As a Performance Dietitian I have had many a runner, both recreational and elite, tell me that they’ve just lost their “running mojo”.
They keep turning up for training but the motivation is poor, energy levels are low and if they try and attack a high-intensity session, the engine, the power that was always present, has just disappeared.
They come looking for a magic potion, what they get is a prescription for rest, recovery and ideas on how to boost their immune system.
In most cases, the elite runners I work with choose one or two ‘A races’ a year. Anything running outside of this will be seen as training.
However, if you compare this with the recreational runner, in a lot of cases training for one marathon a year is no longer enough.
It never ceases to amaze me, when someone who’s completed their first marathon in spring, for instance, will plan on running their first ultra in the summer without hesitation, or the even more extreme, running multiple marathons inside a month.
Some runners may think the body is invincible, but fatigue will eventually set in. A certain amount of fatigue is necessary in the training and recovery process to build stronger muscles and performance improvements, that’s agreed.
However, if you place too much emphasis on one aspect, it can either result in a poor race from not enough training, or alternatively, exerting too much in training can result in an injury may from overtraining.
For more on overtraining read ‘Overtraining: Why It Happens and What You Can Do‘.
Overreaching and overtraining in training can have a huge impact on your immune system and often this leads to the loss of your “running mojo”. So how can you overcome this?
In order to manage training fatigue, there are several things I recommend.
Give your immune system a boost
I always prefer individuals get their nutrition from their diets, however, there are a few nutrients that can be difficult to obtain. Both Vitamin D and probiotics have a really important function to play in immune health.
I recommend a high dose of Vitamin D and probiotic to all my runners, especially through the winter months.
Hydration is also key for immune function. Saliva is our first line of defence, as it contains IgA. If we are dehydrated, we produce less saliva and, in turn, this can make us more susceptible to infections and illness.
For more on immune health read ‘How Immune Health can Affect a Runner’s Performance.‘
Monitor to train smart
I’m a big believer in monitoring and, again, I regularly get runners to keep a log of the following:
– Resting heart rate (although if you can get nocturnal HR data, that’s more accurate)
– Sleep quantity and quality
– Motivation to train
– Energy levels
The above parameters tell us a lot about how we are feeling; if your motivation to train is low, this could be an indicator that you are tired. HR data informs us about what is going on in the body.
A resting (nocturnal) HR reading elevated by even just 10% from basal levels could indicate illness, fatigue and not sufficient recovery.
Become Nutrition Smart
You should always tailor your nutrition to your training; if you are going to increase your intensity and/or volume, you also need to adjust your intake of carbohydrate and protein so that body has sufficient fuel to train and recover.
I have seen many runners who have cut back on carbs significantly while increasing their training. They report feeling amazing to start with and then six to 12 months down the line their bodies fight back.
Carbohydrate, although feared by many, is an essential nutrient for the exercising body and while you should be mindful of portion sizes and types, I never advocate a completely ketogenic diet.
Take a rest day and ideally wait until HR levels return to normal before training at a high intensity again.
Test and Assess
If you start to notice that you are lacking energy during training but also at rest, it is always worth asking your GP to take some blood tests.
I usually recommend iron and ferritin, Vitamin D, CRP and thyroid function, as these can give you a good indicator of whether the body is under stress.
Don’t neglect sleep
Currently, this is a huge area of research in sports performance. What we know is that good quality and quantity sleep are necessary for recovery and immune health.
Many individuals who I have worked with complain about poor sleep and when questioned about the last thing they do before they go to bed? Most answer with, “Check my phone!”
Increasingly we are being told about how the blue light in phones can disrupt our sleep so one tip: try and switch off at least half an hour before you go to sleep – read or listen to music instead.
About the Author
Renee McGregor RD SENr is a Performance Dietitian and author, who works with elite athletes, coaches and sport science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance performance and manage eating disorders.