Category Archives: Recovery

The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

When is a Race Eve Carb Load beneficial?

I think there is a set of situations where a carb load might be a good idea. Whether they all funnel into one common situation or they all exist on their own, I’m not certain.

They of course depend on what your diet has been throughout the training cycle.

And of course, you are best off eating minimally processed foods. Pasta and its sauce are probably as processed as you should get. Pizza and fried food should remain out of the question until your race is over.

The key question: Have you been restricting your diet recently, whether you’ve done so throughout the training cycle or just recently?

A runner who has been cutting weight, a runner who has eaten lower-carb, or a runner who has intermittent fasted… may have a sufficient glycogen deficit that a carb load right before the race could benefit them.

Cutting Weight: Obviously, a runner cutting weight has been operating at a long term calorie deficit. Presuming training has proceeded without injury or other issues, the muscles may have spent considerable time somewhat depleted of glycogen. A big carb meal following some body-priming rudimentary activity (like a shake-out run, cross-training session, or a walk) could help maximize the available stores on race day.

Low-Carb Dieting: Few runners follow a low-carb protocol due to fast running’s extended usage of glycogen. Keto-style dieting is typically practiced by weightlifters, whose intense physical activity is typically limited to a weightlifting session maxing out around 60 minutes.

The runners who do practice low-carb diets tend to be recreational runners who either don’t run far when they do, run at a very easy pace when they do run long distance, or ultra runners who run those races at a lower, fat-burning-friendly intensity, and only eat carbs during those races, when they’re needed.

Still, provided their bodies can comfortably handle the re-introduction of carbs, low-carb dieters can also top off their glycogen stores by eating a carb-rich meal the day before.

Intermittent Fasting: Runners who practice intermittent fasting do tend to eat a lot during their limited feeding window. Depending on when they eat, it’s possible they may have sufficient glycogen stores. If they consume most carbs before or after their workouts, they’re more likely to have substantial glycogen stores. Otherwise, it may benefit them to top off their glycogen stores with a carb-rich meal the day before.

That Aside…: Barring any restricting dieting, it’s more likely that a carb-load isn’t going to provide much benefit over any other healthy meal. If you’ve been getting enough to eat throughout your training, especially following most of your workouts, you probably have enough glycogen stored whether or not you pound rotini until nauseous 15 hours before your race. The marginal utility of a carb-rich meal is minimal at best.

One notable exception: If you have been rather active in the day prior to Race Eve:

  1. First of all, you should have been resting up and minimizing activity ahead of your race. Any muscle wear/damage sustained will not fully recover before the race. Take it easy to cut your losses on any damage.
  2. A carb-rich meal eaten shortly after any activity will result in greater protein and glycogen processing and storage. Basically, what you eat will be put to greater use than if you hadn’t been active.
  3. Any muscle wear/damage from the last day will mostly remain, unfortunately. Any protein consumed (combined with sleep) will heal a bit of it, but you’ve now depleted yourself a bit ahead of the race. However, any glycogen lost will probably be restored, and possibly more.

Is a Race Eve Carb Load beneficial for races shorter than a marathon?

As long as the meal doesn’t cause a bunch of water retention, isn’t so heavy it adds weight to your body, and of course doesn’t make you feel ill… it can be beneficial to eat a carb-rich meal the night before any race between the 5K and the marathon.

Going back to the dieters… a glycogen top-off could help some runners on race day. Some extra protein could help with healing if the runner gets good sleep the night before. A Carb-Load meal would mostly help runners who have been eating low-carb or have been substantially restrictive with their diets leading up to the race.

But generally the window where this may be beneficial for sub-marathon races is even smaller than with marathoners and ultra runners. You’re not going to completely deplete your glycogen stores in anything shorter than a 20 mile race. In most race distances you won’t even come close.

This is a case where your body of work with your diet becomes paramount. If you practice a sound diet, that should be more than enough for your glycogen stores.

Rest and recovery in the days before a sub-marathon race are much more important to your performance than what nutrition you manage to successfully take in the day before. You can do more to hurt yourself from a Race Eve buffet than help.

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The conflict between running and testosterone

Men face a potential problem if they train as dedicated runners: The risk of diminished testosterone levels.

