The summer heat is upon us and runners everywhere are gearing up for a season of training. Many are hoping to improve their stamina in hopes of chasing the ever coveted PR (personal record). Or maybe this is your first time training and you want some advice to know how to ensure a good running experience. Either way, these tips can help ensure your best effort at gaining or improving stamina for your training and race efforts.
Unfortunately, relying on the body’s thirst mechanism cannot prevent dehydration. Most runners I’ve treated in clinic present with some level of sub-clinical dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages actually contribute to this loss of hydration. Electrolytes help replace nutrients lost through sweat and help absorb water and improve energy levels. The proper way to consume water is half your body weight in ounces of water daily, without any added exercise. For example, a 180 lb. Man would require 90 ounces of water daily just to maintain proper bodily functions, NOT INCLUDING any additional fluids lost during exercise. At moderate exercise intensity, the human body typically produces .5 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour. During hot conditions (Hello Texas HEAT), some individuals can lose up to 3 liters in sweat. In general you should consume 16-20 ounces of fluid (water + electrolytes) for every pound lost during exercise, but the water and electrolyte consumption should occur during activity as well. Are you drinking enough?
2. IMPROVE RUNNING FORM
Are you expending more energy than necessary due to improper running form? Do you have an excessively bouncy gait, do your hips drop side to side, do you bend forward at the waist, do you heel strike? All of these can contribute to less than ideal efficiency in terms of running gait, and can contribute to break down, excessive energy loss and even injury- especially in an endurance runner. These deficits can be due to muscle imbalances in flexibility, strength, proper motor control, or a lack of balance. You can have your running gait assessed for an individualized approach to improve your form.
3. IMPROVE BREATHING EFFICIENCY
“If breathing doesn’t work, nothing else will work.” Although we all know the overall goal of breathing is to oxygenate the body and expel carbon dioxide to sustain life, did you know that breathing also contributes to the body’s stability and mobility? It is instrumental in regulating the pressure between the trunk, pelvis, and spine. With optimal pressures created by proper diaphragmatic breathing, other muscles that are connected to the diaphragm provide stabilization for the thorax and hips without the need to compensate using the myofascial system. In addition to providing proper circulation of blood to the muscles, proper diaphragmatic breathing improves parasympathetic nervous system activity, while reducing the sympathetic nervous system activity. Sympathetic overactivity elevates both heart rate and blood pressure, producing shallow breath creating muscle fatigue and achiness, joint discomfort and anxiety. On the other hand, when in parasympathetic mode, the body is more relaxed and the nervous system can support repair and regeneration, thus reducing muscle damage and preventing inflammation.
4. WARM UP and POST RUN STRETCHING
Prior to exercise muscles can be thought of as cold rubber bands lacking elasticity. Pre-workout, a short light cardio warmup should be performed followed by dynamic stretches which stimulate reflexes in your muscles and tendons preparing it for vigorous activity and help your body recognize its position in space, as opposed to relying purely on visual cues. This will allow your movement to be more controlled and efficient, leading to greater stamina. Post workout, once muscles are warm, stretches can be static in nature, as this helps cool down the body and re-integrate into a resting state, which is required for proper muscle recovery.
5. DIFFERENTIATE RUNNING SPEEDS
There are 3 energy systems utilized for proper athletic performance. Certain sports rely on one system more than the others. Two of these energy systems are anaerobic, not requiring oxygen, and one is aerobic. All three systems should be trained to improve your stamina. Speed work increases the efficiency of the anaerobic systems, and tempo runs improve your lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run without generating more lactic acid than your body can utilize and reconvert back to energy. Even for endurance running, which trains the aerobic system, your endurance and stamina will improve when adding speedwork and tempo runs to your training. Not all runs should be run at the same speed!
6. 10% RULE TRAINING REGIMEN
In order to improve efficiency, the system has to be challenged. Most runners know and do this, but the tendency is that we tend to overdo and violate the 10% rule of progression, thinking more is better. Not true! The body can only withstand so much progression before the breakdown process outweighs the buildup process. This is an overuse syndrome and can have a dramatic impact on your injury threshold and your general stamina in the name of “overtraining.” What does this look like? Significant fatigue in the runs leading up to an injury. You can easily prevent overuse injuries by adding up your total mileage in any given week. If you ran a total of 20 miles last week, adding 10% volume would mean your body could safely withstand adding 2 miles to the following week for a total of 22 miles. This may seem like a slow process, but slow and steady prevents injury and overtraining and significant amount of lost time sidelined. Resist the urge to progress too much too soon! Not violating this rule will give your more stamina for subsequent workouts, letting your reach your peak potential.
7. CROSS TRAIN WITH STRENGTH AND PLYOMETRIC EXERCISE
Runners notoriously have weak glutes. Some specific exercises to target the glutes, and muscles on the back side of the body can be beneficial to improve stamina. Additionally, improved core strength and stability can help preserve energy and prevent injury in the lower half of the body. The more stable the core, the less accessory motion is required in the extremities. Plyometric activities for the lower leg can assist your push off mechanics when running.
This is a loaded topic, and can be divided into two main categories. Nutrition for daily food consumption when not running, and nutrition during running activity. Many runners spend countless hours perfecting their training regimens for months in preparation for a big race, but give very little thought to nutrition other than carb loading before the intended event. There are many nutrition plans adopted by athletes these days. Paleo, Keto, high carb, Mediterranean etc. Which do you choose? I am not here to debate which is best, in fact after many years of observing and experimenting myself I think there is much latitude in this area, assuming you are consuming enough calories, and what works best for one person may not work best for another. I will however comment on the QUALITY of the foods you are ingesting as it pertains to your regular daily diet.
Your carbohydrate intake, your main energy source fueling your workouts, should come from complex carbohydrates and include fresh fruits and vegetables with a moderate to low glycemic index as compared to simple carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. These fresh foods contain enzymes that help act as cofactors for important bodily functions. Simple carbs will cause early burnout, were as complex carbs provide a steady source of energy with less blood sugar swings.
On race day or a long run, a full meal should be consumed 3-4 hours before the event. During the race, prevailing wisdom states your consumption of carbohydrates should be in the more digestible form of simple carbohydrates and should be 30-60 grams per hour! This can be in liquid, gu or solid food form. For reference, a 12 oz. bottle bottle of gatorade has only 21g of carbs, and a standard gu packet has 22 to 24g. But do your math, add up your training time and long run carbohydrate consumption…are you getting enough fuel?
Stamina can be improved. Review the above list to see where you can make changes, implementing one new change at a time. In a short period of time you will begin to notice improvements that will make a dramatic impact on your vigor and endurance for both your training and race efforts.