Coffee For Runners

Coffee for runners

Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

Coffee For Runners: The Benefits of Caffeine for Athletes

If you participate in sports competitions regularly, it’s likely you would’ve heard athletes discuss the use of caffeine for performance-enhancing benefits. Just walk down a busy street with coffee shops near popular running or biking trails on a weekend morning, and you’ll often find cycling or run groups having a brew. Coming from Australia, coffee is a big deal. In Melbourne and Sydney in particular, Coffee is an art. You could spend a whole day exploring different coffee roasters and the varied eclectic atmosphere they create for you to sit and enjoy your brew. I’ve enjoyed exploring coffee shops in my new city, Boise.

Caffeine For Runners: Is Caffeine good for runners?

Caffeine is often recommended for runners as it can have a slight performance-enhancing effect if the individual times their ingestion correctly to their race/event start time and correctly for the duration or distance of the race. Caffeine can cause an upset stomach, better known as G.I distress for runners if the athlete is not used to coffee when training. However, if the individual is able to take on board coffee, their awareness, alertness, the focus can increase and their perception of effort may be decreased. What’s not to love about that? I’m personally a big fan of coffee before racing.

Here’s an even niftier trick you can consider which I came up with whilst out on a  long run one Sunday morning. I practice this regularly to get the optimum race-day advantage. As a regular coffee drinker, many would agree that we become slightly immune to the effects of coffee over time. Considering this, I only drink decaffeinated coffee and tea, or no coffee at all, up to 5 days before a race. Whether it is a placebo effect or not, I can’t be sure, but I know I definitely feel the effects of the caffeine when I drink coffee on race day after no coffee for a few days (a temporary coffee fast, you could call it). On the day of the race, if it is an early start time, I take on board 2 shots, and if it is in the evening, up to 3. I’m buzzing and ready to go!

The only drawbacks of using caffeine is the risk of GI distress, the need to urinate and potential jitters. Getting the jitters isn’t such a big issue for distance runners, as our sport doesn’t require us to be still to execute a good performance (unlike an archer, or 100m sprinter on the start-blocks, for instance). To avoid GI distress, we train the stomach in practice to be able to handle varying amounts of caffeine, well before race day.

Should I drink Caffeine before a run?

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For many runners in particular, including myself, coffee is a big part of my morning routine before training or races. One study evidently highlighted that more than two-thirds of Olympians use caffeine as a pre-workout supplement.  In the hotter months, particularly when temperatures can hit 45 degrees C or 100+ Fahrenheit here in Boise, I’ll reach for the cold brew pre-run. In winter when it is significantly cooler, it’s a double shot latte or Americano. Investing in a coffee machine is your best bet for convenience and financially, especially if you’re a student or student-athlete.

 

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Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

I love how my morning cup of coffee increases my alertness and awareness. Most of the time I find myself running in the mornings within 30-1hr after hopping out of bed (especially in the summer). I’ll pair my coffee with a small snack to help with the digestion of the coffee and satiate my hunger during the training session. A pre-run snack that pairs well with coffee is normally a bowl of cereal with non-dairy milk or toast with jam/honey or nut butter. 

If you’re an individual who believes they can’t eat before or close to a run, I urge you to train yourself to be able to take on board something, including a coffee. Training is time to practice for race day – you can survive a few uncomfortable running sessions in the short term, to invest in optimal long term nutrition.

Does Drinking Coffee make you run faster?

There’s evidence to support the benefits of caffeine in endurance-based sports. Most caffeine supplements are 2-3 shots dense (80-120 milligrams), as this is believed to be the best amount to consume to improve performance. Many online sources discuss using 5mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. With 1 cup of coffee containing around 95-120 mg of caffeine, you may have to have a double shot or two cups to get the full effects. 

Coffee works to improve your performance in a few ways. Most notably, it can reduce your perceived levels of exertion during difficult endurance activities, including running.

When should I drink coffee before a race?

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Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

Caffeine has a pretty short-acting effect, so from personal experience, I like to have 1 shot an hour out from the race, and another shot 30 minutes before. I take these in caffeine strips such as Revvies (https://www.revviesenergy.com/) in which each strip is equivalent to one shot of coffee. This reduces any chance of stomach upset which might be experienced if a coffee, particularly one with dairy milk, is ingested too close to the gun time. I’ll have 1 strip 30 minutes before the race, and 1 just before I line up for the race if I’m using Revvies. 

The stomach can also be trained to take caffeine on board close to a race. I can have a black coffee with a dash of milk up to 45 minutes before an event, as long as I ensure I get to the bathroom before the start, this is no issue for me. I’m firing and ready to run fast!

The best way to practice caffeine intake and experiment with supplements is during training phases/periods. You can afford to make mistakes during these times – this is why it is called practice! Mastering your nutrition needs as an athlete doesn’t happen without trial and error. 

Best Caffeine Supplements for Runners

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For a great, convenient pre-race option (especially for Aussie based athletes, as this brand is AUS based), I use Revvies Energy Strips. They are super simple to take, simply place a strip on your tongue and allow it to dissolve. It and can be taken during a run, and right up until the start of a race. Talk about convenience! If you’re sensitive to caffeine, 1 strip is generally enough, however, if you’re a regular drinker, 2 strips are better. Revvies don’t recommend consuming more than 5 strips a day. They have 2 flavors – Arctic Charge and Tropical Hit. I personally like Arctic Charge best as it reminds me of a piece of mint gum. 