The sustained stress of endurance running is enough to have grown a movement cutting down distance running and other aerobic exercise (typically lumped together under the term “cardio”) as detrimental to adults’ health, especially to men’s health. Many recommend that men restrict their running and other “cardio” to more brief, high-intensity, interval training.

It’s not just the Manosphere who has taken issue with running. Former US-marathon record holder Ryan Hall retired at 33, and cited low testosterone levels as a prime motivator for his retirement.

Personally, I haven’t worried about it as much: I had practiced a less than stellar diet and lifestyle in previous adult years, and that would probably hurt my T levels more than running 30-50 miles a week as a healthier adult has today.

And of course my health, strength, vitality(, and yes, libido) have honestly gotten better as I’ve continued my training. Whenever I have felt… let’s say, diminished in a fashion typical with low T levels… it’s often a combination of particular heavy training, and some other stressor like my work situation, a lack of sleep, bad diet, or a number of other things that themselves would be T problems whether or not I was running.


There are a lot of reasons distance running contributes to lower testosterone, and I believe a lot of them are preventable.

First of all, many people do most of their running harder than they should. This is slightly counter-intuitive, as manhood is often associated with doing things strong, hard, fast. It makes sense that they would gravitate to sprints and other Tabata workouts over longer runs.

The conventional Man Approach to exercise (hard/fast/strong) works just fine with the most conventional form of male exercise: Weightlifting. All your work is done in very brief, high intensity bursts. Literally no aerobic capacity is required to successfully push weight, whether or not you choose to incorporate extra aerobic or anaerobic effort.

However, when you bring that modus operandi to running where hard, fast, high-exertion running is all you ever do when running, it doesn’t work as well.

While higher intensity running can be successfully done one to three times per week, most of your running should be easier, dialed back to where every step is strong, yet comfortable. A lot of men, however, run too hard on their regular, easy runs.

Often, form is a key reason men run too hard too often. If you’re straining to reach your legs forward, you are pushing too hard. And pushing too hard too often leads to a sustained overdose of cortisol, the stress hormone that is the bane of testosterone. That, not the running in itself, is what’s reducing T levels in men who run a lot.

Slow down on your regular runs. Jog at a pace where you feel in full control of every inch you move, where you know you have the strength and control to stop on a dime if necessary, where you know you can run like that for another hour, tall and strong, not hunched forward squeezing out extra effort. Save that effort for your speed intervals… though to be honest you should be tall and strong and in control for those too.

Running can and should be a strength exercise, whether you do it for 45 seconds in a rep or 60 minutes in a 6-7 mile run. The power of your glutes and core muscles should be carrying your every step, without undue strain to your tendons, bones and ligaments.

Secondly, the classically slight body of a typical runner is in some part a function of actively minimizing weight to maximize pace. I certainly am not slight at 5’10”, 162 pounds, and while I always look to shed a bit of fat here and there, I also value maintaining my muscle… especially having reached 40 years of age.

But a lot of it is also the conventional diet habits of a runner. Many don’t take in anywhere close to enough protein to maintain their muscle. Despite their emphasis on carbs, many don’t eat enough carbs before or after most workouts, underestimating how much glycogen they burn.

The end result is muscle gets broken down over time. While that helps get them leaner, it also can compromise not just overall strength and health… but for men, their T levels. The hormones respond in kind to the incredible shrinking distance runner’s body, and decrease overall production of various hormones including testosterone.

It can be counter-intuitive for a runner to try and preserve mass. But muscle does aid in performance, not to mention represent a key component of overall health. A greater emphasis on protein intake and muscle preservation can help counteract other elements of training that can compromise T levels. There are other ways to burn extra fat without sacrificing valuable muscle.

I’m not going to go as far as to say running’s negative relationship to testosterone is a myth. There are true factors that can contribute to diminished T level over time.

But distance running should not be considered a death sentence for manhood. By changing a few paradigms of how men approach training and lifestyle, men can easily maintain healthy T levels and enjoy the better health and rewards that running can bring.

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Ideas for marathon recovery

My only expertise with this, aside from cobbling together ancedotal evidence and glancing at research, is the fact that I’m feeling alarmingly well for two days after a marathon, and based on my experience recovering from other races and hard workouts.

