Ask your friends, runners included, about their day-to-day problems, and many will say that they feel tired too much of the time. That they’d like to have more energy.
No surprise there, then. With information overload, economic concerns and the generally accelerating pace of life, many of us feel that our fuel tanks easily run low.
Thankfully, we runners do better than most. Experts say that our running gives us better health and more energy than people who don’t exercise. “If exercise could be packaged into a pill,” says ageing specialist Dr Robert Butler, “it would be the single most prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.”
Still, even runners can become side-tracked by bad habits such as poor nutrition, high stress and inadequate sleep. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, here are 30 strategies (divided into five broad categories) guaranteed to boost your energy.
Running and Exercise1. Give yourself a daily high
Try to run, or do another form of exercise, every day. Exercise promotes better sleep, makes you pay more attention to eating properly and releases mood-enhancing endorphins that can lead to a ‘runner’s high’. Exercise physiologist Ken Sparks says, “Endorphins elevate your immune system and give you a big boost of energy.”
2. Jump into the pool
The repetitive footstrikes of running can sometimes lead to excessive fatigue. The solution is regular cross-training that provides relief and restores energy. “I love to do lengths in the pool,” says 2:45 marathon runner Kim Saddic. “The water enables me to stretch and relax. It feels therapeutic, like a massage, and refreshes me after running.”
3. Keep your options open
The more flexible you are with your training alternatives, the less likely you are to miss a run and feel depressed. Erika Pickman, a 29-year-old, generally runs five miles at lunchtime. That’s the time of day when she’d otherwise begin to feel lethargic. “The run really rejuvenates me,” she says. When Pickman trained for a marathon and needed to run longer, however, she did her training at 5am to make sure she wouldn’t miss them later in her busy day.
4. Run with the early birds
There’s no ‘best time’ to run for an energy boost, but many runners find that mornings suit them for a variety of reasons. Runner Katrina Painter has two young children, who often wear her down during the day. That’s why she prefers to run in the morning, when she’s fresh from a good night’s sleep.
5. Make every step count
It’s not just running and other training that can keep you energised. ‘Informal exercise’ – raking leaves, walking at every opportunity and taking the stairs instead of the lift – will also help. Personal trainer Luke Cunliffe advises his clients to take at least 10,000 steps (roughly five miles) in the course of every day.
6. Dare to be different
Vary your running so that you feel excited about each session. Change your regular route, try a park in another town, go to a track, explore a new trail, run that hill you’ve always wanted to tackle, or try running faster once a week as a challenge. “Doing the same run every day is like always eating the same thing for lunch,” says sports psychologist Mary Duane.
7. Equip yourself better
Exercise equipment enables you to continue your training programme – and maintain energy levels – under difficult circumstances. When Pickman resumed running after giving birth to her first child, she ran at home on a treadmill while her baby slept. Later, she used a running stroller so that she could take her child along during her outdoor work-outs.
8. Try new sports
According to Sparks, all exercise increases energy production in your muscles. So, even if you’re injured or can’t run for some other reason, you can maintain your energy level with other activities such as walking, swimming, biking, strength training and stair climbing.
9. Double your effort, double your reward
Breaking up your exercise into two sessions – one in the morning and one in the evening – is a great way to stay energised throughout the day. Try three miles in the morning and three in the evening instead of one six-miler. Running in the morning prepares you for every challenge you’ll face during the day. Running in the evening (at least three hours before bedtime) helps promote good sleep.
General Health10. Follow a regular schedule
When you establish a routine and stick with it, you develop good health habits. Weekends are a tough time for many runners, who fall out of their Monday to Friday routine. Katrina Painter has noticed that adults she coaches appear listless on Mondays or any day after a holiday. Her advice is to make a weekend schedule, and stick with it. For help, line up a training partner.
11. Stay involved
It seems counter-intuitive, but keeping busy can keep you healthy. Having projects to do gives your day structure and purpose.
12. Drink up
If you’re tired, it’s possible you’re dehydrated. Runners especially, need to drink several (up to about eight) glasses of water a day. One strategy for drinking water, suggested by dietician Debra Waterhouse, is to drink a glass of water for every 250kcal of food you eat. An easy way to achieve this is to drink two glasses of water with every meal.
13. Stand up straight
Poor posture – hunched shoulders and a shuffling gait – is a sign of energy depletion, says Robert Cooper, author of High Energy Living. You can boost energy levels with this head-position exercise: first, while standing or sitting, bring your chin in toward your chest. “Your head should feel as if it’s gently extending upward,” says Cooper. Next, with your neck in this slightly elevated position, nod your head slightly (as if agreeing with someone), but don’t bend it forward.