Run Gum is a popular worldwide caffeine supplement used by athletes. Unlike Revvies, Run Gum is exactly what it says it is…a gum. You chew it for 5-10 minutes to effectively absorb the caffeine, b-vitamins, and taurine ingredients in the gum. Run Gum states that this immediately boosts alertness and energy, without causing stomach upset. 

In terms of general caffeine supplements, I really like Tailwind. They pride themselves on natural, organic supplements that are anti-doping approved (remember to always check your supplements on GlobalDro – this is the responsibility of the athlete).  For a recovery based option containing caffeine, I have used their ‘Caffeinated Coffee Rebuild’. This is great for post-session when you need a kick-start to your day. It helps to replenish depleted glycogen stores, rebuild muscles, and restore electrolytes to your body. I like to blend my sachets into a smoothie to go on my way to work, class, or morning errands. This sachet is made with organic rice protein, healthy fats from coconut milk, and a few carbohydrates added for recovery purposes (3:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates within 30minutes of exercise is the optimal timing for recovery according to Accredited Sports Dieticians). Get yours here. 

Caffeine Gels For Running

 

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Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

Gels containing caffeine are a great way to consume more caffeine on top of your normal cuppa pre-run or top up your caffeine stores whilst you’re out running, biking, swimming etc. 

From personal experience, I would practice in training and sessions using different brands of caffeinated running gels to ensure you don’t have a stomach upset on race day, and train the body to digest it effectively. This is because the rate of caffeine absorption and the effects vary from person to person. Maurten, a reputable sports nutrition company state that this varies based on weight and how used to caffeine the individual is. 

Maurten is an extremely popular brand, with Eluid Kipchoge to thank for a large amount of promotion when he used the brand to fuel his victory in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. They recently released a gel known as GEL100 CAF, containing 100mg of caffeine per serving, and 25g of carbohydrates for some extra fuel whilst you’re on the run. The great thing about this caffeinated hydrogel is it is preservative, artificial flavor and colorant free. All these nasty additives can cause stomach upsets which are unwelcome come race day.  Get a box of 100 servings here. 

 

How to Build Mental Toughness For Runners

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How to Build Mental Toughness For Runners

Running is a very physically tough, and psychologically demanding sport. Mental skills training for mental toughness is an essential ingredient in any pursuit that you desire to reach your full potential in and explore your boundaries. This goes for sport and life in general. We have to find that balance of physical and mental training and recovery. Interestingly, mental skills training fatigues the brain, as does a hard session fatigue the body – so we must train, recover, and adapt. 

Your mind can be your best friend or your own worst enemy. It’s important to establish some tools to utilize when out training, racing or facing your next physical challenge. To run at our very best, it’s important to recognize what your own strengths and weaknesses are. In doing so, you can take advantage of your strengths, and become more aware of areas you struggle a little more with. Think of it as optimizing your own mental toolkit. 

If you want to find out what your top character strengths are, take this quiz run through The University of Pennsylvania (yes, it has quite a few questions, but it should take way too long and it is reliable!). You’ll have to enter a username and email, don’t worry, you won’t get spammed. Take the Top 7 as your top character strengths. I did this, and my results showed my top strength was curiosity and interest in the world, the second was fairness, equity and justice, and third, creativity, ingenuity, and originality. I keep these in mind when I approach running training, teamwork, and racing. This way I can truly frame my running mindset to assist me in performing at my best. 

What is mental toughness?

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Mental toughness is the ability to perform at a high range of your potential consistently, under the ever-changing and often unpredictable conditions of competition and high-demand situations. A mentally tough individual will be able to execute their task with a desirable level of focus, determination, resilience, and calmness under stress and pressure.  

Mental toughness is often a key determiner whether you finish at the front or at the back of a pack. One study conducted on Australian footballers determined that the group that exerted the highest levels of mental toughness favored “both mastery- and performance-approach goals and self-determined as well as extrinsic motivational tendencies”. In the paragraphs below, I’ll go into more detail about these specific mental skills which can be adopted to develop mental toughness. 

The great thing about mental toughness is that it can be developed and trained, and studies have shown that it is innate to humans as it was a crucial characteristic that impacted survival ability in prehistoric times. We train mental toughness by building an ‘artillery’ of mental skills. These are characteristics such as focus, determination, dedication, resilience, performing in high-pressure settings, selective emotional ability under high-stress situations, confidence, perseverance, self-belief, the ability to work with a team, positivity in difficult situations and motivation (I’m sure there are many more you can think of!). Some of these character strengths you will find come more naturally to you, whilst others will require practice and work. Ultimately, it is about honing in and capitalizing on your strengths and improving weaknesses that could be beneficial to your sport or endeavor. 

We can build mental skills in a sports psychology setting or make time to deliberately practice them. We are kidding ourselves as dedicated sports people if we think that mental toughness is something that will come magically to us – it takes dedication and deliberate commitment to improve at anything and perform at a high level. I personally utilize sports psychology through the collegiate system. A general session involves assessing strengths and weaknesses, reflecting on the experience, and how I could go about the scenario next time. A sports psychologist or mental skills trainer will assist in building key areas to perform well at the particular discipline and to meet the personal needs of the athlete. 