This is aside from the obvious advice to take extended time off and to rest when in doubt.

Eat a lot of protein everyday

Eat more protein than you typically would. Eat as if you just did a hard workout, even though clearly you haven’t worked out today, and shouldn’t.

I’m eating around 150-180g a day. I usually eat closer to 130-150g.

Walk as much as you can get away with

Yes, generally you should rest as much as you can, and I’m not suggesting you go on a massive hike. But generating blood circulation and some (slight) added stress can help kickstart recovery processes in your body. A 10-30 minute walk, even multiple times a day if you can stand it, can help accelerate the rebuilding process.

Take it easy on the caffeine

Maybe you drink coffee or tea. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you used it in training or the race, and maybe you didn’t. Ideally, you took it a bit easy leading up to the race, and probably didn’t have a whole lot on race day.

If you like it, don’t give it up, but stick to your cut-back volume for now, while you’re not planning on being particularly active. It can interfere with sleep if you re-up your intake while your body’s not burning as many calories as usual. And this is a time where sleep is very valuable for you.

The more you’re on your feet, the better your soreness will feel

The worst your soreness will feel is if you’ve been stationary for a while, and then decide to get up. As you’re on your feet for some time, the soreness will not be as present and noticeable. Again, circulation helps. And so does warming up those damaged muscles a bit. Also, the more activity you can manage during the day, the easier it will be to get to sleep, which again is important to recoery.

So make sure to get up and move around with some regularity, soreness or injuries permitting.

Once your 1-2 week rest period has passed, consider another form of fitness training in the short run.

While you could certainly get back to running once you’re ready, and perhaps you even have a race to train for right away… if you’ve got time before your next training cycle has to start, it may be beneficial to switch things up and train in something different, whether it’s weight training, circuit training, yoga or Pilates, a squats or push up challenge, playing a sport, etc…

Giving your body a different kind of workout not only promotes overall fitness and perhaps develops your running ability in different ways, but it also strengthens your core, a valuable asset once you return to training primarily as a runner.


I’m starting to feel better already, and I’m thinking in part it’s from having done a few of the pre-training ideas.

If you’re on the mend following a marathon, some of these ideas may be worth trying. Consider them.

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My current three-phase taper workout

I assure you that at some point I’ll go into my complex taper schedule methodology, which is way beyond the scope of what I’m going to share here instead.


Basically, for my marathon taper I’ve fallen into a daily workout schedule that follows three distinct phases, all of which are pretty easy for me.

  1. Leave work and immediately start an easy run towards the gym. This can be brief and allow for a train ride or a walk if desired, but this week I have run the entire way to the gym. From where I’m at this is about 2.5-3.0 miles depending on the route I take.
  2. After arriving at the gym and walking inside, I get on the treadmill, set it to my desired marathon pace and run for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on what mileage I’m planning to run that day. This is a straight tempo run: No intervals, no phases, just that tempo until I’m done.
  3. Get off the treadmill and go lift weights following a reduced version of my weightlifting plan: Each day I focus on a different muscle group, and do a full workout when I get to that particular muscle group. But for every other group I just do one simple set of 6 reps at a minimally challenging weight (just heavy enough to actually seem like a workout). With the focused section, the whole workout might take 10 minutes but usually takes more like 7 or 8.

After that’s done, I walk out of the gym and either go to the store for food, or go home. Simple as that.

I have felt quite refreshed by the end of the workout the last three days. I haven’t run more than 4 miles each day, though a good chunk of those miles have been at manageable-but-demanding M-pace.

I’ve also still been walking a considerable amount, before during and after work. In fact, instead of catching the bus I’ve just walked the 1.5 miles home most days this week. This is a relaxing coda to the workout, and provides some extra calorie burn ahead of cooking dinner once I return home.


Regardless of how you desire to structure your taper or easy weeks, this might be an approach worth considering. Despite lifting weights every weekday, I don’t feel sore in my upper body, since most of the lifting is low-pressure. And the faster running on the treadmill, while demanding during the run, hasn’t worn me out overall.

