5 Factors That Make or Break a Workout

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A young woman sits on the ground at a park with bottle of water.

Runners experience many ups and downs as they go through the days and weeks of their training routines. Some days feel great. Other days? Well, not so much. If you ever find yourself scratching your head wondering why your last run felt so horrible, ask yourself these five questions to shed light on the possible reasons:

1. What did you do in your workout yesterday?

Much of what dictates your energy levels during runs is related to where your body is in the recovery process from previous workouts. The first question I ask myself when I’m feeling particularly crummy is, “What did I do yesterday?” An especially long run or taxing speed workout can require at least 24 hours of recovery time. Depending on a runner’s level of fitness, this amount of time can stretch out to 48 hours or even longer. It’s important for runners to keep track of their workouts and to try to keep some space between the longest and hardest ones. When not fully recovered, most runners have difficulty achieving their workout goals.

 

Coach Joe’s Tip: Try to spread long runs and speed workouts across the week, placing two to three days between your hardest speed or “quality” workouts. Completing two intense, quality workouts in a week is a good goal for most runners.

2. What did you eat yesterday?

The energy you put into your body in the form of food also affects your energy level. The food you eat before your workouts gives you energy to fuel them, while what you eat after workouts provides you the tools you need to recover. If runners don’t eat enough carbohydrates the day and morning before workouts, they’ll be low on fuel. Without fuel, there’s no energy. And, if they don’t eat enough protein after their workouts, they’ll hamper the body’s ability to recover properly.

Coach Joe’s Tip: Runners should plan their eating to support their workout needs. Aim to eat complex carbohydrates (including bread, rice and pasta) the night before a long workout. Eat or drink at least 15 grams of protein – about the amount in a container of yogurt – in the first hour after a workout to give your body a better chance to recover.

3. How much did you sleep last night?

Sleep is critical to runners. In fact, much of their post-run recovery occurs while they’re sleeping. When runners start missing sleep, they rob their bodies of this critical recovery time, which leads to a cycle of less and less energy during their runs. Travel can be especially tough for runners since it often requires early wakeup calls, long days and jet lag. All of these challenges can add up to a loss of that critical time for recovery-promoting sleep.

Coach Joe’s Tip: The week leading up to a big race, try to catch a few extra minutes of sleep each night. This extra time adds up to more recovery and, ultimately, feeling better on race day or during a key workout.

4. What did you drink yesterday?

Our bodies are like sponges. While I won’t tackle the complex topic of hydration here, the image of a sponge is a good one to keep in mind. When a sponge is dry, it doesn’t work correctly. When runners don’t take in enough fluid on a daily basis, their muscles can’t operate as well. While many people drink only a bare minimum amount of water, runners’ bodies need even more fluid to operate optimally. And, keep in mind that drinking alcohol robs the body of fluid. If you tied one on last night and are feeling hungover, get some extra fluid in your body before you run – or brace for one terrible workout.

Coach Joe’s Tip: This one’s pretty simple: Become a water-drinker. Drink less (or no) alcohol the day before key workouts. And, take it easy on yourself if you’re hungover. Better yet, avoid being hungover to begin with.

5. What’s going on in your life?

Keep in mind that your mental state also plays a role in how you feel when you’re running. If runners are under a great deal of emotional stress, the physical stress of a hard workout is sometimes too much to handle. Emotional stress can also hamper the ability to sleep and recover properly. So, if you’ve gone through a breakup, are having a tough time at work or are just under enormous pressure, you can expect your runs to feel much more difficult.

Coach Joe’s Tip: Go easy on yourself if you have a lot on your mental plate. Realize that while exercise is good for clearing the mind and relaxing you, it can also be another source of stress when you push too hard. Take your workouts a little easier when you’re going through tough times.

So, if you’ve had a bad run or workout, take stock of what’s going on in your world more generally. I bet one of these factors may have something to do with it. Remember: Tomorrow is a new day.

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