I spent the first 40 years of my life never having run more than 400m in my life. But I decided to take up running two years ago. Since then, I’ve done a bunch of research about exercise, recovery and improving performance. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
The thing about taking up a new exercise regime is that everyone and their dog is willing to tell you what you should be doing, and what you’re doing wrong. I’m the kind of person who will take that information straight to Google Scholar to find out what the current science says. So here you can have the benefits of my research.
And yes, some of them are common sense, but common sense with the backing of science is better, right?
1. The best warm up before exercise is the one you're already doing
I used the NHS Couch to 5K program to learn to run and it doesn't have any stretches - you just walk briskly for five minutes, then start running. A friend told me that I should be stretching my muscles before I started to run, however.
After checking the research, it turns out that whether or not stretching provides any benefit in terms of reducing injury and aiding recovery is still under debate. The only thing that research has conclusively shown is that if you switch from not stretching to stretching, or vice versa, you're more likely to get an injury. So if whatever you're doing is keeping you injury-free, keep doing it.
2. Foam rollers are your friend
I started out paying for regular massage, but then my good friend Vera and my bff put me onto the joy foam rollers. Okay, not joy, agony. But they assured me they work.
Although foam rollers have been around for twenty years or more, the science has some catching up to do. There's currently no clinical data to show that foam rollers improve performance, for example. However, the current research suggest that foam rollers do increase the range of motion after exercise, reduce arterial stiffness and can reduce fatigue. It also looks like using a foam roller combined with taking vitamin E and Omega-3 capsules may increase muscle healing post-exercise.
3. Drink water before running
I started drinking water before exercise because I'd heard that it can help prevent stitch, which was just one of the reasons I've never been a runner.
The research on stomach emptying during exercise shows that drinking around 400-800ml of a cold liquid, containing less than 10% sugar, before you start running can help to slow stomach emptying. That's beneficial because it slows down dehydration, and helps to reduce gastrointestinal issues such as stitch and "Gingerbread man" when you run.
Water and isotonic drinks both fit under that 10% sugar guideline.
It's also important to drink regularly during longer runs - I've read that every ten minutes is a good guide for runs over an hour - and to replenish fluids after.
4. Eat protein and carbs after exercise
"Carb loading" before exercise is common, but eating protein after exercise seem to help muscles recover by providing amino acids for building muscle tissue and repairing it. The research is a little murkier on exactly what kinds of protein and exactly how much will help most, but vegan, vegetarian and meat sources all seem to work.
Eating 1-1.5g of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight during the first 30 minutes after you exercise helps to replace glycogen stores and restore energy.
These guidelines are more important when you're doing a lot of high intensity exercise, but even with my 30-40min runs three times a week, I see benefits.
5. Find a good sports bra
Okay, this one is mainly for the women out there, but with some 56% of women reporting breast pain or discomfort during exercise, it's not surprising that finding a good sports bra is essential, no matter how large your breasts are.
Australian research has shown that an encapsulating sports bra (as compared to a compressing one) can help reduce movement and lower perceived pain significantly. Vertical movement seems to correlate most highly to breast pain, and the velocity of movement is a major factor, so shop for something that reduces the jiggle.