Some running experts could argue I’m cutting mileage TOO much if I’m doing nothing but 2-4 mile runs. But, to be honest… having tapered for previous races in a fuller conventional schedule, and having taken extended light-training stretches during prior training… I find a fortnight of light volume doesn’t wipe out my stamina at all.

In my previous experience, in fact, I’ve taken long runs after 3 weeks of short runs and days off and found I had tons of energy throughout the long run. The only reason I haven’t taken days off this time around is because I find I lose some sharpness when I do take days off, but I can maintain energy and sharpness even without days off if I just reduce the volume. A steady diet of short runs has done me good.

Now this weekend, in lieu of a long run, I’m going to skip straight to the treadmill and give it 20-25 good minutes at M-pace, both days this weekend. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the pace, and by next weekend I’ll be looking forward to running that pace, outdoors, for a lot more than just 3 miles.

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My running workout principles

Here’s how I approach a run in general, my tactics and mindset before I head out on any run, how I plan a run and subsequently carry it out, etc.

Since this encompasses just about every facet of a variety of running workouts, this is going to go a bit across the board.

When possible, multi-task a run

Most of my runs are destination runs rather than round trips, meaning it starts in one location and ends at a different location I wanted to go to for unassociated reasons. For example, most days I run home from work. This is a destination run intended to commute me home from work, and the commute isn’t necessarily the primary purpose for the run.

I’ll warm up for speed workouts by taking an easy run to the workout site from home, and then I’ll cool down by running back home from the workout.

I have season tickets to Loyola Chicago basketball. I’ll often run to the campus for games, then possibly run home after the games.

None of this is breakthrough science. A lot of people do this sort of thing, I’m sure. But I make a practice of it, rather than do it incidentally.

Continue reading

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Why could I not get to sleep last night?

Not a super evergreen topic this evening, but last night I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I had that wired feeling where you almost can feel your muscles churning in place.

I did eventually get to sleep sometime after midnight following some water and an old stand-by: My ice pack. I wasn’t hurting or anything, but being a bit warm I felt that adding in some quite-cold stimulus would normalize me a bit quicker. It did, and I was out soon after introducing it.

I didn’t have more than a cup of coffee in the morning or any other sort of stimulant. I had eaten well, so I don’t think I was hungry. And I wasn’t drowning myself in blue light like others do.

But I can see in hindsight a few other factors that led to a restless night.

Yesterday was an active one:

  • I walked several miles on an errand excursion to Bucktown and back home through Lincoln Park.
  • Later towards sunset I went on a planned 45 minute circuit run that ended with a hard 8K-effort finish. It felt great at the time, but revving the motor that hard around 6:30pm might have left me too wired to drift off comfortably at 10-11 pm.

So basically it wasn’t exactly taper madness. In fact, I probably was a lot more active than I ought to have been, after having run over 12 miles the day before. Physically I felt okay, a tad sore but definitely up for all that effort. Even today (now well into more of a taper-like workload, after a day of sitting at a desk) I don’t feel too bad.

Soon after dinner I will probably sleep more soundly, but sometimes despite your best efforts you can’t quite get to sleep.

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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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My keys to a successful running diet

I’ve gotten pretty good at consistently eating a solid diet that successfully augments my training, and I’d like to share some of my keys to success with you.

The standard disclaimers:

This is based on my experience, a truckload of trial and error over years and years, on habits that have consistently produced positive results for me.

Who am I to say any of this works? Well, I am an experienced distance runner…

  • who wasn’t an experienced runner 4 years ago
  • who has lost 30 lbs in those 4 years to achieve an average healthy weight (5’10”, 164 lbs and falling)
  • who (while no Adonis or Achilles) is in decent shape and good health at what is soon to be age 40
  • who runs 30-50 miles a week during training
  • who pretty much doesn’t get injured or burn out anymore
  • who runs basically every day, with my typical run being about 4-6 miles.

Your mileage may vary:

The more experienced you are, and the more volume of training that you do than I do, the more fruitfully you can dismiss and blow off any of this advice.

The less experienced you are and the less you work out, the more likely this advice (however imperfect) can help you.

Take or dismiss it at your own leisure or risk. I am fairly sure none of this general advice will hurt you if you generally follow it… any more than anyone else’s general advice.

