What runner doesn't want to be a better runner? They seek personal records, long for faster recovery time but at the same time, fear injuries. No runner wants to be sidelined! So how do you stay a happy runner? By taking great care of your body! Here are 9 ways to be a better runner. (Not a runner? They still apply to you too!)
1) Eat real food. The number one mistake I see runners making time and time again is not eating real food. Sadly the common thought is “I ran x miles so I can eat whatever”. This couldn’t be further from the truth! If you are a runner that means it’s imperative to eat even more nutrient-dense foods and to put down the processed food-like products. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is sad for a reason. And many runners think they can “run off” what they eat. However this is simply not true. Toxic ingredients harm your health regardless if you are a runner or not. You don’t want to be a fake runner so why eat fake “food”? Coloring dyes (Blue 1, Blue 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, etc), BHT, man-made trans fats (fast “food” is a great example of this), refined white sugars and flours, artificial sugars (Sucralose/Splenda, Aspartame) are all ingredients that cause many health problems Want to be a better runner? The number one thing you can do to be a better runner is to eat real, organic, whole, non-GMO foods. And this should go without saying but drinking sodas and running is a recipe for disaster. Soft drinks create weak bones. As a runner you want strong bones. So if you need one more reason to ditch the soda, here you go! Running is just one part of wellness and a healthy life. Don’t neglect the other parts! No more Big Macs, okay? :)
A sample list of real foods (all organic of course):
- Hemp seeds and powder
- Sweet potatoes
- Bok choy
- Chia seeds
- Cacao nibs
- Swiss chard
- Red onions
- Pumpkin seeds
- Coconut oil
- Butternut squash
- Red kuri squash
- Brown rice
2) Drink real electrolytes. Electrolytes and running go hand in hand. But it’s super important to get these electrolytes from real food sources instead of Gatorade/Powerade, etc. Powerade still contains Brominated Vegetable Oil. Electrolytes don’t come from a plastic bottle. Not only is plastic a toxin but the ingredients in sports drinks are as well. Food dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar and cause a variety of health diseases (like tumors, cancer). So where will you get your electrolytes? From real food. By following the above advice (eat real food) you will get all the electrolytes you need. You can also make your own electrolytes drink as in this graphic. I’m an ultrarunner and I run super long distances on real food and real electrolytes. It does work :) If you want to see what Gatorade does to your insides, watch this. It's not pretty or healthy!
3) Get plenty of rest. If you are burning the midnight oil at both ends it might be wise to reconsider your current lifestyle. Sleep and rest is another essential for being a better runner. Running on a tired body over time will result in physical stress which in turn will weaken immune system leaving you more susceptible to viruses. Another thing to remember is that time in bed does not equal time slept. Between falling asleep, waking up at night, falling back asleep, those precious minutes don’t count as sleep time (bad news for parents!) so tracking your sleep can be helpful to making sure you are getting the right amount of sleep for your body.
4) Active, smart recovery. If you start the day with a run or just ran a race (of any distance) sitting for the rest of the day is not smart recovery nor beneficial for your muscles. Sitting hinders blood flow to your muscles. After a race, walk around. Move! Walk the next day. Repeat. Getting the blood flow back into your muscles will speed recovery time. Run in the morning before work? That's awesome but you need to be active all day long. Get up from your desk every hour and walk around for 10 minutes. There are so many health benefits to hourly movement.
5) Practice yoga and strength train. Only running only works certain muscles. And that’s not being an effective (or smart) runner. All muscles need to be strong to help prevent injury and run faster. Start by incorporating yoga and strength training into your weekly fitness routine. Squats, lunges, pushups, bridges, plank are all great movements that you can do anywhere. But don’t be afraid to go to the gym and lift weights! Yoga is also great for building strength- bonus: calming the mind at the same time.
6) Running on soft surfaces. Concrete is not an ideal running surface. The first choice should always be dirt trails and then pavement. Pavement has a little “give” whereas concrete does not. Running on concrete will make for a very unhappy body and exasperate injuries. It’s okay to run on the neighborhood streets- just be sure to run towards traffic. Be sure to wear ID and reflective material. (Rules of the street: cycle with traffic, run against traffic.)
7) Chill out! Many runners are Type A. Myself included. While not necessarily a bad thing, this can get us into trouble. If we continue to run on stressed out adrenals (fight or flight) it will catch up with us sooner rather than later. By learning to tune into our body and knowing when to back off you can become a better runner for the long haul. Whether its taking a week or a few months off of running that time off will do your body a world of good. Use this time to point practice point number 5.
8) Keep your body healthy! Massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, Graston/ART are all fantastic ways to keep your body strong, in alignment and most importantly, healthy. Each of these treatments has its own set of health benefits. Chiropractic care is extremely great for runners and athletes. Subluxation can cause all kinds of problems (weight gain, hormone imbalance, headaches, etc). Acupuncture is another personal favorite.
9) Use natural anti-inflammatories. If you are in chronic pain and you think it’s from running, take a deep breath. Running isn’t the cause of your pain! It’s what you are putting in your body that is. Remember point number one in this article? The SAD (Standard American Diet) promotes inflammation (from it’s acid-producing products) and inflammation breeds disease. And popping NSAIDs do not cure the problem. By healing your body from the inside out you don’t have to live in chronic pain! Personally, I train pretty intensely and one of the reasons I don’t have chronic pain and can recover so quickly is by making sure everything I put in my body is real. No toxins. The problem with NSAIDs is that with repeated use they can cause kidney failure, liver failure, ulcers. They also increase the chance for heart attacks. Instead of popping drugs use turmeric, curcumin, ginger. Even my friend Gabe (a MLB player) advocates for eating an anti-inflammatory “diet” (diet as in what you eat, not some weight loss gimmick). In fact, turmeric has been proven to be just as beneficial as NSAIDs but with no deadly side effects (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine)!
How do you use turmeric? Simply make a raw, cold-pressed shot with it and/or sprinkle on savory dishes like eggs, legumes, brown rice, veggie stir-fry.
Key points to remember:
- Running is not exclusive to being healthy.
- Running is part of a healthy life. What you eat, drink, think and put on your skin is just as important as the sport of running.
- Runners must eat nutrient-dense foods for a strong, healthy body; to reduce recovery time, to recover quicker.
- Eat well (real food) to run well.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Get quality sleep & rest.
Happy, healthy running to you!
Cover photo credit: Southern Foodways Alliance