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You’ve already taken the first steps to build your mental toughness by simply educating yourself on what it is. I found it super helpful for my own pursuits to learn that our body can actually go beyond our physical perception of pain and tiredness when we hit this stage in a race or hard training session. The voice in your head telling you to “slow down”, “stop”, “give up”, “this is too hard” is better known as the pre-historic brain/ monkey brain or mind/survival instinct mind. It is simply your brain trying to stop you from hurting yourself. It doesn’t know the difference between a race and a real situation of life-or-death. Just like your legs don’t know you are running a 10km race, rather than a hard 10km training session with your teammates. It’s all in your mind. Mental wandering and negative self-talk are the key inhibitors to us performing at our absolute physical best. This is why it is essential to train will-power, self-control and decision making under pressure. We need to find a way to automate decisions and execute a plan of some sort, to prevent the mind wandering. 

How does the mind work in a hard training or race scenario?

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When we race or train hard, the pain and discomfort we experience are from the emotional part of our brain, as I mentioned before. It is intended to protect us. We simply need to make a decision – the brain will process this decision based on a number of factors, including personal expectations coming into the event, past experiences in similar situations, level of desire to achieve (resilience, motivation, goals, perseverance), and stimulus feedback to the brain, including fatigue, fuel, environmental setting etc.

There are a couple of things we can do to calm the monkey mind, take the extra stress and anxiety out of the race day or hard session equation. Firstly, we can train our willpower. Will power is the ability to control your attitude, thoughts, feelings, impulse, and execute a task with clear, beneficial, goal-oriented decision making. You probably already exercise it in some sense – like setting an early morning alarm for training and not questioning whether you go or not. You just do, it’s not really a decision up for debate. Same with attending a hard training session you might be dreading. Unless injured or sick, show up and see how it goes – you may just surprise yourself. However, as humans, we only have so much will-power each day. Take into account that our will-power is highest earlier in the day, along with our ability to exert self-control. This is where the common notion of doing your hardest tasks earlier in the day, or first thing comes into play. 

The harder and more stressful the decisions,  the number of decisions, and the complexity of decisions all dip into our will-power stores. The goal is to make a lot of these decisions more automated (subconscious) and focus on the ‘when’ of the decision (timing is everything), rather than the how, which can cause extra stress if over-thinking occurs.

We want to capitalize on the time of day when we will make the best choices, and practice our strategy of will-power and decision making at this time of day to suit our needs. 

Just like physical activity requires recovery, so do mental reserves including will-power (recovery is just as important, it is where we get stronger, after being ‘broken down’ in some sense in training). If our willpower is low, our ability to make clear and beneficial decisions and exercise self-control is hindered. Physical fatigue will also contribute to lower will-power which in turn, impacts decision making + self-control. Sleep, adequate recovery, and nutrition can aid us in these areas. Athletes or high-achievers in any discipline should aim for at least 8hrs of sleep a night on most nights to perform at their best. It has even been stressed to me many times that 9-10hours is ideal – however many of us would struggle to do this in today’s busy world. Healthy, energy-dense meals are also key. Carbohydrates (in particular – glucose), fuel our brainpower. If you experience ‘mental fog’ or ‘blur’, this could be a reason why. 

 

What are some mental running strategies?

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  1. Set yourself some goals and intentions! You’re going to hate me when I say, ‘write them down’. Really – do it. Get it on paper, or record it via voice memo if you must. Whatever. It is just crucial that these goals become a physical manifestation in some sense. I like to stick mine on the wall. Goals work best if they are categorized: 

 

  • Process goals: this is the ‘journey’ as I like to put it. Where you’ll direct your focus and deliberate intention
  • Performance goals (short term and long term): aka. Some short term goals may be new PB in this 5km race or run comfortably for 10km. These goals help focus our execution and are the technical and strategic notch in our belt. A long term goal could be to qualify for a team, eventually run a marathon (make sure you do some very solid, consistent, long-term training to build up to this!)
  • The more detail, the better. List your hows, whys and ways of getting there. There are many paths to achieving a particular goal. 
  • Be flexible. Things change, life chucks curve balls. The more practice you have at adapting and adopting, the better off you’ll be long term. 

 

  1. Self- talk. You have to practice this. A great website I came across explains self-talk as: 

“Self-efficacy is the unshakeable belief of an athlete that they can meet the challenge they are facing. It is arguably the cornerstone for any great performance.” 

We must question our own inner dialogue. Are our thoughts mostly negative? positive? What emotion is behind most of our thoughts? Recognize your own patterns! Often our mental talk/self-talk is habitual. So if any bad habits have formed which are not of benefit to your performance, or hold you back in any way, it’s time to put in some work to change them. 

My in-race or session self-talk is very simple, involving just a few ‘cue-words’ that are easy to digest for the brain in a high-pressure, fatiguing situation, and don’t have any emotional association words involved in the phrase (things like good, bad, can’t, can etc.). My coach in Australia taught me to adopt ‘breathe, relax, momentum’. I have thought these 3 keywords for an entire 5km race. It worked a charm. If I felt my mind start to wander, I drew it back to these simple thoughts. I had already thought through my race execution plan, so this is all I had left to think about. Remember, on the track, course, court, field, meeting room- wherever you are trying to execute at your full potential and at a high-level – you are your own best friend or worst enemy. 

