Series 2 of these guidebooks are addressing the following topics:
- How to warm up and cool down the right way
- How to recover from a running injury fast (with inputs from Dr Roger Tian from Singapore Sports Medicine Centre)
- How to eat right to stay runner fit
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Just as important as the run itself is how you spend the before and after. A proper warm up and a good cool down makes all the difference to your run. While a warm up gets your muscles and joints ready for the activity ahead, a cool-down restores them back to normal functions.
To stay injury free and perform at your best, tweak your existing routine a little and follow these tips for better day-to-day running.
The Guide To Warming Up
1) Take A Walk
Although most runners start off their session by doing some static stretching, did you know that static stretching could potentially strain your muscles and lead to more injuries instead? It also dampens your strength and mobility.
As a result, you may find yourself having to exert more energy. Stretching works to lengthen your muscles and make them more flexible.
But the only thing you actually need for a run is for your muscles to perform within their functional range.
Instead, the best way to ease your body out of rest mode and get it into running mode is by taking a slow walk.
This will increase blood flow to all your muscles, getting them ready for the strenuous exercise ahead. Walking also gets oxygen to your muscles to warm them up.
Take a slow, gentle walk for three to five minutes and your muscles will be prepped and ready to go. Plus, the walk will gradually build up speed and give you the momentum you need to take off.
2) Try Self-Massaging
Before your run, spend five to ten minutes self-massaging your muscles to relieve tightness and soreness.
Tension in your muscles restricts your movements and when that happens, your muscles could be stretched too far, leading to overuse injuries. Consider getting a foam roller or massage balls for your sessions.
Alternatively, you can simply use your hands to do the trick. Glide them over tender areas to warm them up, then squeeze and roll your muscles with both hands.
You can also use your fists to press into them, moving gradually from one area to another. Remember to use only light pressure so you don’t cause any unwanted pain.
3) Do Dynamic Stretches
The purpose of warming up is to get your muscles ready to go. The best way to do that is by engaging in dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretches utilise movement and form, helping to activate the muscles you will be using in your run. This way, you won’t feel sluggish or lethargic during the session. Perform the following warm-ups to help you ease into your run and power through it.
- Ankle Circles
Lift one leg at a time, then rotate your foot in as wide a circle as possible. Repeat the ankle circle ten times in a clockwise direction, then switch to anticlockwise direction. Continue with the other foot. Complete between 10-20 circles for each foot.
- Hip Circles
Stand with your legs a little bit wider than shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly and place your hands on your hips. Rotate your hips in one direction, then switch to the opposite direction. Complete 15 circles in each direction.
- Walking Lunges
Stand with your feet together, and take a step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips to the floor until both knees are bent in a 90-degree angle. Press your right heel into the ground then push off with your left foot, bringing your left leg forward and stepping into a lunge. This completes one set. Aim to complete 10 sets.
- Legs Swings
Support yourself by placing one hand on a wall, then take a few steps away from it. Swing one leg forward then backward. Keep your posture tall and your core engaged. Repeat the motion on the other leg. Start off swinging lightly, then gradually increase the motion. Aim to complete ten swings on each side.
- Arm Swings
Stand straight with your knees slightly bent, feet shoulder width apart. Swing both arms forward to an overhead position, then forward again, downwards and backwards. Repeat this motion ten times, then switch to swinging both arms at the side and crossing them in front of your chest. Repeat this 10 times.
The Guide to Cooling Down
- Don’t Stop Immediately
You’re finally done with your run, but the session shouldn’t end here. Instead of stopping immediately, continue a light jog for about 5 to 10 minutes. Stopping abruptly after a run will cause your blood to pool and make you feel dizzy and light-headed. Therefore, a slow, light jog ensures that your heart rate gradually lowers to its resting state.
On top of that, your body muscles don’t take too well to abrupt stops, especially after an intense run. You may experience some cramping that could be quite a dampener to your session. The jog will help you fix that. It will flush out the unwanted metabolic waste (lactic acid) that had built up in your muscles, allowing you to continue with your day’s activities.
- Do Static Stretches
Your muscles have worked tirelessly through your session, so if you experience some soreness or tightness post-run, here’s where static stretches comes in handy. Static stretching consists of assuming a specific stretch position, and holding that pose for a couple of minutes.
