Running isn’t just about hitting the park, road or track and pounding out the miles, there’s plenty you need to do outside of your runs too. In order to make the most of your workouts, train as hard as you can and reap the rewards, you need to live a healthy lifestyle and incorporate plenty of good habits.

With the right approach you can develop a really sound running plan, which includes a combination of different workouts that help you develop week on week. A huge part of that development is having a plan beyond the running though – a plan that’ll give you the best chance of achieving your goals and getting into healthy habits. The healthier those habits are the more enjoyable the routine will be and the more likely that your motivation will stay high. Here you’ll find six healthy habits that will help your running.

#1 – Stay hydrated

Hydration, like healthy eating, is a huge part of any effective routine. In order to make the most of each workout you need to drink plenty of water beforehand, however this needs to be done gradually as too much too soon can weigh heavy on your body.

Post run it’s all about rehydrating. You’ll want to gulp as much down as you can but again, you need to hydrate gradually – your stomach really won’t thank you if you chug a gallon of water as soon as you stop. An energy drink is a good idea post run to replace lost electrolytes, minerals and sodium.

It’s not just about taking on fluids before, during and after your run though, it’s about keeping hydrated on a daily basis. If you don’t you could end up feeling fatigued, amongst other effects, and this will certainly detract from performance. In addition your muscles can be more prone to cramp and injury when you’re dehydrated, and your general energy levels certainly won’t be as high.

#2 – Eat well all the time

A key part of any fitness regime is to eat healthily all the time. That means getting into the habit of never skipping breakfast, eating nutrient-dense foods and avoiding certain foods. Poor nutrition is going to prevent you from achieving your running goals, as you simply won’t have the right fuel to complete your workouts.

There’s an old adage that says ‘you can’t out train a bad diet’, and that is certainly true when it comes to running. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg, lean protein sources, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates is the template for healthy eating and it’s all about balance.

For example, in addition to eating the good stuff, there are a number of high cholesterol foods to avoid, including fatty meats, sugary cakes and full fat butter and cheese. That’s not to say you can never indulge, just that a healthy diet is going to pay dividends when it comes to getting the most from your running.

In contrast there are a number of foods that are the perfect healthy companion to your running routine, including:

  • Wholegrains: quinoa, rice and whole wheat pasta are great sources of carbohydrate. Combined with a lean protein pre run this can help increase glycogen levels, which boost energy.
  • Oily fish: fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are high in Omega 3s and contain anti-inflammatory properties. Perfect for your hard working muscles and joints.
  • Lean beef: in addition to being high in protein lean beef is also iron rich, which is important for runners too.

#3 – Fuel up for your run

Eating before you start any run is vital – the last thing you want to do is not be able to complete it because you don’t have enough energy. Ideally you’d eat a pre-run meal two to three hours beforehand, which would contain a balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fat.

Again, you should avoid high cholesterol foods and anything that’s going to sit heavily in your stomach. If you’re running for less than an hour, a healthy snack like a piece of fruit, an energy bar or crackers can do the job.

The key is to eat something that’s going to give you the right fuel for the right run. Here are some examples of what to eat and what not to eat before your run:

  • Good foods: oats with bananas and skimmed milk, plain Greek yoghurt with muesli, bagel with peanut butter, tortilla wrap with salad and your choice of protein.
  • Foods to avoid pre-run: spicy foods, fatty foods, anything with alcohol in it, foods that are very high in fibre. All of the above can cause stomach sensitivity, and that’s not good when you’re running.

#4 – Recover the right way

After a run you will no doubt have sweated a fair amount, so the first priority is to get yourself rehydrated. Whether that’s with water or an electrolyte drink, you should take it as soon as you can and drink slowly – as we’ve said, your stomach won’t take kindly to you gulping it down the minute you stop. It’s not just enough to take fluids on board though, you need to give your body the recovery fuel it needs in the form of food too.

When it comes to choosing what to eat, a combination of simple carbohydrates and a small amount of protein within 30 minutes of stopping is ideal. That could be in the form of a shake if you can’t handle whole foods, but steer clear of simply relying on energy drinks, as they won’t give you everything you need to begin the recovery process.

The following foods are great post run:

  • A yoghurt based smoothie: pack it with berries for a hit of antioxidants.
  • Toast and peanut or almond butter: a great blend of carbs, healthy fats and protein.
  • Protein shake with a handful of nuts: another well balanced post workout option.

#5 – Incorporate resistance training into your routine

For some, the thought of picking up a weight is a little intimidating, but once it becomes the norm that goes away quickly. Again it’s all about having a plan, and if you’re not sure what to do all good gyms have trainers who will be able to put a programme together for you.

Now, why is resistance training so important?

  • Improved running efficiency: strengthening your legs will not only help you increase muscular endurance and lengthen runs, it’ll also make you run quicker too. Core and upper body work will also help you be more stable on your runs – improving your ability to drive your arms, stay tall and power through your sessions.
  • Lower injury risk: as your body strengthens it becomes more stable, which provides support to injury prone joints and potentially weak areas.
  • Provide body balance: your legs obviously take on the bulk of the work when you’re running, so training your entire body provides you with a more balanced physique.
  • Burn extra calories: you’ll be burning plenty of calories running and can ramp that up by strength training on the days in between. Perfect if fat loss is your goal.

#6 – Get enough rest

Rest is often overlooked as being a key part of fitness routines, but not by those in the know. It’s just as important as your dietary and exercise habits, and if you don’t get enough of it you won’t reach your full potential – however well you live in between runs.

Every time we run, micro tears occur in the muscle as part of the building process, and in order to maximise development you need to give them time to repair. Everyone’s different, but the following tips will really help you get the right rest:

  • Don’t run hard on back-to-back days: whether you’ve pounded out a speed run or trotted out plenty of miles, your legs will certainly need a break the next day.
  • Avoid training legs the day before or after a hard run: strengthening with resistance training is undoubtedly a good thing, but a leg day either side of a hard run will detract from performance.
  • Get plenty of sleep: you’re going to need it! Also, your body does its best restorative work whilst you’re at complete peace, so getting plenty of shuteye is vital.

You can find more information about sleep and health here. As you can see, there’s so much more to running than just lacing up your shoes and getting some mileage in your legs. Without living a healthy lifestyle and doing the right things to maximise your performance you’ll find it extremely difficult to get the most from your runs, achieve your goals and fulfil your potential. Whilst there’s a lot to do, each aspect is easy to incorporate into your life, and once you’ve got a routine they’ll become automatic. Make these six healthy habits part of your plan and look forward to running your best!