 

  1. Exercise your ability to be in control yet flexible to challenge and change. Often a scenario will change in a race very quickly. This is what makes them so exciting. You should be ready to adapt your plan and decisions based on perceptions and feedback. This is best practiced through hard training sessions and racing. Throw yourself in the deep end, and learn from mistakes, then try again. 

 

  1. Make decision making more automatic. The more decisions we can make subconscious, often the better. This is because less energy is used to make this particular type of decision. Again, racing and training is the place to practice and learn how to execute this mental skill. Personally, by the end of track season, I have cultivated a very personal plan as to how I best execute my distance (1500-10km). I take into account a sit-and-kick race situation, or a slow burn scenario, and go from there. I practice both conditions in training, so I can put my best foot forward if I need to sprint from home or maintain a high-pace for a longer period of time. I also learn to prioritize my decisions – don’t sweat the small stuff, particularly things you can’t control, such as the weather.

 

  1. Glucose levels! Not really a mental skill, but worth a mention. New research shows that a hit of glucose (in the form of glucose-rich food) can temporarily restore our mental strength including will-power and ability to make good in-race decisions. This is because to perform at our best psychologically/mentally requires adequate blood glucose levels in the brain. You hear about nutrition strategies in the marathon which is for physical and psychological benefit. However, the question being posed now is? Even in shorter races less than an hour in which our glucose levels will not be depleted too significantly, could a shot of it benefit our mental capacity? Food for thought. Literally. 

 

  1. Sleep. It is commonly known that 6hrs or less of sleep, particularly bad sleeping patterns over a long period of time will impact our mood, emotional capacity, ability to make good decisions, mental clarity, self-control, and will-power. 

 

  1. Learning to relax in a high-pressure scenario, such as a race. If we stress too early, we are draining energy, which is detrimental to our race. A way to practice this is to work on persevering when pain, fatigue, and tiredness hit us in training and less-important races, so we are ready for the big day/important side of the season. 

 

  1. Framing and perspective. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. Even expectations of others. You are only human, and I know most athletes don’t go through rigorous training to not put their best effort in on race day. We are not here to waste time and opportunity. If you don’t achieve what you desired, give yourself a certain time to be upset, and then move on and reflect, focusing on the next thing. The great thing about sport is there is always another race/event/challenge. Give yourself a pat on the back every now and then too. Running isn’t life or death, it is something we do, love, enjoy and at the end of the day, it should be fun!

 

Returning briefly to the mental framework – make sure you don’t do any mentally challenging activities too close to a race or difficult training session. This is because our ability to perform is hindered when we are mentally fatigued. Again, this involves will-power, which impacts decision making, emotional state, and self-control. The more we race and put ourselves under these high-pressure conditions, the more we train our will-power to work in a positive symbiosis with pain and onset fatigue. 

Does Visualization or Imagery help with training mental toughness for running?

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Visualization is the process of establishing mental imagery of how you might like to execute the race. This technique is a mental skill that should be a part of our mental skills ‘toolbox’, as I like to put it. It is how in ‘theory’ you can experience race day and run the race before you have actually run it. You can visualize pre and post-race processes, and the race itself. For example, this could involve the morning of the race, how you’ll feel warming up, and/or the race itself. In terms of race visualization, I personally like to mentally run through sections of the course and have a best-case scenario and plan B strategy ready to go. If you can see the racecourse beforehand, or have a map as a second-case scenario, base your visualizations off this. As this was my first cross-country season in the NCAA competition, I had to plan my visualization off maps, and then the day before the race after running on the course, I could base my imagery off the course itself. I actually enjoyed this process, as moving from map to the physical reality of the course allowed me to make mental connections which were much more memorable. Think of it as an ‘ah huh!’ moment, like when I realized that the hill we were jogging up on course inspection was the big long one I planned to overtake others on based off the course map we were given a few days before. For some athletes, it is possible to visualize their plan/s of execution from the start to finish. If this resonates with you and your scenario, go with this. 

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You do have to find the time to practice visualization. I like to practice before I go to sleep at night. This way, it is the last thing I contemplate for the day. I channel how I want to feel emotionally, how I envision my body moving across the course, how I will take certain corners, undulations, hills, and the finishing sections. Yes, it is detailed, but it is worth the effort. You’ll feel less nervous on race day, coming into it with a flexible plan of execution that is thought through. Consider making it a habit, and a part of your race day routine and strategy. 

How do you stay motivated to keep running and training?

You are in control of how you feel and choose to feel, and as soon as you can recognize this, you can start practicing your ability to exercise this and enhance it as mental strength. A good word for it is attitude.  I’m not saying emotionally regulate, we all feel tired and lack motivation sometimes, and in turn, heading out for a run or doing that tedious task you had on your list for the day is the last thing on your agenda. Acknowledge it, and then take action as to how you will approach the task ahead. Often, you’ll feel better having done it. Luckily in running, you get that lovely endorphin high, which is a natural mood booster. 