Blah blah blah see a doctor before beginning any training program or making any changes blah blah blah. We’re adults.

My keys to a successful running diet:

Aim to eat a maintenance amount of calories during training.

Even if you could afford to lose a few pounds, you’re better off trying to finish even (calories eaten close to or equal to calories burned) than to run a calorie deficit during a training cycle.

Unlike most sedentary people or strength trainers, you actually need those calories. You burn way more calories on a run than people do in the gym. You actually do have a use for carbohydrates, not to mention fat, as your body utilizes that energy on runs. And with all that work, you need all the protein you can get afterward to help rebuild your damaged muscles.

It’s okay to fall short on calories some days, especially if you’re trying to cut fat. If you’re not training for a race, you’re free to run a healthy deficit (500-1000 calories max below your burn per day). But ALWAYS get enough protein. Always make sure you get your needed vitamins and nutrients. Everything else can fall short.

It’s okay to eat at a surplus some days. If possible, try to do so before or during long and intense workout days.

Eat more protein than you think you need.

Eat protein like an entry level bodybuilder: Consume each day at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of total lean body mass (2.2g per kilogram), when actively training.

If not training for an events, a good benchmark is 1 gram of protein for every pound (or 2.2g/kg) equal to 75% of your bodyweight.

There are conflicting opinions on the recommended amount, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass falls in the middle of most modern recommendations, and makes sense for an endurance athlete who obviously isn’t trying to get swole (extra muscle mass slows you down!), but does need to maintain muscle tissue during training. This is the level at which I’ve found the most consistent, sustainable satisfaction and results.

It’s definitely okay to go over that protein benchmark during and after intense training. The myth that excess protein damages your kidneys has long since been proven false.

Try to get all of your protein from whole food (e.g. meat, legumes). Avoid leaning on protein shakes, unless you find it very hard to prepare or port protein-rich meals during a typical day… or you are vegetarian/vegan. Even then, stick to a max of one protein shake per day. One item that is not a myth is that protein shakes not only lack various key nutrients present in protein rich whole foods…. but excess protein shakes can cause gas and other intestinal problems.

Eat more carbohydrates when needed. Otherwise take it easy on them.

Carbs are best ingested en masse before hard workouts, and immediately after the hardest workouts. Having them in your bloodstream helps you during workouts, and the glycogen lost from hard workouts can be more quickly replenished during meals eaten within 2 hours of a workout.

Eating a bunch of carbs the day or two before a monster workout or a marathon can be helpful for topping off your glycogen stores, but the classic pasta binge before a marathon is a bit overrated. If you’ve tapered your training and been eating a solid diet leading up to the race, you’re probably fine: The decreased exercise combined with your normal diet has probably topped off your glycogen tank for you.

How much? I generally don’t try too hard to count, but adding enough to get within 500 calories of your daily burn has been a fine general benchmark.

Meanwhile, on rest days you should eat far fewer carbs and more natural fat. If I wasn’t training for a marathon I might even do a keto or primal style low-carb diet. Granted, that’s extreme, and just sticking to green vegetables and fruit for carbs on such a day is probably fine.

Eat Clean fat:

I’m talking about fat naturally occurring in whole foods (meat, avocados, some nuts). I only cook with virgin coconut oil or pure olive oil.

Fat is necessary for effective organ function. Also, providing fat for your body during busy days discourages your body from storing fat or converting carbohydrates to fat. Recommendation: Whatever fat comes with your daily whole-food-based protein is probably enough. That’s probably more than the RDA, but it’s not something crazy like 200g either. Typically I’ll finish a 3000 calorie day having consumed about 90-120g of fat.

Eat a minimum of processed food.

This has been preached to death. But I even add in “healthy” processed food like protein bars, or anything in a box really. The extra sodium and other additives lead to water retention, making your heavier and slowing you down.

I’m not opposed to some pizza or a bag of chips here and there. But it’s always bookended by clean, whole food.

Drink water, 100% juice, and milk.

Coffee and tea are fine (but if you add sugar you better be planning to run that day).

Don’t even touch a sports drink unless you’re actively in a long run or a speedwork session.