Stretch until you feel a slight pull. But when the pull starts to feel abnormally painful, be sure to stop. You can also choose to focus on specific areas where you feel tension. To jump-start your muscle recovery process, include these stretches into your routine.
- Hamstring Stretch
Lie on your back with your right foot on the ground, keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Raise your left leg up and grab it by the ankle. Slowly pull it towards your shoulders until you feel a slight pull. Hold that position for 20 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
- Butterfly Stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs folded in a diamond shape, with the soles of your feet touching. Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward at the waist and use your elbows to press your knees to the ground. Your inner thighs should experience a slight stretch. Hold the position for 20 seconds.
- Pretzel Stretch
Still in sitting position, stretch your right leg and bend your left leg across it. Place your elbow on the outside of your left knee. Twist your body to the left and turn to face that direction. The stretch should be felt in your glutes and outer thigh. Hold the position for 20 seconds then switch legs and repeat.
- Calf Stretch
Place both hands on a wall and extend your arms. Lean against the wall with one leg bent forward. Extend the other leg back with your knee straight and foot facing forward. Slowly lower the heel of your back foot to the ground and feel the stretch in your calf. Hold for about 30 seconds then switch legs.
- Crossover Arm Stretch
Your arms work just as hard as your legs do during your run. To stretch them out, stand feet shoulder width apart and raise your left arm, keeping it parallel to the ground. Bring it over your chest and keep it slightly bent. Place your right hand on your left elbow, pushing your left arm closer to your chest. Feel the stretch in your shoulders and upper arm. Hold this position for 20 seconds then repeat with the other arm.
These exercises will really help you get started and cool down the right way. While they may seem like a hassle, they are critical to developing a pain- and injury-free running programme.
You know that feeling. When you’re injured, and you need to put a rain check on your fitness schedule, or stop running altogether for weeks. We all understand. That is why in this section, we’ll talk about how to recover from a running injury fast in the following stages:
- Common running injuries to get you started
- Immediate home treatment for the injuries
- Get into a healing mind-set through the five stages of running-injury recovery
- Nutritional tips to help you recover faster
- Keeping fit while recovering from a long-term running injury
- Returning to running after recovery
Sometimes injuries require medical attention. As a result, Roger Tian, the medical director and consultant of Singapore Sports Medicine Centre, is invited to contribute in this section. He will provide advice on recovering fast, injury prevention tips and when to seek medical help. Before we jump into recovery, let’s cover some of the most common injuries runners sustain:
- Runner’s Knee
Runner’s knee, sometimes referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is an injury that results from the stress of running. It is identified by pain and irritation at the patella. As Dr Robert Tian says, runner’s knee frequently affects those between 20 and 40 years old. Runners who are affected by it often have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Muscle imbalances
- Poor pelvic and core stability
- Excessive running on hard surfaces such as tarmac surfaces
- Stick to an uphill or flat terrain if you still want to continue running
- Pick softer running surfaces
- Take anti-inflammatory medications and rest
- Tape your knees (if you’ve consulted a sports specialist)
- Achilles Tendinitis
Another overuse injury, Achilles Tendinitis affects the tissues that connect the heel bone to the lower-leg muscles. Runners who are affected by it often have one or more of the following risk factors:
- A sharp increase in run mileage
- Tight calf muscles
- Flat foot
- Wear shoes that are supportive
- Stretch your calf muscles pre- and post-workouts
- Cut back on hill running if you are doing it
- Take anti-inflammatory medications and rest
- Runner’s Heel
Also known as Plantar Fasciitis, Runner’s Heel is characterised by the searing pain in the heel and arch of a foot. This results from irritation, inflammation, or a tear in the plantar fascia, the tissue at the bottom of your foot. Runners who are affected by it often have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Unsupportive footwear
- Have a flat or high foot arch
- Occupations that keep you on your feet
- Start an intensive run after a long period of idleness
- Stretch your heels before run
- Put on shoes with extra cushion
- Wear night splints
What is the first thing you should do after sustaining an injury? According to Dr Roger Tian, the most important measure is to stop the primary activity that causes the injury, and avoid any other activities that may worsen the injury or lengthen the recovery period.