When I say ‘take action’, what I mean is to make the decision on your attitude. This can involve the decision to pump yourself up and carry out some mood-boosting actions or ease into the run with a sense of calm and mindfulness. As an athlete, you’ll need to figure out what these techniques are for you. I will go into some personal examples below. 

Motivation also correlates with expectations – you can set them for yourself or choose to let the run unfold more naturally. When I’m tired, I take it one step at a time like putting on my shoes, stepping out the door, and zoning out to a podcast. The best athletes in the world know what amplifies and intensifies their feelings (boosts their desire to train, in a sense). For me, it’s playing some high energy music, doing my hair in braids or in a potential race hairstyle I want to try, and putting on what I consider my ‘fast’ activewear. If I want to calm myself down after a stressful day, I will focus on my breath, or rope a friend or teammate into training with me if it is a solo session (it helps distract from the ‘tiredness’ or stress, which often we carry in our body). 

It is impossible to be in a high-energy, motivated state all the time, but we can develop the mental skills to get us out the door regardless of our emotional state. Who knows how you will feel on race day? Think of it as practice for that. Often goal-setting helps us stay on track and find that bit of motivation we need to push forward. I like to make it an unquestionable decision. Unless I’m sick or injured (and all the other situations I don’t need to list), I go. It is a part of my routine and I’m a better Lara to everyone if I do, no point in denying that!

Running Dehydration Symptoms

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Running Dehydration Symptoms

Water intake is absolutely crucial in facilitating blood flow to the key parts of the body that are under stress when we run. It’s common knowledge that blood carries oxygen, nutrients, and sodium to working parts of the body, those being our heart, lungs, and muscles. When dehydration occurs, our blood thickens, reducing the rate of blood flow to these key systems and body components, reducing performance and placing undue amounts of stress on the body. Think of it like this – blood transports our fuel: food and water! Generally speaking, the harder you run, the more water your body will use.

 

How do you know if you’re dehydrated whilst running?


There are a number of easily identifiable symptoms which I’m sure you’ve heard of before. The first one is feeling thirsty. It is true that you’re already dehydrated, or on a path to dehydration if you feel thirsty. So drink before you feel the signals. Other symptoms include (this list is not exhausted):

  • Increased fatigue and feeling a lack of energy
  • Headaches
  • Dryness in mouth
  • Stomach upset, often runners complain of gastrointestinal (G.I) distress
  • Cramping of muscles – for me personally, my calves cramp at night sometimes causing a bad sleep if I haven’t had enough water in the day
  • Seeing stars, feeling dizzy and/or lethargic
  • Inability to/and or difficulty concentrating 

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In 2007 the American College of Sports Medicine stated that “dehydration = 2% of body weight degrades aerobic exercise performance in temperate-warm-hot environments and that greater levels of dehydration will further degrade exercise performance.” Thus, the aim is to begin exercise well hydrated, and maintain fluid levels throughout long bouts of exercise, and replenish afterward. It’s pretty simple really. If you can, step on the scales first thing in the morning, before you go on your next long run, and immediately on return, step on the scales. If a bodyweight loss is greater than 2%, “endurance performance will suffer.” 

From a medical standpoint, dehydration is caused when running by a number of factors, including respiratory losses (sweating and heavy breathing), substrate oxidation (burning energy, measured from indirect calorimetry measurements), water oxidation and lack of water availability to the bladder. With all these factors combined, up to 2% of body mass loss can potentially occur. 

 

Does dehydration affect running?

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We need to remember that around 60% of our body is composed of water, so it makes up a fair amount of our total body weight. As discussed above, if the runner were to lose roughly 2% of their body mass, endurance performance will decrease. This means a slower pace, reduced recovery ability, and an all-round bad experience. Why let something you can control and plan for race day, ruin your run? If we drink fluid in the correct amounts, timed well, we can ensure better performance on your next run or race day. 

Have you ever heard of the term “bonking” or “hitting the wall”, in association with running?  Bonking means a sudden loss of energy and a high onset of fatigue. Dehydration can contribute to “bonking”, which essentially leads to a drastic reduction in athletic performance and a potential inability to continue the athletic activity. It is also largely a result of a lack of glycogen availability to send to the muscles and liver. I’d recommend for events longer than an hour, sipping on a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution, alongside easy to digest snacks to prevent bonking. For events less than 1 hour, staying well hydrated in the days before, the morning of and afterward is crucial. 

Another thing to consider is some people sweat more than others. This can be to do with the person’s gender, size, and weight. What this means for the runner, is it is a very personalized approach. The plan must be tried and tested. Don’t try something new on race day, or too close to race day. 

 

How do you avoid dehydration when running?

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The top priority is to replace water that has been lost through sweating post-exercise for shorter running sessions and sip on water for sessions longer than 1hr. It is also important to maintain hydration throughout the day, including before exercise. No need to go overboard, however, a glass of water in the morning, first thing can really help kickstart the day and set you up for a better run. As someone who hasn’t drunk enough water in the past, I recently made it a habit to have a glass of water as my first task in the morning, and I have felt better throughout the day as a result of this. 

An Oxford Academic article observed the relationship between dehydration and endurance performance in competitive athletes. The main takeaways from this article are the importance of beginning exercise well-hydrated for longer bouts of endurance exercise (which can be monitored by urine color; pale is generally better), and encouragement of mouth-rinsing with sports drinks throughout the activity. 

