We know that good nutrition and exercising regularly are essential components of a healthy lifestyle. However, what about when we lose sight of why we started running in the first place? Perhaps it was to drop a few kilos, improve cardiovascular health or maybe it was a bet that you definitely were not going to lose face over? Regardless of why you started, the fact that you have continued means that you gained something from it; a sense of achievement; a better body composition, more energy and so you continue.
However, now, turning up for the weekly parkrun or taking your place at a half-marathon a few times a year just doesn’t feel like enough of a challenge. So you set your sights on something new – getting faster, running further or in more extreme places – but what does this mean for the body?
In recent years I have had many an athlete, both recreational and elite, walk into my clinic room and tell me that they’ve just lost their “running mojo”. They keep going out for runs but the motivation to train is poor, energy levels are low and if they try and attack a speed session, the engine, the power that was always present, has just disappeared. They come looking for a magic potion, what they get is a prescription for rest, recovery and ideas on how to boost their immune system.
We seem to be living in a society where no matter what you succeed in, it is never good enough; there is always more you can achieve and we seem to be losing sight of what is actually humanly possible. With the increase in popularity of ultramarathons and the rise in the number of running events you can take part in all over the world, we are spoilt for choice. However this also means we seem to have lost the ability to pace ourselves. I’m lucky enough that I get to work with elite athletes and, in most cases, they choose one or two ‘A races’ a year. Anything else will be seen as training.
Now let’s compare this with the recreational athlete. No longer, for example, is training for one marathon a year enough. It never ceases to amaze me, when working with someone new, what they have previously completed and what they plan to do next. Someone who’s done their first marathon in spring, for instance, will plan on running their first ultra in the summer, without hesitation.
So what does happen when we think the body is invincible and training fatigue sets in, and how can you overcome this? Overreaching can have a huge impact on your immune system and it is often this that leads to the loss of your “running mojo”.
In order to prevent training fatigue there are several things I recommend:
Always make sure you tailor your nutrition to your training; if you are going to increase you intensity and/or volume, you also need to adjust your intake of carbohydrate and protein so that body has sufficient fuel to train and recover. I have seen many athletes in recent months who have cut back on carbs significantly, while increasing their training. They report feeling amazing to start with and then six to 12 months down the line their bodies fight back. Carbohydrate, although feared by many, is an essential nutrient for the exercising body and while you should be mindful of portion sizes and types, I never advocate a completely ketogenic diet.
Although I always prefer individuals to get their nutrition from their diets, there are a few nutrients that can be difficult to obtain. Both Vitamin D and probiotics have a really important function to play in immune health. I recommend a high dose of Vitamin D and probiotic to all my athletes, especially through the winter months.
Hydration is also key for immune function. Saliva is our first line of defence, as it contains IgA. If we are dehydrated, we produce less saliva and, in turn, this can make us more susceptible to infections and illness.
If you start to notice that you are lacking energy during training but also at rest, it is always worth asking your GP to take some blood tests – I usually recommend iron and ferritin, Vitamin D, CRP and thyroid function, as these can give you a good indicator of whether the body is under stress.
Currently this is a huge area of research in sports performance. What we know is that good quality and quantity sleep are necessary for recovery and immune health. Many individuals I have worked with complain about poor sleep and when questioned about the last thing they do before they go to bed? Most answer with, “Check my phone!” Increasingly we are being told about how the blue light in phones can disrupt our sleep so one tip: try and switch off at least half an hour before you go to sleep – read or listen to music instead.
I’m a big believer in monitoring and, again, I regularly get athletes to keep a log of the following:
The above parameters tell us a lot about how we are feeling; if your motivation to train is low, this could be an indicator that you are tired. HR data informs us about what is going on in the body. A resting (nocturnal) HR reading elevated by even just 10% from basal levels could indicate illness, fatigue and not sufficient recovery.
Take a rest day and ideally wait until HR levels return to normal before training at a high intensity again.