I like to think that after all the years of training and all the miles that I have logged, I’ve come to learn something from the experience. The most pivotal recognition that I’ve made is that I want to do everything I can to sustain it for as long as possible. That’s a natural response to anything that I love; hold on tight. In my life, running is in my grasp and it owns real estate at the top of the pyramid. I’ve been doing it since I could walk and it stills brings the same playful joy as I continue to do it today.
How does every age-grouper and running aficionado make this happen without injury?
Whether you’re a competitive or lifestyle athlete, the approach is no different; both have to adhere to the same tenets in order to sustain our passions. For me, training is not about how I feel or what my results are at the end of the session. It’s about the condition of my body when I begin.
Unfortunately, as coach and nutrition advisor Sinead Fitzgibbon points out, most people come from the school of “pushing through the pain,” unable to determine where the line between threshold and injury exists.
These athletes, according to Fitzgibbon, become “patients being sidelined by injury.” As a result, the majority of an athlete’s focus and understanding about injury is centered on tending to the problem after it has already happened. Recovery is no fun when you’re on the couch for the start of your favorite race.
For me, training is not about how I feel or what my results are at the end of the session. It’s about the condition of my body when I begin.
Develop a Comprehensive Pre-Covery Plan
Nutrition and physical workouts work together, and having one in place will go a long way to preventing injury and keeping you at the top of your game. Fitzgibbon suggests a structured training program developed by a certified coach, physical therapist, or trainer. It should include “B” races on your schedule that will serve as tuneups and a litmus test to see where your physicality is. These races will also provide an opportunity to practice your fueling program, since nutrition is the same at all races.
Maintain a nutritional log that includes your daily intake, especially the timing around your food consumption in relation to your training, the weather, your fueling and how you felt. Place this next to your training log and you’ll start to notice how your food is working for you.
Pre-Cover Your Food
The foundational nutrition to your daily diet is the platform for athletic performance. Managing this ensures that all of your baseline levels are topped off with an array of micro-nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids, and that your aerobic diet of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is adequately met. The physical stresses and rigors of training and racing require a bit more attention, especially if you’ve had an injury or want to prevent one. Here are some foods to help you do it:
Vitamin C and Antioxidants
Our bodies do not produce these, so it’s essential to incorporate them into the diet on a daily basis. Vitamin C helps to maintain cartilage and bone tissues, and it also builds proteins for scar tissue, blood vessels, collagen, skin and tendons. Vitamin C helps prevent damage to amino acids and glucose, both of which are important to athletic performance, and facilitates the production of norepinephrine, which is essential to the nervous system.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and along with other nutrients, these help protect the body from free radical damage that can result from high-intensity and aerobic workouts. Whole food sources are always the best because they contain the co-factors that help synergize nutrients into the body, and they’re in a format that the body can easily recognize. You can get both from berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, goji berries), cherries, lemons, oranges, sprouts, spinach, peppers and broccoli.
Extinguish the Flames
The majority of injuries are an extension of improper nutrition. Even when they appear to be related to trauma or overuse, quite often a solid nutritional program would have provided the support necessary to prevent them. Nutrition is not always about what you do eat, but also what you don’t eat.
Processed and refined foods and sugars, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), vegetable oils, low fat diets, pasteurized dairy, foods from a box, bag or can, corn, soy and wheat by-products, and foods laden with hormones, antibiotics, and grown with synthetic fertilizers and chemicals all create inflammation in the body. This inflammation leads to the breakdown of the body’s immune system and leads to the destruction of its building blocks for athletic performance. Maintain a diet rich in omega-3 from sources like fish oils, flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds and cold-water fish. Grass-fed beef is also a good source of omega-3, but it’s important to take in plenty of protein from other sources such as chicken and eggs, and plant-based sources like beans, in the diet to offset breakdown and usage that occurs during running.
Foods rich in Vitamin A such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash are important for white blood cell production. Although the body produces white blood cells to prevent foreign substances from infecting the body, they are also an important pre-curser to maintaining a healthy immune system and keeping the body functioning at its best. Calcium and Zinc are also important as part of this holistic picture. Again, neither should be taken in supplemental form, or any nutrient for that matter, but calcium is crucial to bone maintenance and formation and needs Vitamin D to be effectively used.
Calcium is also an electrolyte that contributes to muscle functioning and hydration. Raw dairy, eggs, cheese, and leafy greens are all good sources of this important nutrient. Zinc helps maintain the immune system as well as break down fats and proteins for the body’s use. This can be found in red meats, shellfish, sprouted nuts, and seeds. Zinc deficiency has been linked to increased injury rates, although nothing exists in a vacuum, and is in every single cell of your body.
Too often, Fitzgibbon sees athletes become patients get “sidelined by lack of preparation.” Everything has a metabolic tax—even breathing requires energy—but pre-covery is about managing what Fitzgibbon calls those “leaks” in order to maintain the requisite health necessary to keep the body running from season to season. No matter how much training you do, it’s only as good as the nutrition you have to support it.