If you love to run, there are a few things more frustrating than not being able to do just that. Hopefully, if you do find yourself on the sidelines due to injury or lacking an upcoming event in your race diary, it will only be for a short spell.
But if your running is on pause, this can become an ideal time to work on other aspects of your overall fitness. If you use this downtime wisely, you can be as fit – or in even better shape – when you return as you were before your temporary timeout.
Here, two experts share their tips on how you can maintain your fitness during your off-season or if you're hampered by an injury.Vicky Newbold1 is a registered performance nutritionist who works with professional sportspeople as well as recreational runners. Meanwhile, Arj Thiruchelvam2 is a performance coach at Performance Physique. He works with everyone from Olympic athletes to novice runners.
#1. Don’t Diet!
“Many sidelined runners make the mistake of going on an extreme diet to compensate for any extra weight they might gain while not running,” says Newbold. “But this isn’t helpful if you are injured, as you need more fuel to help your recovery. You need about 20 per cent above your baseline metabolic rate (the number of calories your body needs to carry out its life-sustaining functions) for a minor injury. For a more serious one such as a serious tear or recovering from an operation, you need around 50 per cent more. Healing is an energy costly process.”
#2. Focus on Eating Healthily
“This is the perfect time to focus on what you eat,” says Newbold. “Your baseline diet should be varied, including all the main food groups such as fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes or bread) and proteins. An attainable daily goal is to make your plate of food as vibrantly coloured as possible. Although we might be familiar with the ‘five-a-day’ message, that should be your bare minimum; instead, you should try and have at least ten portions a day. This forms the basic building blocks to maintain a healthy everyday diet in readiness for returning to running.”
#3. Mix it Up
“You start to lose your aerobic fitness after around 7-14 days, but there are other ways to maintain it when not running,” says Thiruchelvam. “Try using a cross trainer, swim, or get on a bike. Cycling will give you an excellent cardiovascular workout and reduce the impact on any injuries, particularly in the leg muscles.”
#4. Be Clever with Food
“Learn to eat smarter,” says Newbold. “When you’re covering a lot of kilometres during marathon training, you might turn to simple carbohydrates – such toast and jam which is full of refined sugars and flour but provides a great energy boost to fuel a long run. But if you’re not running, when you choose a carbohydrate-heavy food, go for those containing whole grains such as wholewheat bread, ragi dosas or brown rice. Not only will they keep you feeling full for longer- reducing the risk of turning to unhealthy snacks- they have added benefits such as more fibre (which aids bowel health) along with additional minerals and vitamins, which are vital to improving your general health.”
#5. Water Jog
“It’s hard to replicate running, but there’s one perfect way you can do this,” says Thiruchelvam. “I would recommend- especially if you have a lower leg injury- getting yourself an aqua jogging belt (the type you may have seen at aqua aerobic classes) to use in the pool. Elite runners often use them as it engages the same muscles used for normal running; it provides an excellent workout if done once or twice a week.”
#6. Pump up the Protein
“When you’re not running as much, you don’t need as many carbohydrates to fuel up, so instead focus more on good quality protein in all of your meals and snacks spread throughout the day,” says Newbold. “Brilliant choices for some are chicken, lean meat, eggs and oily fish. For vegetarians, a rich source can be found in milk and yoghurt (dahi). If you’re vegan. combine lots of different proteins from various sources such as soya milk, tofu, chickpeas and other pulses. Protein is less calorific and will speed up your recovery.”
#7. Fast and Furious
“Circuit training- when you do several different exercises, each for a short time followed by a quick recovery between each one- is a fantastic way to maintain, or even improve on your fitness if regular running’s off the agenda,” says Thiruchelvam. “Block off 15-20 minutes once or twice a week to do exercises at home or gym such as squats, lunges, press-ups, burpees and planks for 40-60 second bursts with a 20-30 second recovery between each rep. Repeat each circuit three, four or five times.”
#8. Walk it Back
“If you feel you’ve lost your fitness due to a long break from running, a return to brisk walking, which raises your heart rate, is a good starting point to get active again,” says Thiruchelvam. “Focus on building up your step count (if you have a smartwatch, this should record this) each time you do it and keep a high tempo.”
#9. Bring Me Sunshine
“Use this time on the sidelines to top up your mineral and nutrient levels,” says Newbold. “A simple blood test can be revealing and indicate if you’re deficient in the likes of iron (for making red blood cells to carry oxygen around our body) or calcium (which is important for bone building). Many people don’t get enough Vitamin D- especially if they're not outside in the sun so often - so take a daily supplement to compensate for this, especially in the monsoon and winter seasons, when exposure to the sun is minimized.”
#10. Stretch it Out
“Downtime from running is the perfect time to work on better mobility, which will improve your overall form for when you run again,” says Thiruchelvam. “It can be hugely beneficial, especially for any ankle or hip issues. You can find great mobility exercises online - some inspired from the world of yoga - such as the lizard pose, soleus stretch, figure four stretch and a particularly good one called the threading the needle stretch.”
If you are a runner recovering from injury, keeping fit is so important in order to get back in the game when you are healed. Remember that injuries are terribly unfortunate but not uncommon. Getting the right treatment, rest and keeping positive is essential to getting back on track soon. Similarly, getting good health insurance such as Future Generali Heart and Health Insurance Plan is also a priority to make sure you are well taken care of in case injury or illness arises.