How to Eat

Eating around training is a difficult skill to master, especially when you have a million other things to think about like work and the kids around your sessions, however our resident tipster has a bit of advice. You don’t want to be running on empty, especially when doing hard or long sessions, but you also don’t want your food jumping around in your stomach as you run.

As a general rule of thumb you want a light carbohydrate based meal roughly two hours before your session then a protein snack as soon as possible afterwards. The carbohydrate meal can be something as simple as a sandwich or pasta salad and it serves the purpose of fuelling your training session. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugars which are stored in the muscles for use as fuel. The more intense a run is then the more important it is that you’re fuelled properly, running a hard session without sufficient carbohydrate consumption will reduce the quality of the training.

Sometimes we need to take on carbohydrates while training and racing, especially on runs over 60 minutes in length. The form these carbohydrates should take is highly personal. Sports drinks, gels and bars are all good options along with bananas and cereal bars. Our main tip would be to try out as many types of mid run snacks as possible at different intensities and figure out what works for you. We find that the harder we are running the more liquid our snack should be – sports drinks for long half marathon or marathon based efforts and bars for easier runs.

The protein based snack afterwards is equally as important. We recommend a hard boiled egg, protein bar or protein shake although any product high in protein will be sufficient. Protein helps our muscles repair as well as helps prevent us from overeating later on. Here at The Running Algorithm we are great believers in eating whenever you’re hungry and a protein snack immediately after training helps us moderate our hunger.

Generally speaking, there’s a lot to say for simplicity within our diet. Kenyan runners are world famous for their high quality distance running and it’s widely known that their diets are often very simple. Most of my food comes from my local supermarket and it often feels difficult to eat as simply as possible but I generally aim to buy things as close to how they looked on the farm as often as possible. Another practical tip is to include as many colours in your fruit and vegetable as possible – this makes ‘healthy’ meals look very appealing and I think it makes them taste better.

In general though, fuel your runs (especially hard ones) with carbohydrates around two hours before training and have a protein based snack afterwards. The rest of the time just eat to hunger and consume lots of fruits and vegetables. These rules apply if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or meat eater. Try to eat food as it grows.


The Simple Training Approach

Here at The Running Algorithm our code builds training plans with one key principle – simplicity. It’s all too common to see unreasonably complicated training sessions on our Strava feeds, often prescribed by coaches, that don’t seem to meet any particular training goals whatsoever. The key feature in any training plan is that most of your training is comfortably aerobic, which means we should be able to talk comfortably and not be breathing heavily, and some of your training is a bit harder. The exact ratio of easy:hard varies depending on who you talk to but most studies show a law of diminishing returns when it comes to increasing intensity. Something we see all too often is runners smashing out three interval sessions a week which comprises more than 50% of their overall volume, losing quality in those sessions and ultimately getting injured. More is not always better. How hard is hard? This is a question we see being asked a lot and it varies depending on where an athlete is in their training cycle, sometimes a hard session will be a longer ‘steady state’ tempo run, other times it will be 3 minute repetitions at 3-5k pace. A good training plan is comprised of enough hard sessions to stress your body but not too many that you’re overloaded which will lead to injury and burnout.

Each hard session should be simple, it should have a goal in mind which is appropriate for that point in the plan and it should aim to meet that goal. This is something I saw on my Strava feed today, it was prescribed for an experienced athlete of moderate ability by a coach. The session read – 5 minute warm up, 2 x 20s max effort with 60s recovery, 2 x 40s max effort with 90s recovery, 2 x 80s with 3 minutes recovery, 4 minutes at 5k pace and a 5 minute cool down. Eight days later this athlete got injured. This is a very clear example of something you should not do. I’ll go through this session issue by issue then explain how we prescribe our sessions. Firstly, the warm up is too short, a 20s max effort is very intense and five minutes of easy jogging before that isn’t sufficient. There appears to be no aim to the session, there’s not enough time accumulated in any particular training zone for any physiological response. I also think the cool down is too short. I had a flick back through this particular athlete’s Strava and there’s been no real sign of progression for quite a long time and three bouts of injury in the last six months. Sessions like these, which they’re paying a coach for, are partially responsible. 

All interval sessions built from our algorithm have a clear aim based on the phase of the plan, progressively increase time at the target intensity week on week and are simple to complete, there is no benefit from obscenely complicated interval sessions, we also prescribe comprehensive warm ups and cool downs. Each training cycle is important for improvement but long term consistency is often a key marker in successful endurance athletes which is why injury avoidance was at the forefront of our minds while we were writing our code. The principles behind writing a good running training programme are simple – avoid injury and spend time at intensity, endurance sports reward consistency more than they respect talent. We aim to make our athletes faster by improving their longevity with sensibly written, simple sessions with a well managed progression of workload.