Runners Guide to Distance Performance
Running provides a deep sense of euphoria. Going on a run can stimulate a happy sensation in your brain similar to the effects of drugs. This is why some runners will report they run for the high, never stopping until their legs give out.
The urge to run further, run faster and train harder can consume you - to the point where running becomes a big part of your lifestyle.
Trust us, this is not a bad thing. Running is one of the most natural forms of exercise for the human body - we’re literally built for it. We’re not going to delve too deeply into human physiology, but our bodies are highly effective running machines - especially when it comes to long distances.
Here's our guide to keep that machine running at top performance through nutrition, supplementation and training.
Endurance Running Vs. Sprinting
The likes of Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt have brought massive popularity to sprinters, leaving the distance runners in the dark. You may ask yourself, what is the difference between sprinters and runners?
They both “run” yet the body type is completely different, and even the running form is different.
These people usually run upwards of 5 miles at a time. This means any unnecessary weight they carry will not be beneficial. They must have a light frame, large legs and a very, very good ability to utilize carbs and fats as fuel - without using too much oxygen.
Endurance runners train to be highly efficient, lightweight and conserve energy wherever possible.
Most people who are professional or hobby sprinters will run a maximum distance of 400m. This means you are generally only running for about a minute (generally much less). A 100m sprint takes about 10 seconds, or under if you are world-class level speed.
Sprinters train to be powerful, highly efficient and utilize as much energy in a short time as possible. They are not concerned with conservation.
Sprinting is fun, but most people will use endurance running as their primary source of cardio - and for a reason, it's one of the most effective for changes in body composition.
If you’ve just started to run, chances are you very quickly become addicted to timing your runs and looking for changes - any changes in performance. In this guide, we're going to help you to run faster and further.
How to Run Faster and Further
The first and most important step to running faster and further is understanding how the body works. Without this knowledge you are a student writing a test without any studying - you would likely fail.
Understanding Glycolysis and The Oxidative System
All energy is fueled by the food you eat. This energy is then transformed into exercise, or used to power internal systems, like your heart, lungs and even digestive system.
From the perspective of performance in running, there are two main systems we need to understand.
The energy system responsible for moderate-long duration exercise. Mainly fueled by carbohydrates (glucose and by transformation, glycogen in muscle). This system will be your primary source of power at the end of your run - when you are trying to give it yours on last push to the finish line.
The bread and butter of running performance. The oxidative system accounts for most of all your energy while you are on a long-distance run. The most important concept to understand when looking at improving your energy potential for a long distance run is that it sources much of its energy through fatty acids or glucose.
Since glucose is the easiest nutrient to source this will go first, followed by fatty acids. When your body starts to run on fatty acids you are very close to losing sustainable energy.
This is why many athletes will carb load or carb cycle prior to a race - both are efforts to enable your body to better utilize the glucose from carbs to power your run.
This leads us to our next topic - nutrition.
Nutrition For Running Performance - What’s Best?
The bodybuilding world has an obsession with protein - and in many cases, it is a justified obsession. Protein can help with muscle recovery and growth.
From a performance perspective, what are the best foods to eat in order to grow stronger and enable greater success in long distance running?
Emphasize A Carb-Rich Diet
Looking at how the body functions and how it sources much of its energy for running, it is very important that the primary food in your diet is carbohydrates.
We are not saying in any way that you should go out and eat pasta every day.
Eating a diet rich in all sources of carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables and dark grains are the most beneficial way to obtain micronutrients, fibre and nutrient-rich carbohydrates to fuel your performance.
You Should Eat:
- Lots of vegetables (4-6 servings daily)
- Handfuls of fruit (3-4 servings daily)
- Dark grains like oats, rye, wheat and bulgur (2-3 servings daily)
Protein and Fats
Any workout program that is complete needs to have balance.
Just because carbohydrates are the main source of energy to fuel your workouts and performance does not mean it is the only thing you should eat.
We know that protein is important for normal cell growth, muscle development and strength. Your diet should consist of lean protein sources like fish, beans, chicken and wild game - whenever possible.
Very, very important for balancing hormones. Fats are also the secondary source of fuel for your workout. You will need this in your diet - but in low amounts.
Try to keep your fat intake restricted to about 20% of your daily intake of calories and avoid saturated fats from fatty meats or trans fats from the desert and baked goods.
How Supplements Help You Run Further
The last method for improving your running performance is to supplement with a compound that has a direct impact on your overall running goals.
A whole food diet can take you pretty far, but sometimes you need an extra boost. This boost can come in the form of specific supplementation.
The first and most important supplement for your overall performance is a greens complex. It’s difficult to get all the nutrients you need from your diet alone. A greens complex will provide you with a wide variety of calories from fruit and vegetables, helping with cell growth, reproduction and joint therapy.
Let’s not forget that running will put stress on the joints.
Consuming food and supplements that help the joints repair and reduce inflammation is key to success and injury prevention.
Perhaps one of the most effective supplements for moderate distance running (below 20 miles). Caffeine is a great stimulant that can help to boost performance but it is also a diuretic - meaning it dehydrates the body.
Dehydrated muscles do not function very well, and constantly consuming water will not make for a very efficient long-run. This is only truly relevant for those looking to run marathons or distances longer than 20 miles.
Research is still a little up in the air about if alanine supplementation can help with long distance performance. In studies, alanine has been shown to have a direct impact on buffering lactic acid production. As you will know from running long distance, lactic acid is the enemy - anything you can do to limit its production will help you to perform at a higher level.
Running: Is It The Best Form of Exercise?
The bodybuilding and strength world really has it out for running. If you are looking for a great way to improve your body composition and really enjoy the exercise you are doing - running is king.
Not only was our body literally evolved to run, but our internal systems are highly efficient and allow for very long distances with very low energy. As you grow stronger you will be truly impressed with how far you can run by just eating a slice of bread.
Whether you have goals of running a marathon, or perhaps you just want to lose some weight and join a running group - optimizing your nutrient intake and supplementing when needed will make drastic changes to your performance.
After all, you are what you eat!