Gatorade is specifically engineered for use during exercise. You’re not supposed to drink it otherwise. It literally is sugar and salt water.

Eat potassium rich foods and make sure you get enough potassium almost every day.

Your heart and your muscles need potassium to function. Yet most people don’t get close to enough (typically 4000-4500 mg per day). A lack of potassium undermines intense activity, and can be dangerous in some situations.

Bananas. Avocados. Potatoes. Natural cuts of meat. Fruit and vegetables. 4500mg is the RDA benchmark for a reason. Most people fall well short of this.

Don’t supplement: Seek to eat foods that provide it. MUCH better this way, plus you get other needed nutrients.

Take a suitable multivitamin.

You can get all your needed vitamins with a perfect diet, but your best effort will probably come nowhere close to getting them all. Take a multivitamin. Even if you piss a lot of it out, your body will utilize much of it and cover whatever gaps your diet has left.

Recommended: Get a reliable brand that recommends taking 3 pills a day, and just take one with a meal. This way on a tough day you can take 2-3, but you minimize the risk of overdose.

My mother was a mark for Source of Life, a brand specializing in whole food based multivitamins. They’re fine but they’re pricey. Don’t sink to getting a flaky mainstream brand like Centrum, but I’ve found 365’s multis at Whole Foods to be reliable and affordable.

That said, there are some key vitamins a multi tends not to provide that you should supplement separately.

Take a Calcium Magnesium citrate combo supplement, as well as the MK 7 form of Vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps you sleep (which itself is super important for training) and regulates various hormone functions. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. A lack of it can facilitate burnout. Most multivitamins don’t include magnesium in their blends. Take it after dinner.

Calcium is more well known for fortifying bones, and while milk/cheese can be a reliable source of calcium, I don’t consume a ton of either so I make sure to supplement. Since calcium and magnesium go well together they are often sold as a combo vitamin. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than the more common calcium carbonate, and magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide. So a Cal-Mag Citrate supplement is the way to go.

But! Calcium can be harmfully absorbed by the arteries instead of your bones… without the presence of Vitamin K. Most multis provide it but don’t readily supply in an absorbent form. So if available I’d recommend taking a Vitamin K2 supplement in the MK 7 form.

Take a Fish oil supplement, if you aren’t eating wild caught salmon.

Omega 3’s in fish oil reduces overall inflammation and promotes good heart health. If you eat farmed salmon it won’t have as much omega 3 as wild caught salmon.

Salmon is pricey and I find it easier to just take a supplement. Whole Foods sometimes has salmon oil, which I prefer to take. But honestly you can take just about any fish oil supplement and as long as it doesn’t contain soy products you’re probably good.

Most brands ask you take 3-6 pills a day. Just take one after dinner.

If you’re frequently under stress and it’s not easily within your control, take ashwagandha or SAMe.

Ashwagandha is an herb that has all sorts of alleged health benefits, but the one known benefit I’ve experienced is that it helps buffer you against stress. I find a bit of the edge comes off the day when I’m taking it.

My mother was big on SAMe, a supplement originally used to help treat joint pain and similar issues but was later found to have positive effects on depression and stress. You cna call it a super version of ashwagandha if you’d like, as I’ve found it does have even stronger stress-relieving effects on my mental state than ashwagandha. And it also does have a positive effect on joint health and relieving inflammation. SAMe however is a lot more expensive than ashwagandha.

Recommendation: Whichever one you decide to take, just take one pill per day max. And cycle your usage: 8 weeks on max, then 4 weeks off.

A good time to take it is during the latter stages of training for a goal race, and then to stop using it for a while once the race is done. This controls cortisol, helps manage mood, and like magnesium helps you sleep better.

If you’re going to eat junk food, eat protein rich junk food.

I’m not against pizza or hamburgers or any of that.

Surround those meals with super clean meals or intermittent fasting, plus plenty of water. Definitely work out those days, and/or the following day, to ensure you burn those junk calories ASAP.

The Andy Morgan Night Out Rule For Drinking:

Andy Morgan is this guy. He’s a bodybuilder who has perfected a combination of training, intermittent fasting, and proper nutrition into an approach he calls Ripped Body.

