It takes many things coming together well in order to ‘run faster’ and I’m adamant that building a stronger, healthier body is the first step to doing so. However, for those who are healthy, well-trained and looking for that cutting edge, there are a few key ergogenic aids (in this case, nutritional strategies known to enhance athletic performance) that will help you to run faster.
Let’s dive right in! Here are the top 8 ergogenic aids in order of timing – when you’d want to implement them prior to your run.
1. Racing Weight: to be implemented at least 28 days or more prior
Reaching your racing weight by race day holds the potential to make you 6.5% faster than you’d otherwise be (for example it could turn a 4 hour marathon into a 3:45, just by losing 10lbs), making this arguably the most powerful ergogenic aid! Make no mistake, it’s also the toughest to attain and requires very close attention to everything you’re eating. For more information about racing weight and how to reach it, click here.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: to be implemented 21 days prior
Many studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids to be highly anti-inflammatory and beneficial for heart health. By taking 375 mg EPA, 230 mg DPA and 510 mg DHA (which, for example, would be equivalent to Nordic Naturals 1 tsp Omega-3 liquid or ½ tsp Ultimate Omega liquid) daily for 21 days, one study showed increased muscle activity and less fatigue experienced during exercise, to increase overall performance by at least 1% (for some substantially more).
3. Fat-Loading: to be implemented 8-13 days prior
By eating 65-70% of your daily calories as fat for 5-10 days, you train your body to burn more fatty acids for fuel. This benefits you on race day by conserving glycogen stores, which are limited (where as fatty acids stores are virtually unlimited). Fat-loading has been shown to enhance performance by up to 4.5%. For more information on fat-loading and how to implement this protocol, click here.
4. Tart Cherry Juice: to be implemented 10 days prior
Numerous studies have been telling us for over 10 years now that tart cherries are valuable in hastening the recovery process. However, in the past few years they’ve been shown to enhance performance also. In a very recent study published just last month (May 2016), data came back indicating that the group who supplemented daily with 480mg CherryPURE Freeze Dried Tart Cherry Powder from Montmorency cherries (equal to approximately 2 cups or 16 ounces of pure tart cherry juice) for 10 days prior to their half marathon averaged 13% faster race times than those who took the placebo.
5. Carb-Loading: to be implemented 1-3 days prior
Carb-loading is considered appropriate if your race will last longer than 90-120 minutes. By eating 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight for 3 days prior to your race (or 10g carb per kg for 24 hours), you’ll ensure your glycogen stores are completely full as you begin racing, which can enhance your performance by 3% or more. For more information on how to carb-load correctly, click here.
6. Beet Juice: to be implemented 2-2.5 hours prior (or 30 minutes if it’s a beet shot such as BeetBoost)
Research shows that beetroot consumption prior to running can boost performance by up to 3% (that’s about 8 seconds faster per km / 13 seconds faster per mile than you otherwise would be!). To achieve this you’ll need to drink 500ml of beet juice 2 to 2.5 hours before running. The inorganic nitrates in beet juice are converted by our bodies into nitrite then nitric oxide, which then positively affect blood flow, muscle contraction and neurotransmission, thereby making us run faster. For more information on beet juice, click here.
7. Caffeine: to be implemented 60-90 minutes prior
Caffeine has been shown to increase performance and endurance on average a minimum of 3% (anywhere from 2% to 7%). Research suggests a dose of 3mg/kg ingested 60-90 minutes prior to running will lead to this type of performance boost. That means drinking a grande americano or 3 espresso shots (225mg caffeine) about an hour before running should improve your overall results. For more information on caffeine as an ergogenic aid, click here.
8. Carbohydrates: to be ingested 2-4 hours prior and every 30-45 minutes during
Eating 2.5 grams per kg of bodyweight 2 to 4 hours before your race, as well as topping up with 30 to 60 grams of carb via energy gels, chews and drinks per hour during your race will delay fatigue and ensure you stay well fueled. If you don’t consume enough carbohydrate you risk ‘bonking’. These numbers may be reduced if you have become fat-adapted and you know your body is burning a higher percentage of fatty acids for fuel even at higher exercise intensities.
