How To Have More Energy For Running: The ROI’s of Sport
Written in conjunction with a sports medicine specialist, ex-elite athlete, and consulting of a variety of accredited sources.
ROI in digital marketing means the return on investment. We calculate ROI by figuring out how much we have invested in ads, and how much revenue we’ve made as a result of those advertising investments. If our ROI is low, we have to figure out why, and a solution to improve. It’s a matter of updating, refreshing, and/or rethinking, most often. In training the other day, I thought about how similar this is to being a competitive athlete. What we put in, including the 1%’s like sleep, nutrition, and forms of recovery all add up to a better ROI for the athlete.
This inspired me to write an article on Energy, Fatigue, and Running. How can we increase our ROI, whilst maintaining a healthy balance between sport and life outside of sport.
For many individuals, exercise can increase energy levels, but did you know that there are many other ways to do this? For athletes that train in high loads, a buildup of fatigue is very natural, and quite often exercise won’t be the best source of ‘gaining’ energy.
I will go over some easy tips for running more efficiently and how they can help you have more energy for running and other training in general. One way is by setting a goal for yourself that has nothing to do with how many miles you intend to cover during each jog. It could be a location destination, a sunset observation, planning to meet up with a team or a friend, or a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to.
Setting goals related specifically to what kind of pace you’d like to achieve (i.e., faster than normal or average) can also help you have more energy when running. You don’t have to look at splits, you can go by feel as well. In fact, I often think this is the better approach when leading a busy life outside of training demands.
Why Do I Have No Energy When I Run?
This is a loaded question. There are a large array of reasons why someone may feel as if they have no energy when they run. Often, if medical issues are ruled out, it can be a result of one or a combination of sleep, nutrition, and recovery.
When you wake up in the morning, do you feel like jogging around your neighborhood or taking a spin class at the gym? It’s easy to get motivated when it’s still dark outside and all you can think about is coffee. But what happens after lunchtime rolls around? Often at times, people will skip a workout because they are tired or feel too lazy to exercise. Get it done early, before the distractions of the day set in.
A lack of energy can also be a result of a calorie deficit. If you haven’t fuelled enough the day before, and wake up hungry, you’ll lack energy for your workout. I am a big fan of the pre-training snack. This can be something as simple as a banana, or a small bowl of cereal 1hr to 30 minutes before training, depending on intensity and time constraints.
Keep easy days easy, and hard days hard.
Athletes are often given programs by their coaches, which have the various sessions set out to ensure adequate recovery after high-intensity sessions, and longer slower sessions factored in. However it’s very common to see athletes who during their long slow sessions become bored, and speed up, turning it into a long hard session, or who, for example, whilst cycling in a group, see someone going off the front, and can’t help themselves by chasing – and so, the session turns into a fartlek/sprint session. This will then drain the athletes’ energy systems so that they may not recover adequately for their next session, and over time can result in burnout.
How Can I Increase My Energy For Running?
Sleep and Running
Sleep is the only time the body entirely recovers. I would be as bold to say it is the best thing you can do to put an extra edge on your physical performance. If you are having trouble sleeping, then this can lead to decreased energy levels when running. Put simply, a lack of sleep often causes your body temperature and heart rate to change so that it is more difficult for the muscles in your body to function as they should during exercise. While you may want to catch up on rest during the weekend, it is best not to break your normal sleeping schedule too much.
Getting quality REM sleep and (Rapid eye movement sleep) deep sleep are important in order to have more energy when running. These are two different stages of sleep. High REM sleep quality allows us to perform better mentally, and a lack of REM sleep is often the cause of that common feeling of sleep deprivation.
If you know someone who tends to have insomnia or stays up late at night working on a computer or watching television, then you may want to consider getting them blackout curtains for their bedroom. You could even take it a step further and download f.lux to adjust the lighting on your laptop, and wear blue light filtering glasses in the evenings to promote the production of melatonin. A good night’s sleep will help keep energy levels even throughout the day and make training much more enjoyable overall.
WHOOP has a great article on the importance of REM sleep if you would like to explore this further. Click here to read the article.
Blue Light and Melatonin – Get outdoors in the morning!
Make sure you step outside in the morning when daylight or sunlight is up. Our body is designed to wake up better with light, and even better if you look at the ‘blue’ in the sky. It signals that it is the beginning of the day and to halt the production of melatonin.