“They should also start the RICE method,” Dr Roger Tian adds.
As you apply the RICE method, start observing the symptoms to gauge the severity. The most common symptoms of sports injury, according to Dr Tian, are “activity-related pain, swelling or bruising”. If they persist more than 48 hours, and go beyond the typical post-training soreness you’re familiar with, you should seek medical help.
After seeking medical help and ruling out more serious injuries, you’ll often be referred to a physiotherapist to begin rehabilitation.
On therapist-guided treatment, Dr Tian says, “To improve muscle balance and core stability, there exists several treatment options.
This includes soft-tissue release through the use of massage or foam roller; modification of running techniques after a therapist’s examination and correction; and creation of proper shoes and orthotics to match the runner’s mechanics. In the latter, a podiatrist will assist in the creation.”
Reframing Your Mind into a Healing One through the Five Stages to Running-Injury Recovery
Jessica Reed from The Guardian has wrote about the five stages every runner will go through when he or she sustains an injury.
The denial stage is when you pretend the knee pain is just a part of the game and continue with your exercise intensity and routine, until it worsens.
The acceptance stage is when you’re convinced about your injury and decide to rest. The inventory stage is when you beat yourself over the injury and how you should have been more careful; it involves nursing the injury as well. The substitution stage is when you try to remain active by cross-training or doing lower-impact exercises. Finally, the commiseration stage is when you read inspiring stories of running-injury recovery and stay positive through your own recovery.
It’s common for people to think of walking off an unusually sore ankle, for example. It’s the denial stage at work. To speed up your recovery, you should avoid it altogether. When in doubt, follow Dr Tian’s advice to avoid any activities that may exacerbate the injury.
Also, the inventory stage is one you can see as positive or negative, depending on how you go through it. If you beat yourself over the injury, you’re not being fair to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, let alone on the running field. Rather than that, be introspective during this stage on how you can prevent it from recurring. Frame your mind positivity, and your recovery will get better.
In fact, Jamie Robbins, a sports psychology consultant and professor at Winston-Salem State University, has said “physical healing is easier than the mental return to play because the bone may heal and the tear be fixed, but the mind does not change readily”.
If you do not have a positive mind-set, or if you fear injuring yourself again, you will find it hard to return to the field and regain your former performance.
This is where the commiseration stage comes in handy. Read up on people with similar injuries as you, especially those suffering more severe and longer-term ones. This way, you can better frame your mind that if they can make it back to the field and transcend their pre-injury states, so can you.
Nutritional Changes to Speed up Recovery
While you rest the injured areas, and follow the guidance and instructions of a physiotherapist, you can also look at your diet to speed up recovery. In fact, the right diet can go a long way.
When asked about this, Dr Tian has this to say: “Macronutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins are important for both post-injury and post-training recovery. Supplements are not necessary. Some foods you can consider include meat, eggs and dairy products. If you’re within the 48-hour period after injury, you’ll want to avoid alcohol as it can cause more swelling and pain in the affected region.”
Keeping Fit while Recovering from a Long-Term Injury
In the ill luck you’ve a long-term injury that requires you to stay off the race track for months, you will need to look for another outlet to keep fit. Ideally, you should choose an activity that does not load or stress the injured structure. This is critical to faster recovery.
If your injuries revolve around the knees, Dr Tian advises, “Use a spinning bike or elliptical machine to maintain your fitness and heart health. Though, the machines have to be set up correctly to prevent further or new damages. Alternatively, you can swim with a kick board between the knees, so only your upper body does the propulsion.”
Returning to Running after Running-Injury Recovery
If you sustained a severe running injury such as ligament tear, it’s recommended you follow your physiotherapist’s guidance as you return to the field. According to Brian Hodge, a veteran physical therapist, “the key for successful return to running is allowing soft tissue to have the chance to adapt”. In other words, the solution is sports periodisation, which is defined as an approach to govern training intensity and volume through progressive cycling of the different training aspects.
Brian proposed a method called the Rule of Two.
For example, if you have just recovered from a running injury, are keeping fit through 45-minute cycling and want to return to running, you can offset your times. Do a 10-minute short run, and a 35-minute cycling instead. If it’s all good and pain-free, in your next exercise routine, you can do a 12-minute short run and 33-minute cycling. See where the Rule of Two comes in?
