Written by: Margaret Steffie, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
To put it simply, I eat, breathe and live running. For the last seven years of my life, it has been a constant presence, something I can turn to when I am stressed, happy, sad, or just ready for a challenge. Often my other daily activities and commitments are scheduled around my runs, and I spend a fair amount of time evaluating my running results, tweaking my current programs, and making changes based on the most up-to-date research available.
With all the gym closures of 2020 and New Year’s Resolutions of 2021, many individuals have taken to running as their exercise of choice while others who were already running are looking at 2021 and all its goal-crushing potential. Regardless of if you are planning your first couch to 5k, working towards a new distance or personal best, or are like me and plan to go for the big Boston Qualifier time this year, these mistakes could be costing you progress, health, or a personal best.
1. Prioritizing Carbohydrates Over Proteins and Fats
It has been drilled into our minds for decades that carbohydrates, carbs, are the ultimate energy source for athletes and physically active individuals because it is a fast processing, fast-burning, and readily available energy source. While this is a true statement, its ability to burn quickly can also be one of the reasons many runners “bonk” during a race. Their body runs out of glycogen, the stored form of carbs, and has nothing left to run on; they run out of energy to keep moving. For many runners, this greatly feared bonk can be the difference between an amazing and awful race.
I have bonked in the past, and it feels like a cement all popped up right in front of you and no matter how hard you push to keep moving forward, you feel as if you are stuck in place. As if your legs have huge weights on the bottom, you are trudging forward, and your mind can no longer focus.
For most runners and athletes, prioritizing carbs provides an immediate energy source that when gone from both the bloodstream and glycogen stores, you feel awful. Most runners prioritize carbs so that they have an abundance of this source of energy for when they run, yet some athletes not following the traditional path have been finding that a diet high in protein and fat and lower in carbs is allowing them to run for much longer and with more consistent energy. The body, regardless of what type of exercise is being performed needs lots of protein to promote muscle growth and repair; the body can also turn protein into usable carbohydrates if necessary through gluconeogenesis. The higher protein intake promotes greater muscle mass, which promotes more power and an overall improved performance.
As for fat, something many of us have feared for as long as we have been alive because we were told it makes us fat, is in fact an energy source that most humans have an unlimited energy supply from. When we are not constantly providing the body with carbohydrates, it
learns how to access our unlimited fat stores and use them as energy. Don’t believe me? Try flipping your macronutrient ratio and seeing the results after a few months.
2. Not getting fitted for running shoes
If you have already gone to a running store that has experienced and trained shoe fitters, skip to number 3, but if not, you could be doing more bad than good. All of us have a unique build and way we run, where our foot strikes on the ground and where the weight is dispersed. Getting fitted for shoes helps you know your foot strike pattern as well as what type of shoe is the best for your foot strike.
Having proper footwear can allow for more efficient running and less chance of injury. To find a running store in your area, search for running and triathlon stores.
3. Not doing strength work
Runners are notorious for only wanting to run and to not do any of the cross-training that benefits them. They often don’t prioritize full-body functional strength work, core strength work, or hip flexor work, and as a result, open themselves up to opportunities for injury to occur. When running, we move in one plane of motion, which makes some muscles very strong while the others can become weak. Working to build full-body functional strength, in particular in the hip flexors and core, allows for improved overall strength and can allow for increased power output, which makes you faster!
4. Not taking needed rest
When runners are not running every day, they feel as if they should be running. The dogma somewhere along the line has taught us that we, as runners, or even those that are physically active, must be going hard every day. And some even go as far as to have run streaks, long lengths of time where they have run every day with no time off. I can attest to this that I always want to be running and going out for training runs, but when we run all the time and don’t allow our body to rest, we are inhibiting repair and therefore inhibiting improvements. Sometimes our body needs to rest to grow and get better. Having rest days or days built in where we are not doing intense running or other work will allow the body to heal. The body gets stronger when it is at rest.
5. Not doing power work
When you think of power work, one often thinks of CrossFit style movements or something like box jumps. Many of these movements can translate into improved running, but doing work such as short, all-out sprints can have some of the same effect. Power work has the ability to preserve muscle tissues while also building endurance and speed. Running at a constant pace for long distances every training run can build miles under one’s feet but will not create the strength, power, and oomf required to pass someone in a race or sprint across the finish line. Adding short amounts, roughly five minutes, into three sessions a week or having one 30 minute power session every week or every other week is all that is needed to bring about these physiological changes.
6. Not supplementing where appropriate
Usually, when it comes to supplementation, people think of things like multivitamins or the meathead at the gym with his protein shake. While both are forms of supplementation, they are just that, something to supplement your nutritional approach in places where you fall short. I always promote getting as many of your nutrients as possible from whole food sources but with certain things, that can still be difficult. I have built my diet to a place where I do not require a multivitamin or nutritional pack, but some people still may need that. I take fish oil to lower inflammation as I do not consume enough Omega 3 heavy fish. I take collagen to support healthy skin, hair, joints, and gut because otherwise, I would have to consume the joints of animals. I use creatine to help replenish the creatine in my muscles, so I have more energy, and I take BCAAs to improve muscle mass and performance while reducing muscle damage. Occasionally I use a low temperature processed whey protein to supplement when I miss a meal (low temperature is better absorbed by the body). I know that working in the fitness space and teaching fitness classes, I sometimes push my body hard, and these supplements can help me recover.
If you want to see which supplements I recommend, click here.
These are my six checkpoints when I work with clients to improve their running. If you believe there is something holding you back from your next personal best email me at email@example.com to set up a free 30-minute Personal Best Breakthrough Session.
Margaret Steffie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Margaret Steffie is a health and fitness coach who specializes in working with busy young individuals to help them reach all of their health and fitness goals. With Margaret’s holistic approach she works to get to the root of the problem which allows the individual to learn more deeply about themselves and make a lasting behavior change. Margaret is also the host of the podcast Margaret’s Healthy Hour and the author of F*ck the Freshman 15 (August 2021). When Margaret is not coaching she can be found training for running races, lifting weights in the gym, teaching group fitness classes, in person and on Recess), or spending time with her dogs.