Twenty years ago I could lace up my shoes and get out for a run without any serious repercussions. There was no thought of nutrition, no warm up. There wasn’t much thought beyond, “Let’s go for run.”
Those days are long over. Today, I rarely roll out of bed without some ache or pain nagging at me to notice it. Some of those aches are just age, but when the chorus gets too loud, I know I’ve probably been neglecting my pre- and post-run routines.
Your workout shouldn’t start and stop when you hit that button on your watch. If you want to run or train consistently, taking the extra five to 10 minutes before and after your workout to work on mobility is the secret sauce to a strong, successful athlete. Layer in some smart nutrition strategies to optimize the time that you are working out and you will be far ahead of your competitors.
Here are my simple fueling and stretching strategies that I (try to) use before every bike and run.
Real Food for Fuel
There is no real hard and fast rule for the timing of a pre-workout meal. Some people have iron stomachs and can eat anything before going out for a 10-miler. Some people are a bit more sensitive. Some trial and error might be the best advice to find what works for you.
For me, if I know I have a long or hard workout ahead and I’ve planned ahead and have some time (say 1.5 to 2 hours before I need to get it done), I’ll eat a bit more and include some complex carbs. For example, I might have a bowl of rice cereal or oatmeal with some honey and a banana with a handful of nuts.
If I have something shorter on the training plan or I don’t have time for a full meal, I’ll go with something lighter that is higher in glucose (simple carbs). For example, I might have 3 or 4 Medjool dates with a tablespoon of almond butter.
Why cut back on more complex carbs when you are going to be working out quickly? You don’t want your body to have to work too hard to convert food to energy, you want that energy toward your workout. Your body has to do very little work, if any at all, to use the glucose from the dates as energy.
Regardless of the timing, make sure your pre-workout meal contains carbs and protein and a little fat.
Many studies have shown that caffeine can have a positive impact on improving endurance performance. I also typically workout in the morning and just like coffee. I don’t rely on caffeine to get me out the door for a workout, but I’ve found that it does almost act like a trigger for me to keep the workout routine going.
If you find coffee a little too rough on the GI before a workout, you could also consider tea or yerba matte to give your body that little boost.
For me, an athlete with Addison’s, staying on top of my electrolytes is critical, but it’s also important for the everyday athlete, too. Mismanaging your electrolytes and hydration before, during or after a run can be unpleasant to downright dangerous.
Depending on the workout, I like to take a salt tab or an electrolyte drink before my workout to give myself a head start on replacing all that sodium I’m going to lose when I sweat. The electrolyte drink doesn’t have to be a sugary commercial variety. You can make a simple one yourself, drink some coconut water or even just sprinkle a little sea salt into your water or juice.
Static stretching before a run is now strongly discouraged and even linked to injury, but dynamic stretching, which focuses on light, targeted leg movements for range of motion, loosens up muscles and blood flow to help you run more efficiently.
Why has dynamic stretching proven so effective at helping to curb injuries? Running and biking are single plane activities. You are basically going straight ahead using the same movements and muscles in the same way over and over again, mile after mile. You see the problem? All the usage leads to overuse, which leads to injury.
Dynamic stretching before and after your workout sessions can help strengthen the stabilizing muscles and work those other muscles that are less involved in running or biking. In short, it can help (you should also include regular all-around strength work in your plan) you gain some athleticism back.