It is possible that Mouth rinsing Carbohydrate solutions could be beneficial for endurance performance, i.e running. This process involves sipping and swishing around a “carbohydrate-electrolyte solution” in your mouth during the endurance event. Whilst there has been little study on the potential benefits of this method, the evidence suggests that endurance performance around 1 hour in length if the “subject has fasted”, can have a beneficial effect on performance.  I have done this myself in races around 10km, and longer runs, however not in a fasted state. What I did find from a performance standpoint is less hunger upon finishing my run, I didn’t feel as fatigued at the end, and I felt I could’ve run further if I desired. I do believe there is something to be said for this. This particular study revealed that “studies using functional MRI and transcranial stimulation have provided evidence that carbohydrate in the mouth stimulates reward centers in the brain and increases corticomotor excitability.” Essentially, the brain is tricked into improving performance which is likely associated with corticomotor excitability. 

 

How do you hydrate before running?

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I personally like to drink a glass of water in the morning first thing, with a light snack if I am doing a morning run. If I am going to run a little later in the day, I’ll ensure I’m sipping regularly. If I have access to a hydration formula, like Nuun, SOS Hydration, or Hydralyte Sport as examples, I’ll add a tablet to my water bottle for the day. This is even better than water from a hydration standpoint. I’m a big advocate for finding a personal balance for training, recovery, and a racing strategy. This can improve your performance and ability to recover well. During a race or long run, I like adding Tailwind powder to my bottle as it is a preservative-free (better for you, and your gut!), electrolyte and carbohydrate solution. 

I want to break down my personal race strategy so you can see an example: 

  • 48 hours before a race, I ensure I am sipping on water regularly, and having an electrolyte tablet at least once a day. I don’t want to be dehydrated on any day leading into a race. (Unless of course, you are deliberately practicing dehydration for a race environment/personal factor of performance)

 

  • Morning of the race, I make sure to have a glass of water first thing and sip on water (not excessively), up until 30-45 minutes before the race. The reason I point out not to overdo it is because a glugging gut can hinder performance.

 

  • For longer races around 10-21km (10km is a personal preference, not necessary unless hot conditions) utilize aid stations, and don’t carry a personal water supply unless necessary. In trail events, however, I often carry water and others will do the same due to the nature of the race. For marathon and ultramarathon distances, personal aid station drinks are a good idea. This should be pre-planned, tried and tested well before race day for this scenario. 

 

  • Post-race, it’s important to replenish lost stores. I like to drink an electrolyte solution and aim to consume a couple of cups of water in the 30 minutes after a race. Normally 1 before cool-down and another after. Keep sipping on water throughout the day, and the day after whilst the body recovers from the effort. 

 

  • Don’t forget that it is also optimal to refuel carbohydrate and protein stores within 30-1 hour of hard/long effort or race finish for maximum recovery benefit. Carbohydrates will top up your depleted glycogen stores and protein will help kickstart muscle tissue damage.

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Is it ok to drink water during a run?

Absolutely. If I’m doing a long run, I’m a big fan of carrying a water bottle in a belt with me, often with some tailwind solution if the run is 75 minutes or more. If this is a no-go for you, you could potentially design your run route around access to water (water fountains/bubblers, run via home). If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere more rural, or a running around trails, planting water bottles might be a good idea. Think of it as a mini aid station!

 

What about over-hydrating?

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Yes, there is such a thing as drinking too much water. This is known as hyponatremia and can be just as dangerous as dehydration, if not more so. The key to knowing what hydration plan or method is going to work best for you personally, is through processes of trial and error. In sports medicine terms, being over-hydrated causes a low sodium level in the blood and blood volume is reduced. The hormone ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) is released, which retains water. This dilutes the blood, lowers the sodium levels, and prevents consistent blood flow and necessary nutrient transportation to the body.

 

Some nifty tips to hydrate well, and save money

  • Save your money with the fancy electrolyte tablets and instead try a small amount sweetened iced tea powder sachet (I use these)
  • Try making your own hydration drink. I love the Run Fast Eat Slow Cookbook recipe. It’s all about sodium content, a bit of carbohydrates and water of course!  
  • Eat watermelon after running with your meal – it’s got simple carbohydrates for quick glycogen replenishment and has a nice water content.

 

Grocery Shopping Tips for Athletes on a Budget

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There’s no doubt it’s crazy times we live in right now. We need to be smart with spending whilst still fueling our body to stay as healthy as possible.  I run at the moment for the pure joy of it, the outdoors time each day and the mental clarity it provides. When I’m consistently running, I’m almost always hungry. It is important to consider the necessary nutritional intake for any training you may be doing at this time. Stress is stress, whether it be physical or mental, so eating well, and enough is essential to keep the immune system in check. Don’t let this one slide right now.

I’ve put together these tips for you, so you can save some extra cash in these next few months (or however long this thing is going to last!), and still enjoy your cooking and eating.

 

Write a list

Writing a grocery list might sound like a frustrating thing, however, it will ensure your grocery trip is the most cost-effective and time-efficient. You’re more likely to stick to your grocery budget if you write a list!

