Birds chirping, trees blooming and feet on the pavement all signal the arrival of spring. However, hitting the great outdoors for a 5K or fun run involves more than just lacing up your sneakers and programming the perfect playlist. After a long winter slumber, these five simple steps will get you on your feet again — the safe and healthy way.
Starving yourself should never be part of an exercise regimen, but eating right should. Fuel up with whole-grain breads, pastas and rice two hours before your workout. "Whole grains … are going to give you longer lasting energy to get through your runs," says former Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, LMT. "Even half a whole-grain bagel a half hour before you run could help with that."
Foods to avoid include anything high in added sugars such as jams and jellies, cookies, cakes, pies and doughnuts, says Jamieson-Petonic. "They tend to give you a quick burst of energy, but then your blood sugar bottoms out," she says. Healthy substitutes include energy and granola bars, low-fat or fat-free yogurt and fruit smoothies, peanut butter on a bagel thin, and chocolate milk. Foods that may help reduce inflammation such as salmon, tuna and nuts are also good choices.
"Everyone should really be going into a workout hydrated," says USA Triathlon coach and professional triathlete Kim Schwabenbauer, RD, LDN. "It prevents muscle tears and it helps you feel better during the workout." Schwabenbauer recommends drinking fluids throughout the day and definitely within the hour before you exercise. Both Schwabenbauer and Jamieson-Petonic agree that water is great if the workout is under 60 minutes, but recommend a sports or energy drink for runs more than an hour.
"The warm-up and cool down are definitely important components of the workout and they should never be skipped," says Schwabenbauer, who advises ditching static exercises such as grabbing ankles and stretching quads. "Static stretching is really a way of the past," she says. Instead, try squats or forward lunges. Or, try the soldier walk, a stretch in which you stand in place with your arms out in front and try and kick your hands, all while keeping your legs elongated.
That race you ran last summer was a long time ago. Consider easing back into your routine if it's been a while since you've run hardcore. "Don't go out for the first run and think, 'Today, I'm going to run three miles,'" says Schwabenbauer. "[People] run really hard and then they're off the next four days because they're so sore and tired." Instead, Schwabenbauer advises picking a distance and then increasing gradually by 30-second intervals over time.
When you exercise you're causing tiny microscopic tears in muscle fiber. Those muscles need time to build themselves back up. "It's important that we allow our muscles a chance to recover and heal," says Jamieson-Petonic, who advises either a day of rest or cross-training for diehard workout junkies. "Get on a bicycle, get in a pool, do some strength training or core work such as yoga or other types of exercise, so you can give those muscles a chance to heal."