If you run a lot of miles, it’s unfortunately reasonably likely that at some point you’ll pick up an injury. Also, if you’re a running addict, you’re quite likely to ignore little niggles and manage to keep running (quite possibly making things worse), but at some point, those niggles may become an aggravated injury that really requires you to take some time off. If you are forced to reluctantly take this option, it’s worth taking the opportunity to look again at your diet and think about how it should be altered during times of low or no training.
Ultra runners and marathoners tend to need to eat a lot to sustain the high mileage of training and participating in events and races. It becomes a habit and it would be easy to continue eating the same way when injured. However, if the injury requires a few weeks of little or no running in order to recover fully, then clearly the diet needs to be adjusted. The alternative is that you gain weight, which makes returning to fitness all the tougher.
So for starters, your calorific intake ought to be reduced. Remember that every mile run burns around 100 calories – a 10 mile pre-breakfast jog burns around 1000 calories, which equates to a significant amount of food – so not doing the usual runs means that it’s time to stop eating the usual amount of food. Having said that, there’s an injury that needs healing and your body requires extra care to be taken over feeding it all the nutrients it needs to repair itself.
When eating less food, it’s important to ensure that a good healthy balance is maintained. The reduction in aerobic exercise means that the proportion of carbohydrates should probably be reduced. (This may not be the case if you’re able to cross train with activities such as cycling or swimming.) A higher proportion of protein is good to help muscles repair and recover. Flax seed oil may be a good supplement as it is high in omega 3, believed to be good for improving joint suppleness. (Flax seed could be considered as the vegan alternative to fish oils.) The scientific studies available on nutritional supplements are not necessarily conclusive on this, so it becomes a bit of a personal experiment to see what works best for you as an individual, which is the case anyway when trying to find what foods work well for you to fuel your own distance running and training.
There are often articles on a variety of different foods in running magazines: some claiming to help reduce inflammation, others to improve recovery, or even increase stamina. The foods concerned seem to change every month, but it’s fun to just try out all sorts of fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and spices. It can help avoid the decreased intake of food seeming like some sort of punishment, if at the same time you increase variety – perhaps by trying some of the many recipes now on offer on the One Green Planet website!
If you are usually someone who runs very high mileage, but are unlucky enough to have to take a prolonged time off running, it can be surprising how disproportionately this can affect you mentally. This would seem to make it extra important to maintain a healthy diet. The sluggish lethargic feeling of being unfit can add to the depression of not being able to get out as a stress reliever, and you will miss getting out to enjoy the fresh air and countryside. What we eat can have some effect on mood, so if you’re suffering from feeling down as a result of lack of exercise, then eating what makes you feel healthier could be a way to combat the negative feelings to some extent. Again, what works for you is going to be a personal taste and choice thing.
It is worth trying to do something positive – especially if you suddenly have a lot of extra time that would have been spent running. There are many entertaining ways of filling this time to take your mind off the not running. Something to make you feel good could be to do some volunteering, perhaps in running-related activities such as marshalling at races. Hopefully once recovered, you’ll be able to look back on being injured and really be able to appreciate all the more fully how good it is to be fit and healthy and able to take part in the sport you love.
Tired Runner Image Source: Jonas Leander (via Flickr)