Golly we all love the rat race eh? Getting an edge on the competition is on all our minds like it or not - be it slipping into a faster lane in traffic or getting to the smallest queue in the supermarket, us humans are a tad obsessed with eeking out every inch of advantage...in a mild to somewhat aggressive manner!!
We’re also hugely competitive with ourselves and those of you who are putting in the miles this autumn with a view to running some miles around Dublin over the bank holiday weekend (otherwise known as a marathon), know just what we’re talking about here. It’s usually more about your time time than really beating your fellow athletes. And whilst we applaud the endeavour, it’s also vital that you take a step back and just appreciate what your body is putting itself through, in order to consider what might be really useful both short term to enhance your performance and in the longer term to support the body’s recovery and buffer from the attrition that is somewhat inevitable from putting your skeleton through such a punishing schedule both in the lead up to and during the race itself.
So what can you do to help yourself? Let’s start with that performance edge…
A couple of pre-training/ workout suggestions. I bet to within 5 people who read this post, you’re all using coffee before your runs. And it makes sense. It’s actually the most studied and proven ergogenic (performance enhancing) aid for athletes, that affords a huge initial boost in energy. But the drawback with coffee is that at its root it’s an adrenal stimulant. And like anything that triggers stress hormone release that makes it catabolic. So long term that means tissue breakdown instead of support and repair. As an aside, a study was recently released that demonstrated that coffee taken AFTER training actually had a monstrous effect in increasing glycogen repletion...strange but true. Worth a try even, but maybe don’t rock the boat too much in the last couple of week before you hit the streets with a few thousand of your closest lycra clad neighbours. What we suggest below is gentle enough that you can give it a shot on race day without having tried it out before, but both combinations are so effective, we’re sure you’ll see a difference in how you feel both during and post run. So first up, here’s the pre-run. Try it about 40 minutes before the start gun.
So here is just about one of the most potent combinations you can put in to keep legs moving beyond their usual threshold for discomfort. It’s safe to say that if you want your body to do more work then you want your heart to feel like it’s doing less. When your heart is less stressed, then so are your adrenals, and every organ follows place - soft, juicy muscle stays that way without the hardening and stiffening that comes with a stressed nervous system. So your legs don’t feel so heavy and your lungs aren’t heaving like they want to be out of your chest and lying on the couch. All you have to do is give your body more potential oxygen and this is the result.
Beetroot is really a magic potion, just less spooky - it’s packed out with dietary nitrate which your body converts to nitric oxide, and releases into the arterial walls to relax them and allow a larger space for blood oxygen to get to the tissues in need. We carry beetroot shots from James White, which hold a concentrated source of nitrate, giving you the performance push that you want on race day. Also, a nice bonus is that it’s not a stimulant, so even with all that upside, you won’t suffer the crash that’s familiar with caffeine-based energy shots.
Our next superhero is Cordyceps- Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom that we find ourselves talking about a LOT in the shop these days. We’ve been fans of it for a good few years now, and its deep-rooted origin in Asian cultures means that it has got many hundreds of years of traditional use and a huge coverage of clinical study in the countries where it’s most used. Put simply, cordyceps works thusly. It tells your body to make more nitric oxide through an enzyme reaction, and whilst doing that it also acts as a tonic to your adrenal glands, fostering them through the stress of vigorous physical activity. Ladies and gents - this WORKS. Literally every day we put more athletes who come through our doors onto this stuff. And they feel it. Literally every single one. It’s not a caffeine-like feel, just a sense of having more capacity at the end of a workout, of being able to do a bit more. Like those really good days. Only it helps you to have more really good days.
Electrolytes - listen we know you’ve all heard of them, but my god why are so few of you using them on a regular basis I don’t know. It’s not just on race day that this matters, your body needs constant replenishment. Rehydration is what helps the long term recovery as well as the short term stiffness, and even performance on race day. You should really be loading up with electrolytes in your water from about 3 weeks ahead of the marathon in order to get maximal benefit from these salt form minerals.
So just bash all these supplements together - ideally, get moving on them now with a couple of weeks remaining taking them every day or second day as they’ll all have a cumulative effect, but even if you only get them in on race day, they’ll do you a big favour. Okay so now on to the recovery phase….
Is there a more popular supplement than magnesium? Possibly not. But WHY not?? Well, perhaps it’s because magnesium is involved in over 300 different enzyme reactions in your body. Put simply - there’s not really any bodily function that escapes the need for input from magnesium. When it comes to athletic recovery, it’s going to help on few key fronts. First up is ATP. Your mitochondria are the little chaps inside your cells that are charged with bridging that last gap between the food we eat and the energy it creates to allow us to run about the place. Magnesium is crucial to making ATP biologically active. Secondly, magnesium plays a crucial role in balancing out the hardening effects of calcium on soft tissue and smooth muscle. Magnesium keeps these tissues soft and pliable, maintaining blood flow and hence oxygenation, as well as supporting the removal of waste products through the lymphatic system. There’s so many reasons to use magnesium, but perhaps the next most crucial one in terms of athletic performance is its ability to enhance insulin sensitivity, a key part of managing energy storage in the form of glycogen, which is gonna pay dividends in the final stretch of your marathon efforts.
Collagen is such a fashionable food these days, from bone broths to collagen based skin creams, and its usefulness isn’t lost on us either when it comes to athletic performance. Most of our body is made up of collagenous tissue - if you take out our organs and cardiovascular system, basically what is left is a series of collagen tubules holding us all together. This vast network delivers hydration to muscles and stretches like a web around our body, encasing it in an elasticated mesh. Collagen makes up all our tendons, ligaments, bones...when we wear down our joints from pounding along the pavement for hours at a time, what does our body look for to replace the broken down tissue…? Yup. Collagen.
Also one final note on collagen - a fascinating study released early this year demonstrated how collagen can be used for healing. One unfortunate result from training, especially explosive movements under load, is that those little collagen tubules join together and bind with each other to prevent injury. But this cross linking results in hardening, and the unfortunate consequence is that the tissue becomes much more brittle - the result? Have you noticed how EVERYONE is tearing their ACL at the minute? Well it’s certainly part of the picture. Anyway! In this study they got participants to take collagen 30 minutes before training and what they noticed was fascinating - when the subjects started training and drew blood flow to joint tissue, the body actually directed the collagen they’d taken just before to those areas, both preventing possible injury and also helping to heal previous ones. I have personal experience with this one too, and have recommended it to a few athletes since, who have come back reporting reduced pain during and after training, so this theory really seems to hold water!!
If you ask me what supplement anyone in the world can take and benefit from - it’s definitely going to be one from the family of herbs known as adaptogens. These herbs are magic food in my opinion - conferring benefits to support our stress response, increasing our ceiling for coping with stress and reducing the negative fallout in the aftermath of stressful events. And running a marathon is nothing if not a stressful event.
This family of lovely herbs all have slightly different characteristics, but at the root of it all of them help to gently modulate our cortisol stress response. My two favourite adaptogens for athletes are Rhodiola (because it’s also got the added benefit of enhancing oxygen utilisation) and ashwagandha (because it’s got the nifty after effect of helping to buffer the DNA damage that comes with such mammoth efforts as running 26 miles). Adaptogens definitely have a cumulative effect, so if you start today you should see a benefit come race day. The lovely thing about adaptogens is that because they’re working on energy regulation at such a fundamental level, they also help with sleep patterns. If we sleep better, we feel better. If we feel better, we run better. If we run better we...well at least we go to bed happy. So guys, best of luck in your marathon, we all salute your honorable efforts - just remember to run your own race, and listen to your body when it says it needs a day on the couch!