8 Strength Training & Nutrition Tips for Today’s Runners
by James Poole
Captain of adidas Runners London
If you went back 30 or 40 years and spoke to a competitive runner, you would have found a very different training regime to that of the modern athlete. The runner of old became strong from a diet of high mileage and hard workouts. Food was simply the way to fuel the body for the next workout and a banana and bottle of water would get them through a race or training session.
Today, a runner needs to think about more than logging miles and eating the odd banana. Most will spend their days in an office seated in front of a screen. Long periods of inactivity, poor posture and hectic lifestyles are hardly conducive to injury-free running. In fact, depending on which research study you read, as many as 8 out of 10 runners will get injured over the next 12 months.
The good news is that there are some easy wins for beginner and experienced runners alike. Strength and conditioning exercises, in particular, are not difficult to learn and can be carried out at the end of a run. Start with around ten minutes of strength exercises (or five to six exercises) after your run and build from there. Try some of these below.
1. Compound movements
The best exercises for runners focus on movement, not muscles. Compound, multi-joint exercises such as deadlifts, squats, pull-ups and step-ups onto a raised platform are perfect examples. This sort of exercise is actually very similar to the functional movement we do in everyday life: picking things up, and pulling or pushing things.
2. Bodyweight exercises
Combine compound movements with bodyweight exercises to create a balanced workout. The great thing about bodyweight routines is that they can help you recover from running while still building the strength necessary to help prevent future overuse injuries. A 10-minute program of lunges, side planks, push-ups and side leg lifts completed after easy runs can be an ideal way to keep injury at bay.
3. Hip flexibility
The majority of running injuries are caused by weak hips — a major problem area for runners who sit for most of the day. Runners should include glute and hip-oriented exercises since these two muscle groups are the main drivers of the running stride. Lateral leg raises, pistol squats (one-legged squats), clam shells and hip hikes will all help improve the firing pattern and develop stronger muscles.
4. Build slowly
It’s important that strength and conditioning sessions are not viewed as a HIIT class. Runners should start with a few exercises done slowly and with good technique. The body adapts best to working multiple muscles groups, so add a variety of movements and exercises to get the full benefit.
5. Focus on a balanced diet
Advancements in sports nutrition have also made huge leaps over the past few decades, and a good balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate is now considered essential for a healthy body. Where once a runner might have fuelled on a bowl of porridge and a banana, now a dizzying range of powders, gels, blocks and bars are available in running stores and supermarkets alike. While these training and racing aids have made runners’ lives infinitely more convenient, they also present a mind-blowing array of options.
6. Find out what works for you
There are a massive number of options on the market, so try a few in training and work out what you like. Nutrition products can be an effective and convenient way of getting protein, good fats and carbohydrates into the body. But don’t forget that there are plenty of natural options available as well. Dates, figs, bananas, avocados and milk can all offer natural alternatives to nutrition products.
7. Beware of overcompensating
In the period before a race, training volume typically increases and a runner can begin to feel hungry more often. The insatiable hunger can mean individuals look to higher-calorie foods to “reward” themselves and satisfy the cravings. On average, a runner will burn around 600-800 calories on a one-hour run, equivalent to the calories in a burger and fries. A small amount of protein and carbohydrate immediately after the run can help curb these cravings and prevent unwanted weight gain.
8. Don’t try anything new on race day
The temptation to try something new on race day is strong. Lacklustre training, race day nerves or the desire to knock a few minutes off a personal best are all factors that encourage runners to try something different when it matters most. Runners should avoid this temptation and stick to what they have rehearsed in training. Playing Russian roulette with your GI tract come race day can end in an unpleasant race at best or numerous trips to the portaloo at worst.
Whether you are a competitive runner or just starting out, looking after your body is essential for longevity in running and maximum enjoyment. Paying some attention to strengthening muscles and tendons and fuelling yourself properly before, during and after a run, can lead to a long and fruitful running experience.
James Poole is captain of adidas Runners London, a global running community that connects like-minded people through run clubs, socially and at events, such as adidas City Runs – a new series of closed road, mass participation races.