So long as the addition of two more minutes does not hurt you, you can continue to add till the replacement activity reaches zero. By then, you can safely say you’ve recovered, while comfortably letting your just-recovered tissues adapt to exercise stress.
You are what you eat. We hear this saying time and time again. But for the runner, this saying couldn’t be any truer. Food is your fuel – how you perform is dependable on what you eat. So if you want to cover a longer running distance or clock a faster timing, you’ll want to ensure that your diet is right for you.
Getting the right nutrition will make all the difference. But just what exactly constitutes the “right nutrition”?
Micronutrients and Macronutrients
To start off, there are two food components that every runner should take note of – macronutrients and micronutrients. These are two components of food that you cannot go without.
Macronutrients refer to the energy-giving component of food. This includes carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Most of your energy will be derived from carbohydrates so the faster you want to go, the more carbohydrates you need. Fats play an important role as well, since your body will burn stored fat to provide energy as you run.
Post-run is when protein comes in. It acts as a repair agent to aid in the recovery of the body, so if you don’t wish to be aching too long or experience any form of muscle tears, protein should always be included in your diet. For the runner, macronutrients are needed in large amounts, especially the night before a race. Hence, it’s good to make a conscious effort to ensure that your meal consists of an adequate amount of macronutrients.
On the other hand, micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that ensure overall good health. They aid in growth and development, promote bone health and help a ton in repairing muscle tissue. As compared to macronutrients, micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts. But that doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked.
The body is not capable of producing micronutrients on its own, so it needs food to supplement them. As long as you are making a conscious effort to eat well-balanced meals and hydrating often by drinking water, you should be getting enough vitamins and minerals in your system.
One way to ensure that you are always getting the nutrition you need is by keeping a food log. Note down what you consume for each meal daily. This way, you can easily pinpoint what your body is lacking. A food log will also keep you on track and ensure that you’re not deviating from your diet plan.
Foods to Consume
Aside from a good understanding of the food components essential to a runner’s nutrition, knowing the type of food you need to eat will help you plan your meals. The next time you’re shopping for groceries at the supermarket, pick these items out and place them in your cart.
- Carbohydrate Sources
Our muscles are fuelled by carbohydrates. When doing any form of exercise, carbohydrates in the body are converted to glucose to act as the primary source of energy.
Hence, restricting the amount of carbohydrates you consume can zap your energy level and affect your performance. Carbohydrates are abundantly found in grains, fruits and vegetables. Some examples that are good to add in your diet are bananas, brown rice, oatmeal, or energy bars.
To start your session well, you’ll want to consume these foods 30-40 minutes before your training. This will give the carbohydrates ample time to digest and kick in so you can power through your run. Lots of runners also do carb-loading at least two nights before a big race.
This doesn’t mean eating one large carbohydrate-filled meal. Instead, it means eating normal-sized meals consisting of at least one form of carbohydrate throughout the day. This will ensure that on the day of your race, your body has enough energy for you to perform at optimum level.
- Protein-Dense Food
Another essential running nutrient is protein, responsible for helping muscles to heal faster. Compared to non-runners, runners need a lot more protein. Running strains your muscles and put them under a lot of stress, so adequate protein helps to speed up the recovery. Lean meat and other animal sources really pack a punch where protein is concerned. The list includes eggs, milk, yoghurt, chicken breast, tuna and salmon.
Intake of protein should be spread throughout the day, so ensure that each of your meals contain at least some form of protein. For example, you can start off by having eggs for breakfast, chicken breast for lunch and conclude the day with grilled salmon for dinner.
- Unsaturated Fats
Contrary to popular belief, athletes do require a good amount of fats to perform well. Along with carbohydrates, fats provide the energy you need and is also integral to ensure overall good health. There are two kinds of fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Saturated fat is commonly known as ‘bad fat’ while unsaturated fat is known as the ‘good fat’.
For runners especially, the anti-inflammatory properties of unsaturated fats would come in handy. When muscles swell, unsaturated fats will help to bring it down so you feel better after a run. Omega-3 sources of food are also a type of unsaturated fat that helps to create healthy blood vessels.