The rule: If you’re going to go out and have a night of drinking alcohol, get in all your needed protein for the day BEFORE you head out for the night.

Consider anything good you eat during the night to be a bonus, though if you do eat during a night out you’re probably going to eat junk.

Yes, you’ll probably overeat for the day. This is not a big deal. Make a point to go for a run and eat perfectly clean the next day if it bothers you.

Also (this is not his rule, but mine): Before you go to bed that night, drink 16 oz of water. And you should be drinking water throughout the night of drinking as well.

Should you let yourself go after a race?

The only races after which it’s okay to let your good eating habits completely go for a little while are marathons or longer, where you plan to take some time off. But get back on the wagon no later than a week later. Any race that’s shorter, and you really should just treat it as a hard workout: Keep eating well, keep training.

In conclusion:

This approach has worked very well for me, and I think it can work well for others. I realize the advice scratches the surface, and I invite you the reader to do research on any of this if you so desire.

But I follow this approach 80-99% of the time (sure, I deviate and go off the wagon like anyone… but these are also strong habits that make it easy to go back to and stick to them). It has helped me maintain a high volume of running and to stay healthy, without the use of any sort of artificially performance enhancing substances.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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Taper madness, no. Taper dilemma, perhaps.

My biggest dilemma with the marathon taper is not the so-called taper madness. In fact, with as much volume and intensity as I put into runs and life each week I’m honestly thrilled with any chance I get to rest. So when you tell me to cut volume, I’ll cut all the volume I need to without a second thought.

No, the biggest dilemma was *how* to taper, not necessarily cutting runs because of course you ideally should run the same number of times each week (barring injury, not running as usual atrophies your growth and throws your body off)… but in shortening those runs figuring out if I should do shorter runs closer to goal pace and ditch any long runs, or just do a slightly reduced volume at easy pace, still do a (not as) long run, and focus more on promoting recovery.

You run as you train, and I should probably do some volume of running at my goal pace if I expect to run capably at that pace on marathon day. You can get away with hardly running at your desired pace and then nailing it in a shorter race. But in a marathon I realize your body is going to revert to habit over the final miles as you tire. If you’re used to running 10:00 miles in your everyday runs, your body’s going to have a real hard time nailing that 8:30 goal pace when you’re in hour 3+ fighting yourself not to slide into your everyday habit of running at 10:00 (or slower).

Plus, the Hansons say that adaptions to any given training usually kick in after 10 days, and anything done closer to the marathon than that typically isn’t going to grow your ability or do anything other than put more wear on your body.

At the same time, you don’t want to lose aerobic training benefits by not doing any running beyond short 3-5 mile runs. You may not develop any further adaptions in time for the marathon by doing a long run a week before… but you can certainly *lose* aerobic endurance capacity by not putting any such work in during the last two weeks before a race.

I know, because I have: I’ve heavily cut volume at times for recovery reasons, then found myself struggling to complete easy mid/long-range runs I used to finish with little trouble. Comfortably running my goal pace doesn’t help me if after 10-15 miles I’m so gassed from suddenly running much farther than I had in the last two weeks that I can’t keep up.

I wavered back and forth on how to approach this past week (because either way the last week before the race is going to be all shorter easy runs anyway). But I eventually decided to err towards being more aggressive on my regular runs early in this week, while easing up later in the week and finishing with a couple of longer runs… not terribly long of course.

I took today off after a team speed workout yesterday, and that was probably good to have that sequence of events breaking up the week. Tomorrow I’ll run a more typical 6ish mile run, and then Saturday I’ll knock out a comfortable 10-11 miles before taking Sunday off and making the final week-long descent towards Vancouver. For these last two runs I’ll be willing to go brisk but shorten my stride and go with quick easy steps if it starts to get a little tough.

That’s probably the best way to approach a taper, or at least the first week of a two week taper. Shorten up and do a little bit more with tempo early on, hit a quality workout, and then soften up on pace demands while getting in a couple of longer runs to end the week.

On sleeping in summer, and sleeping after night workouts

A couple good not-so-known nuggets in here on why we don’t sleep well, and some not-so-known ideas for how to sleep better.