If you’re an evening runner or have a double, although you may be tempted to go home and take a nap after work instead of going on your run, there are some ways to make exercising at this time much easier and even fun!
Vitamin D for Runners – Natural energy from the sun.
Many people report a boost in energy when exposed to direct sunlight. What is the connection between Vitamin D, sunlight, increased energy, and improved mood? There are many studies that show the link between Vitamin D levels and depression. People living with chronic pain conditions like Fibromyalgia often report symptoms of depression because their condition can be very difficult to manage and has a poor prognosis that makes it feel hopeless. The good news on this topic is quite encouraging!
Vitamin D is a great supplement to existing treatment plans for depression, chronic pain conditions, and fatigue. However, if you can get your daily dose of vitamin D naturally – from sunlight (even 10 minutes is great!), and foods such as oily fish, red meats, egg yolks, and cheese for example that is even better. For vegans, some food sources high in Vitamin D are mushrooms, fortified plant milk, and cereals. Mushrooms are the best natural plant source of Vitamin D. Ultimately, sunshine is king.
Some people do feel better after taking a single dose of Vitamin D consistently. It’s important to realize that taking Vitamin D on an ongoing basis will have continuing benefits on your mood.
Secondly, your gut health is a factor in energy while running and Vitamin D has been found to improve many digestive problems that cause ongoing fatigue. This was from an article that was published very recently. This study published in a leading journal explains that Vitamin D should actually be considered a hormone rather than a vitamin. See Ribbans WJ, Aujla R, Dalton S, et al Vitamin D and the athlete–patient: state of the art Journal of ISAKOS: Joint Disorders & Orthopaedic Sports Medicine 2021;6:46-60.
How do I overcome fatigue when running?
Coffee For Runners
Some people like to have a cup of coffee before heading out for training. If timed well, this can be extremely beneficial. In fact, I wrote an entire article on coffee for runners. This article included how to time your caffeine intake, how caffeine can be taken in different forms and some of the negative side effects of coffee. Give it a read by clicking the link here: https://larahamilton.com/coffee-for-runners/
While coffee may help boost your energy levels, if you are not used to caffeine before high-impact activity, it can be a cause of GI problems which can shut down your run entirely. It’s important to train yourself to eat and drink before you run, so when race day comes along, it’s like clockwork.
Considering this, some people prefer to only have caffeine around race day. If you’re like me, I chose to drink Matcha (green tea powder), green tea or Decaf coffee the weeks leading up to a race, and only drink coffee close to race time for a potential performance enhancing effect.
Build up energy for running long distances
For runners starting out, setting small goals will make exercising much more manageable because they are easier to achieve (i.e., walk around a block one time). Once these smaller tasks feel easy enough, then move onto another goal until finally working up toward whatever big fitness wish list item has been on hold for so long. You can even start with run-walks, as athletes returning from injury must do.
This can look something like 1-minute walk, 1-minute run, repeated 10-20 times depending on where you’re at with fitness or recovery.
Also, remember not to be too hard on yourself when you don’t reach an initial goal right away. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
For seasoned runners, energy increase and fatigue resistance comes with consistency in training and scheduled recovery periods. Be patient, and it will come. This is why it is called training or practice.
Strength Training for Distance Training
If you want to reduce fatigue and get faster, lift weights. I’m sick of hearing about injured distance runners who do no resistance training.
Think about it like this – if you’re pounding your body as a high-level runner for 50 miles a week, that’s a lot of stress through the whole system. Muscular, skeletal, and even cellular. You want to be doing everything within your control to make sure you can sustain that load and rock up to the start line uninjured….. and beyond the start line through the race.
If you are looking for a way to have more energy when running, then consider adding strength training into the mix. If guided correctly by a knowledgeable strength and conditioning specialist or exercise physiologist, this will allow you to gradually build muscles and therefore build up muscular endurance so that running doesn’t become difficult halfway through every workout session. Strength training can also be done in conjunction with various forms of cross-training exercises like biking, paddling, or swimming because they work in a variety of muscle groups and go through different ROM (range of motions).
Strengthen your bones for running
Our bones love different stimuli – that is how to strengthen bones. Repetitive sports, such as distance running, only strengthen your bones on a certain plane. Adding in a variety of sports will strengthen them on different planes and vectors.