There are so many phone apps for writing shopping lists. A few I recommend in America are Mealime, Anylist, and Cozi Family Organizer. For my Aussie readers, Grocereaze, Buy Me A Pie! And Out of Milk.

When writing a list, it can be handy to categorize it. Most grocery stores will have the fresh produce and potentially specific colder goods in the first few aisles or entry section, so I tend to write these on the list first, as shown in my sample template below. Often the bakery section and bulk produce are in the same area, so I place any goods I need from these sections next. The middle aisles hold the cheapest food items, that last the longest. Essentially, your non-perishables like canned goods, preserves, nut butters, cereal, pasta, rice, etc. Meats and often dairy goods are in the same general area towards the back or sides of the store. I like to add these goods to the right side of the list. There are also frozen goods, pharmaceuticals, toiletry needs, and cleaning products, which I put at the bottom of the list.

 

Navigating the grocery store like a pro

Have you ever walked into a grocery store, and not known where to start? The middle aisles hold the cheapest items that last the longest. Keep in mind that this is great for saving money. If you’d rather fruit and vegetables that last a while, remember you can always get canned, frozen, or chop them up and freeze them yourself. I like to freeze bananas and chop up veggies to freeze for roasting or stir-fry later.

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Another nifty tip is to always look high and low in the aisle. Fun fact, grocery stores make most of their money off brands paying to have their product placed in prominent positions around the store, not you as a consumer. The most expensive products will be placed in the middle. Generic brand products often taste the same, so save money where you can here.

Always look at the price per weight, ounce or serving if applicable. You’ll always get the better deal. The first situation I think of where I use this most is milk and toilet paper (although I wouldn’t stress about the latter, there isn’t any, anyway). Also, always buy in bulk for goods you use often. It’s the same deal with cost-effectiveness. Think oats, rice, flour, sugar, pasta, olive oil, chicken stock, seasonings, etc.

 

Choosing the goods.

On a budget, being open to eating cheaper cuts of meats is prime. Chicken thighs are cheaper than chicken breast, and often marinate better and contain all the flavor. Don’t believe me? Try cooking a curry with chicken breast, and then try one with thighs. Life changer.

Do your own slicing, dicing, and shredding. The stores always charge more if they make cuts or shred the item for you.

Shopping in categories for the time savvy

I’ve found it’s a good idea to have a knowledge of where you can buy produce the cheapest, packaged goods, and toiletry products. This makes grocery shopping most effective cost-wise, however, if the stores are far apart and you don’t own a vehicle, this can be a little tricky. For example, in Boise (Idaho), close to Boise State University campus and downtown, we have an Albertsons, Wholefoods, Trader Joe’s and Winco. There’s a Walmart, Costco and Fred Meyer in other areas of Boise, but they’re not easily accessible by bike or particularly close to BSU campus. These are also cheaper options.

 

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  • For organic produce at a lower cost: Albertsons (open nature generic brand products), Trader Joe’s (How is it so cheap for good quality? Check out this post)
  • Cheapest: Winco, Walmart
  • For organic produce, regardless of cost: Wholefoods, Albertsons, Trader Joe’s (organic veggie section), Fred Meyer (organic section)

 

Savings programs?! You can get more bang for your buck

Most people’s first thoughts on joining a rewards program are annoying advertisements including multiple emails, flyers and potentially an annoying card that sits in your wallet, hardly being used. However, I’ve found Albertsons ‘Just for U’ rewards program really helpful in saving money, and also for the occasional free grocery item giveaway if I decide to shop at this location. Essentially, you make an account, and each week you can choose which coupons you add to your account. These coupons automatically deduct from the cost of groceries when you enter the phone number you registered at the checkout. Look out for ‘FREE’ groceries each week. I got a free bag of Open Nature Granola for 2 weeks in a row, some Kite Hill yogurt, and have had free bags of coffee on multiple occasions.

I know Wholefoods have rewards for Amazon Prime members. Prime members get an extra 10% off sale items, weekly deals (look for the blue prime member store icon), special deals on online grocery shopping with Amazon-like free delivery.

 

Moocho App: free grocery money

This app is worth downloading if you shop at Albertsons. For $5 free grocery credit upon downloading the app, use referral code: 293683.  Ask to pay with Moocho at the counter and collect 1 Mooch for every $5 you spend. At 20 Mooches, you get $7 worth of grocery credit at the store. The app also connects up with Starbucks and other popular fast food joints, but given the COVID-19 restrictions, these might not be utilized at the moment.

5k Meal Plan: Your ultimate guide to fueling and hydrating for 5km

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Whether you’re about to run your first 5km race or you’re a seasoned pro, making sure that you’ve got energy on board and avoiding stomach upset is the key to performing your best. From personal experience, I found that it was crucial to train my stomach to be comfortable with eating specific foods 2 hours before the race. This ensures optimal performance and no G.I (gastrointestinal) problems. In terms of making sure we have enough energy and fuel on board, if a decent meal is eaten the night before, and a few hours before the race, the human body has enough energy for up to 80 minutes of endurance activity. This means “bonking”, or in other words, running out of glycogen stores for muscle recruitment is not so much of an issue for shorter races like a 5km or 10km. 

What should I eat the night before a 5k race?