14. Surround yourself with energetic people
Being with optimistic, high-energy friends or co-workers will make you feel similar. Surround yourself with people who aren’t only clever and talented, but are also upbeat and enthusiastic.
15. Follow the sun Soak
in some sunlight (after applying sunscreen, of course) to elevate serotonin levels in your brain, which will boost your mood and energy. A University of Massachusetts study found that hostility and anger were highest in winter and lowest in summer.
16. Avoid allergens
Much chronic fatigue is caused by allergies. Fortunately, current prescription antihistamines can relieve symptoms without making you tired. Ask your GP to determine your needs. Running less often in grassy or wooded areas may also help you reduce allergic reactions.
Mind and Body17. Run alone
If you’re introverted, solitary runs will give you the tranquillity you seek and the time you need to sort through your thoughts. If you’re extroverted, you’ll gain more energy from being with people, so consider joining a running club for group sessions.
18. Log your emotions
Keep a running diary with not only training and racing data, but a record of your emotions. This will help you track your energy patterns alongside your training, so you’ll immediately know if you’re overtraining.
19. Try yoga
Consider taking a yoga class, increasingly popular among runners, to loosen tight muscles and ‘centre’ your mind. “With its focus on breathing, yoga slows you down, releases tension and increases you energy,” says yoga teacher David Hollander. “I’ve worked with many runners who tell me they wish they’d taken up yoga years ago.”
20. Set sane priorities
Your energy level is directly related to you mood. Runners are often the type of people who tend to take on too much, ultimately burdening themselves with the weight of endless responsibilities. Try to let go and prioritise.
21. Live in the present
Psychologists often advise that we can boost energy and serenity if we ‘stay in the moment’ and steer away from ‘anticipatory fear’.
22. Try some hands-on treatment
Join the massage movement, which saw a 61 per cent increase in the number of people receiving massages between 1990 and 1997. Regular massage not only loosens a runner’s muscles but increases energy. In shiatsu (an Oriental form of massage), therapists stimulate pressure points with their fingers or elbows to improve your energy flow.
23. Make time for meditation
Dr Andrew Weil, one of the leading exponents of intergrating modern and alternative medicines, advises us to be more aware of our breathing and to do specific, meditative breathing exercises “to wake yourself up if you feel mentally sluggish.” Here’s a simple meditation exercise: sit comfortably with your back straight and eyes closed. Breathe in and out rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth lightly closed. The action of the chest should be rapid and mechanical, like a bellows pumping air.
Diet and Nutrition24. Eat a snack soon after running
To restore energy following a run, eat carbohydrate-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, energy bars and pasta within an hour after you finish, advises Sparks. If you wait a few hours or attempt to ‘diet’ by delaying eating, you’ll feel your energy sags after running, or even during the next day.
25. Eat a full breakfast
And make sure that it includes some fat. Dieticians emphasise the need for a complete breakfast to help you sustain energy all day. A good breakfast selection would be whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, fruit and yoghurt. “If you take in some healthy fat, such as that found in many nutty muselis,” says dietician Susan Kleiner, “you improve absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D.”
26. Keep on snacking
Surround yourself with healthy snacks, such as fruit, nuts and raw vegetables. “I happen to think peanut butter is the best sports food, and the best energy source,” says dietician Nancy Clark. “Peanut butter on toast with a cup of tea will sustain you through the late afternoon, which is when energy levels tend to sag.”
27. Eat two lunches
Clark adds that eating two lunches may be the ‘secret weapon’ for high-energy living. People feel hungry every four hours, she points out, but too many of us don’t eat that way. Instead, we skimp on breakfast and lunch, and eat too much from 6pm to midnight. Clark advises eating lunch at noon and again at 4pm “A runner who needs 2400kcal a day should have two 600kcal lunches,” she says. “This will boost your energy when you need it, and also ‘ruin’ your appetite so you won’t eat too much at night.”
Sleep Patterns28. Take the occasional catnap
If you feel drowsy in the late afternoon, treat yourself to a short, restorative break. Just sit and relax, or take a nap – 20 minutes is enough. “A 20-minute nap is ideal; it’ll refresh you as much as an hour,” says sleep expert Dr Joyce Walsleben. “In fact, an hour’s nap is too long, because it will put you into a deep sleep in the afternoon, which will disrupt your sleep that night.”
29. Let water renew you
If you find yourself worn out at night, take a warm bath. According to Walsleben, a relaxing bath at night promotes restful sleep.
30. Follow a consistent sleep schedule
Most people need at least seven hours of sleep at night for sufficient rest and recovery, and runners may need more, says Walsleben. She advises maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and avoiding sleeping in on weekends, as this can disrupt your sleep pattern. Try not to depart from your regular amount of sleep by more than an hour.