– This points to why I usually haven’t slept as well in summer, and it’s not neighbors blasting music at parties: My core body temperature was often too high to sleep effectively. The hot bath idea is a good trick to attempt.
– According to my Fitbit tracker I also have a lower resting heart rate during warmer months, and my weight tends to be lower during those months (regardless of how I eat). While I definitely want to make sure I work on getting better sleep in summer, it’ll be interesting to see if my resting heart rate and weight take the corresponding turn anyway.
– Though I currently follow a better sleep schedule than I have before, and have been getting decent sleep, I’m still prone to waking up super early, occasionally being unable to get to sleep, or waking up having logged little REM or deep sleep. This trick may be worth a shot:

If you’re only able to sleep 6 hours a night, then restrict yourself to 5. You’ll feel like poop the next day and crash hard…

But then only let yourself sleep 5 hours and 15 minutes. Now you feel like double poop and will be out before your head hits the pillow. So go to 5 hours and 30 minutes… And as long as you meet your designated quota, incrementally increase the amount of sleep you allow yourself. No naps.

You’ll be a zombie for a while but this is actually a core part of what is now quickly becoming the first-line treatment for chronic insomnia: CBT-I. The application of cognitive behavioral therapy to sleep issues.

One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient’s confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.

 

Though on most weeknights I finish my running no later than 7pm… I do log group workouts on Monday and Wednesday later than is ideal, ending around 8pm. By the general rule, you want to get to sleep at least 3 hours after your last workout or you’ll have trouble sleeping well. This is probably more of an issue for older people, but guess who’s pushing 40? 😉

So, let’s say instead of trying to go to bed after a racing team workout or a Monday group run at 9-10 pm and hoping for the best, only to end up with screwed up sleep… I actively short my sleep on those nights by turning in three hours after the end of the run, then afford myself the option of turning in 15 minutes earlier than last night’s time, such as:

Wed: 11:00pm
Thu: 10:45pm
Fri: 10:30pm
Sat: 10:15pm
Sun: 10:00pm

If on Thursday or afterward I’m definitely tired enough to pass out at 9pm, then great I’ll do that. Unless of course I keep waking up early, in which case I’ll make myself stay up until the listed time and then pass out. Note that my typical shut-down time these days is somewhere between 9:00-10:00pm, so by Sunday I would in theory be back to my “normal” schedule.

If I skip the Monday run I would just turn in for bed normally until Wednesday. But if I do the Monday run, which due to a cooldown run home usually concludes my running around 7:45pm or so, then I would turn in per the following schedule.

Mon: 10:45pm
Tue: 10:30pm

Then once Wednesday comes, I once again turn in later per the above Wed-Sun schedule, and repeat. Obviously, if I skip the Wednesday workout and don’t do a later run, then I can follow my normal sleep schedule as usual.

———-

Thinking about this with such a level of detail may seem excessive to many, but this is the depths to which I’ve gone to fine tune my day to day habits and life to improve my training and recovery. It’s not only paid dividends over time, but it’s been vital to keeping me upright, let alone in good health.

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Random things I learned over my time running, with no explanation

The harder your feet hit the ground, the quicker you’ll get tired and the more you will hurt.

You’ve got to eat like a bodybuilder: A whole food minimally processed diet anchored by lots of clean protein.

Sleeping well matters a LOT more.

The quicker your feet can step during a run, the easier keeping a faster pace will be.

In cold weather you will warm up after 20 minutes of running.

To race great you have to go out slower than everyone else wants to, and resist keeping up with them.

If you take advantage, life will give you lots of opportunity to practice running in little bursts.

If you can comfortably run in them, lighter and less-cushioned shoes feel better.

If your body can handle it, walking and weight training will not only make you stronger but help you heal between workouts.

You’ll know by feel when you shouldn’t use a pair of shoes for training anymore.

Perfect temperatures can actually be too hot for running.

Most people don’t understand the importance of fueling during long runs.

Most people over-fuel on shorter regular runs.

Big races are overrated, and consistent high-volume training is underrated.

Most people do their easy/regular/recovery running way too fast and hard.

If someone runs or bikes close to you on an empty path, they’re intentionally harrassing you.

Beginning runners try to do too much right away.

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