A decent meal which includes a quality form of carbohydrates is really important to take on board the night before a race. It ensures our body is stocked with energy to recruit for the race the next day. Since most road races are run in the morning, here are some examples of dinners to eat the night before (tried and tested!) and breakfasts for 2-3 hours before the gun goes off! 

Personally, I like to keep it simple stupid. The night before some of my best middle to long-distance track races I eat a very simple take on fried rice:

  • Long grain low G.I rice, the Dongara kind normally (the most important component, complex carbohydrates)
  • Tuna/Salmon/Chicken or pork (lean protein, not a big fan of red meat the night before a race)
  • Shredded carrot, steamed green beans (some simple veggies)
  • ½ a small avocado sliced (Fats)
  • Topped with soy sauce, a dash of sweet chili sauce and lemon juice + salt/pepper (for flavor!)

For the morning of the race, I like to stick with a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates. We want energy to be easily accessible and be enough to keep you satiated on the start line and throughout the race. For example, I generally eat oats, maple syrup/honey/brown rice syrup, and a banana  2-3 hours before the race. This is my go-to breakfast before some of my major 5 and 10km road races. 

  • ½-¾ cup of oats, cooked on the stovetop so they are well done. This decreases digestion time.
  • 1 teaspoon of honey, or maple syrup (slightly more if using the latter option)
  • Chopped banana on top
  • Dash of cinnamon

Toast with banana and honey is also a very good option if you’re not a big fan of oats. I like to stick with white bread or sourdough the day of the race, rather than a grain bread or wholemeal/wholewheat, as this can cause stomach upsets. 

How long before a 5k should you eat?

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If it is an early morning race, I’d recommend a larger meal, and possibly a small dessert of some sort the night before, just before heading to bed. This is because some races have a gun start time around 7 or 8 am, meaning eating 2 hours beforehand requires an early rise, which might not be as convenient for some participants. However, it is recommended if you’re desiring to hit that personal best time, that you plan to eat around 2-3 hours before the race. 

For evening races, it is slightly more flexible. Eating a solid, well-balanced breakfast or brunch 8-6 hours out, another meal 4 hours out, and a snack 2 hours out to top up energy stores will ensure you are ready. 

It is crucial to train our stomach to become used to the food we intend to eat before we race when in a running context. Before race day, plan to do some of your harder workouts with the same foods on board, sticking to the same eating timings. See it as a race day simulation in a sense! The stomach can even learn to digest food closer to race time. I can now eat porridge an hour before I run, and not experience discomfort. 

Should you run the day before a 5k?

This is very much up to the individual and the coach. The best way to test which will work best for you is to try a 20-30 minute very easy jog the day before a 5km specific workout or tempo run. Do the same with taking a rest day the day before either kind of workout also. Track how you feel in a journal or online software for the period in which you carry out this test. This will allow you to gauge whether it’s best for you mentally and physically to either take rest or run the day before the race.

Personally, I have done both. I prefer to take a rest day 2 days before the race and jog 20-30 minutes with 4x 100m strides the day before the race. This is more for mental preparation over anything. No actual fitness gains will be made at this point. 

Is it OK to drink coffee before a 5k?

It is absolutely ok to drink coffee before a 5km, or any race or sporting activity for that manner. In most cases, it is actually recommended as it can have a slight performance-enhancing effect if the individual times their ingestion correctly to the event start time and duration. Caffeine can cause an upset stomach, better known as G.I distress for runners if the athlete is not used to coffee when training. However, if the individual is able to take on board coffee, their awareness, alertness, focus can increase and their perception of effort may be decreased. What’s not to love about that? I’m a big fan of coffee before racing.

Here’s an even niftier trick you can consider yourself which I came up with whilst out on a long run. I practice this regularly to get the optimum race-day advantage. As a regular coffee drinker, many would agree that we become slightly immune to the effects of coffee over time. Considering this, I only drink decaffeinated coffee and tea, or no coffee at all, 3 days before a race. Whether it is a placebo or not, I can’t be sure, but I know I definitely feel the caffeine effects when I drink coffee on race day after no coffee for a few days. On the day of the race, if it is an early start time, I take on board 2 shots, and if it is in the evening, up to 3. I’m buzzing and ready to go!

How long before a race should I drink caffeine?

Caffeine has a pretty short-acting effect, so from personal experience, I like to have 1 shot an hour out from the race, and another shot 30 minutes before. I take these in caffeine strips such as Revvies (https://www.revviesenergy.com/) in which each strip is equivalent to one shot of coffee. This reduces any chance of stomach upset which might be experienced if a coffee, particularly one with dairy milk, is ingested too close to the gun time. However, the stomach can also be trained to take caffeine on board close to a race. I can have a black coffee with a dash of milk up to 45 minutes before an event, as long as I ensure I get to the bathroom before the start, this is no issue for me. I’m firing and ready to run fast!

How much should I drink before a 5k?

Water is important for any person undertaking exercise, particularly hard efforts. However the 5km is no marathon in distance, so water doesn’t need to be taken during the race. A large glass of breakfast and small regular sips up until the race start is recommended. I often find people get nervous and sip on too much water before a race, creating a gluggy, uncomfortable feeling in their stomach. 

Again, practice this. Make sure the day and night before the race you are on top of your hydration, and you’ll be right to go the next day!