This is commonly found in oily fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon. Other types of food high in unsaturated fats are nuts like walnut, almond and peanut. These nuts have a knack for boosting heart health.
When you find that your energy level is running low in the day, snack on almonds or peanuts in the mid-afternoon. This will allow your body to store enough energy reserve for when you run out of carbohydrates to burn.
Aside from eating the right food, drinking an adequate amount of water is also as important. If you’re not properly hydrated, your body will not perform at its highest level. Lack of water can also lead to dizziness, muscle cramps and fatigue.
Although water is sufficient to keep you hydrated, those who are running for more than an hour can opt for sports drinks instead. Sports drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates that give you energy to perform well over a longer period of time. Apart from water itself, fruits and vegetables are also good sources of fluids.
The rule of thumb is to drink steadily throughout the day. Generally, runners tend to hydrate themselves after a run. However, hydration before a run is as equally important in order to prepare your body for the loss of fluids later on.
For marathon runners who run longer distances, it’s good to bring along a water bottle with you. But be careful, over drinking will cause the level of sodium in your blood to drop low, leading to hyponatremia. To determine how much water your body actually needs, consider the humidity level, your sweat rate and how intense your session is.
Foods to Avoid
There’s food that is good for you, and there’s food that should be avoided. Always think twice before loading these items into your cart. You might feel like indulging in them every once in a while, but the effect they have on your performance is a hefty price to pay.
- Sugar Loaded Food
Sugar is necessary for energy, but too much can be a bad thing. Sugar that enters the bloodstream releases insulin, stimulating the blood cells to convert the sugar to energy. However, excess sugar is converted into fat tissue, which could really weigh you down. Sugar is also associated with health problems like diabetes, high cholesterol and heart problems.
Some examples of food that contain way more sugar than you need are obvious examples like junk food, desserts and soft drinks. However, did you know that low fat products, like low fat yoghurt, tend to contain a lot of sugar as well? Sugar is usually added to low fat products to enhance the flavour.
Other culprits include your favourite condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce. They make for tasty dips, but the sweet kick you get is usually the result of a large amount of sugar. While you’re training, you may want to cut down on your intake of these foods.
You enjoy kicking back with a beer or two after a long hard day. But studies have shown that if you’re vying for a podium finish, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. For one, consuming alcohol decreases your blood sugar level, so you’ll find yourself feeling less energetic and as a result, clocking in slower timings.
The extra calories that you pile on from drinking can also cause you to gain weight and affect your overall performance. And because alcohol is a diuretic, it also dehydrates you and leads to headaches and fatigue. With all these in mind, drinking the day before a big race is not necessarily the best idea.
- Packaged Food
Packaged food is convenient and time-efficient. It may be easy to whip up a meal from packaged food. But in truth, there’s always more than meets the eye. Packaged food includes the likes of canned soup, baked beans, hotdog packets and even your favourite box of cereal.
More often than not, these foods are filled with calories, fat and sodium that really messes with your diet. Always opt for real food instead. And always read the labels before you purchase your groceries.
Dairy is fine on regular days. But the day before a race, you should cut back on your dairy intake. Dairy contains lactose, a sugar that requires a long time to digest. Hence, this might potentially cause some uncomfortable stomach issues. You wouldn’t want to rush for the toilet just when you’re going to start your sprint.
Having to make a pit stop halfway through a marathon might just cause you a top placing. So on the night before race day, opt for alternatives to dairy like almond milk and soy milk. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
A Good Diet Plan
If you’re struggling to completely change your diet or not sure where to start, this sample diet plan is a great starting point to help you meet your goals. Along the way, tweak it accordingly to what works best for you. Just follow these three simple rules – keep it simple, keep it balanced and stay hydrated.
2 scrambled eggs
2 slices of wholemeal bread
250ml fresh fruit juice
30 TO 40 MINUTES PRE-TRAINING
1 bowl of oatmeal
1 energy bar (if necessary)
1 bowl of garden salad with pasta and chicken breast slices
2 glasses of water
1 cup of almonds or peanuts
1 cup of carrot sticks
1 glass of water
1 grilled salmon
½ cup brown rice
1 side of roasted vegetables
2 glasses of water