Theoretically, by implementing all 8 of these ergogenic aids you should collectively be able to run 36% faster than you otherwise would! That’d be like taking a 50 minute 10k time down to 32 minutes. Ha! Well, as nice as that would be, odds are while you can’t combine the maximum percentage increases for performance, you can definitely expect a performance boost from these ergogenic aids.
In fact, I can personally attest to the performance boosting power of each of these ergogenic aids – such as when I utilized omega-3s, tart cherry juice, beet juice, caffeine and carbohydrates to give me my current personal best of 43:53 in the 2015 WestVanRun 10k race (as you can see, I was pretty happy about it haha – and yes, my bib is one of the most, um, interesting ones I’ve ever worn lol).
Plus I’ve attained my last few marathon PBs because of fat-loading and carb-loading for sure. So while you might not use all 8 ergogenic aids at once, utilizing as many as appropriate is just giving yourself every best chance of performing your absolute best on race day!
To deliciously healthy food and stronger faster running… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN
Tart Cherry Juice is something I drink when I’ve got a long race coming up. I’m always looking for tips for running faster. Thanks for sharing what works for you!
Hello! Very informative piece here thank you!
I had two questions:
1. Quantity. Is it possible to over do the quantity? I’m not talking over dosing but like does the body get used to something and the. It become ineffective? After reading about all the good stuff for say Tart Cherries, I want to take the supplement pills and drink some every day. The problem is I have a running test coming up in under a month and I see I’m supposed to start supplementation 10 days prior. I’d like to do a lot more of tart cherry and Omega 3 not just for my run but life in general., I just don’t want to reduce any ergogenic effect! Same goes for Omega 3.
2. DPA. It’s hard to find an Omega 3 supplement that comes out and says that it has DPA. I see plenty of EPA and DHA but when it comes to the third ingredient most just read “other omegas”. I’ll be getting your recommendation of Nordic Naturals liquid, but I found a Sport one that has a little more DHA and “other” in addition to a relatively same about of EPA (10mgs less at 1450). So my question is should I worry about Not seeing that? I haven’t done much research into Omega 3 to see if DPA is part of the “other”…
Great questions Shawn! So yes, it’s absolutely possible to overdo supplements. So if you were talking drinking tart cherry juice, no, you’d have a hard time overdoing it. Your body would tell you what too much was (more than 1-2 cups a day would be too much). But when it’s a supplement our bodies don’t have that same feedback loop so by overdoing a strong antioxidant like that would probably mean it’d act like any other strong antioxidant, for example taking more than 1,000mg vitamin C daily has been shown to blunt the adaptations normally associated with training (meaning the athlete sees no gains normally associated with training, and sometimes worse, loses fitness). So I wouldn’t recommend supplementing with pills, at least not longer than a week. Just use the tart cherry juice! Or tart cherry juice concentrate. Using the juice or concentrate long term is perfect and will not detract from any ergogenic effect, beginning to use it earlier than 10 days prior is great.
And when it comes to omega-3s, you’re right, it’s EPA and DHA that are always highlighted, because generally most fish oils only contain those 2 essential fatty acids. The essential fatty acid DPA (docospentaenoic acid) is found naturally in sardines, salmon, tuna, mackerel… So any non concentrated fish oil should technically contain everything the fish did, however I wouldn’t expect concentrates to. However, any that list ‘other omega-3s’ refer to omega-3 fatty acids other than EPA and DHA such as DPA and ETA (eicosatetraenoic acid). So it would mean some DPA is there, although exactly how much is uncertain. Nordic Naturals omega-3 fish oil liquid is a good one that includes all three. There’s more EPA than the study says is required but that’s okay. Usually ‘sport’ ones just mean there’s vitamin D added. The one you found sounds good as there’s more DHA per serving, it’s highly likely the other contains DPA. In sum, no, I wouldn’t worry about the DPA, so long as there’s an ‘other omega-3s’ listed on the label.
Good luck in your running test!