doing when you run; many of us arch our backs in a subconscious attempt to open our chests and get more air in. It doesn’t work, and all that you’re doing is putting lots of stress on your lower back. It won’t be long before your back gives in and you end up walking.
Instead, think about keeping your abs engaged as you run. Running is a full-body exercise, and your core is a fundamental part of running well and safely.
In fact, a lot of serious runners have realised that the key to improving their running and remaining injury free over the long term is to work on their overall core strength, via a structured stretching and strengthening program. Effectively, what this means is doing pilates. You can either do matt based pilates or if you get really hooked then you can always invest in a home pilates reformer – your body will thank you.
Nobody’s entirely sure what causes a stitch — jostled organs and decreased bloodflow to the diaphragm have been suggested — but they hurt, and we’d like to prevent them.
Our advice, is to not eat anything sizeable in the hour or so before running, and to make sure your back and midline are fully stretched and warm.
Top tips for preventing stitches while running:
- Running in the morning? Keep breakfast light.
- Warm up properly: work your back, core and shoulders as well as hips and hamstrings.
- Start slowly and increase your pace as you go.
- Regulate your breathing towards a deeper, more controlled rhythm. The more shallow your breathing, the more likely it is that you’ll develop a stitch.
- Already got a stitch? Press your hand onto the painful area, breathe deeply, and exhale.
- Relax your diaphragm by breathing in deeply and then folding over on your exhale.
Stay out of your heels
Inexperienced runners often run with their heels hitting the ground first. That’s inefficient and not so great for your knees and back.
This video gives a great overview of some of the more detailed aspects of running technique, and covers leaning forwards, landing on the front of your feet, and using your upper body to create momentum.
Fuel up throughout the day
Having said that you ought to stay away from heavy meals an hour or so before running, it is important to fuel your body well all day long. Here are a few tips on the best foods to be eating before and after your runs.
Breakfast: Choose protein and carbohydrates.
Wholewheat bread, oatmeal, eggs, yogurt with no added sugar, and fruit, are all excellent choices. If you’re someone who can’t eat a lot in the morning, then a small amount of yogurt mixed with a whey protein supplement can help to kickstart muscle growth after a night without food.
Bodybuilding.com has a great list of the 20 best protein pancake recipes to try out. If you’re vegan, then hemp protein might be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Lunch: Carbohydrates are your friend
A lot of people skip lunch for one reason or another, and we think that’s a big mistake. If you’re planning on a late afternoon or early evening run, then even if you’re having a snack mid-afternoon, you’ve still got hours to contend with where your body and mind are running on empty. Brown rice, pasta, falafel, noodles, sweet potatoes, whatever you’re into, just make sure you’re getting enough of it to fuel your day and your run. As an adult, you can’t afford to be skipping meals if you can help it.
Dinner: Protein and fiber
You should be eating as much fiber as possible anyway, in the form of plenty of fruits and vegetables. But, if the evening is the only time when you have a chance to really prepare vegetables, then make sure you prioritize them at dinner. Some protein with dinner is important, too, but we’re big fans of pre-bedtime protein supplements (see below).
Bedtime: Slow-release protein all night long
Micellar Casein is by far one of our favorite types of protein supplement. It’s a slow-releasing protein, which helps to repair muscle gradually, making it ideal for taking right before bed. If you have a lactose intolerance, this kind of protein can be mixed with water, or any other kind of rice or nut milk.
It’s mostly common sense, right? If you’re going to be running, then you need to make sure you’re properly warmed up, and by feeding your body with the right kinds of fuel at the right time, you’ll not only help to prevent stitches and other nasty injuries, you’ll perform better overall.