This is why cross-training should be included in a running program. It has a purpose, not just for recovery from injury.
So how important is it to stretch before a run?
Yes, stretching is an important part of any workout routine because it helps you warm up and prepare for exercising at higher intensities so that your muscles don’t feel as tired when running. However, what is more, important is using the right muscles and then you’ll find, you won’t need to stretch as much. For most people, the deep postural stabilizers, also known as your “core” are not firing correctly. I’m not talking about the superficial “6-pack abs” here, these muscles are much deeper than that.
You can have visible abs and little “core” strength. These are deep muscles that can’t be seen. This is a very complex topic which I will explore in a future post. If you’re interested in reading more on this and improving your biomechanics and body alignment, head over to TIE (The Invisible Exercise) by clicking here.
What will give me energy before a run?
How To Have An Energy Boost Before Running – Take a rest day or a down week!
Recovery is a part of your training program – it is just as important as the training!
You’re not a machine. You’re human, and you have to respect the body. Give it the time to strengthen and recover. Gains are made when we rest and repair.
If you feel as though your body needs a day off from exercising, then don’t be afraid to take one. Your mind and muscles will thank you for giving them the rest they need before starting up again with another training cycle.
In fact, having a down week every 4-6 weeks is super important to ensure the body absorbs the work you’ve put in, and decreases the risk of injury. Time it up with your key races if you can, working with your coach and team commitments if you have one.
There was an article on this in the recent issue of Australian Trail Running Magazine, if you can get your hands on a copy.
How Diet Affects Energy For Running
This is very simple. Energy intake has to equal energy output.
The biggest mistake long-distance runners make is not realizing the high level of calories they need to balance the energy equation. Most long-distance runners have low energy availability. This doesn’t just affect the body in its appearance.
It affects every single system in the body. Here are a few examples:
- The gastrointestinal tract, causing slow transit time
- Hormonal system
- Psychologically, with interrupted sleep patterns
- Neurologically, it reduces coordination and strength
- Changes the metabolism, so instead more fat is stored in the liver
- It affects bone mineral density
- Increases risk of injury
A healthy balanced diet can be obtained from a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, alongside healthy and diverse fat and protein sources. We don’t actually need to spend gazillions of dollars on fancy supplements.
So, low energy input equals low energy output. I’m a big fan of eating before training in the morning. It doesn’t have to be a full meal, but working out fasted isn’t helping me achieve my goals of high-quality workouts and speed, strength, and endurance gains from these workouts.
What should runners eat for breakfast?
People who run regularly in the morning are often advised to have a healthy and balanced breakfast before heading outside for their daily jog or workout session. This will help keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day so that energy is sustained with each passing hour. This is even more important for insulin-resistant individuals, like me. I wrote an article about my normal pre-race and pre-session breakfasts here, including examples: https://larahamilton.com/5k-meal-plan/
The Impact of Alcohol On Running
While having a few drinks might seem like the perfect way to unwind after work, it can have some negative side effects on your body for running. Alcohol can dehydrate your body and cause muscle cramps if you have too much, so it is best to avoid drinking /running (especially if you are thirsty and need to replenish your body’s water levels).
Further, drinking will impact sleep. You may be able to achieve deep sleep, which can help muscular repair, however, the mentally restorative stages of sleep (REM) following the deep sleep stage, are rarely reached as the body is working overtime to process the alcohol consumed.
In conclusion, there are many ways to increase your overall energy before and after a run. I hope you take these tips and incorporate them into your daily regimen!
The top tips, summarized.
- Nutrition during exercise > 60 minutes
- Adequate CHO (carbohydrates) in the first 15 minutes after an endurance race
- Sleep 8 hours minimum per night
- Understanding that mental and physical recovery is as important as training strategies.
- Ensuring there is a balance in life with some social and recreational activities, specific recovery actions such as massage, sports psychology, ice baths (if you are into them) stretching, and appropriate strengthening work.
- Work-life balance and recovery are particularly an issue in long-distance triathletes, ultra runners, and adventure racers.
- In athletes who participate in tournaments and regattas, ensuring adequate hydration and nutrition between bouts and races will diminish feelings of fatigue.
- Overall though, making sure that one has a range of interests, not just work and training, to maintain a healthy mental state. Mental fatigue can be a major source of physical fatigue.