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Does a pre-race coffee help? How about a pre-workout supplement?

APR 12, 2023

Minute 1: Are stimulating pre-workout supplements necessary?

Shalane Flanagan was once asked this question by ESPN: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how addicted are you to coffee?” The response from the Olympic medalist and winner of the NYC Marathon: “9.” Shalane and her teammates relied on this legal PED before every race. “Yeah, and maybe it's mental more than anything,” she said, “but I don't know an endurance athlete that doesn't have a cup at least a couple hours before a race.” While that strategy works for millions of runners, it also spawned an entire industry built around pre-workout supplements. Many of these concoctions deliver massive amounts of caffeine that can be dangerous: “Personal trainer, 29, died shortly after drinking pre-workout shake.” In that case, the athlete ignored dosage recommendations and consumed 200X more caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. This new story describes a healthier option: “The Best Stim-Free Preworkout Supplement Is Eating a Damn Snack.” Yes, lots of the ingredients found in pre-workouts have a strong track record. Things like caffeine, beta-alanine, and citrulline can boost your output, blood flow, and endurance. But they’re all secondary factors when compared to your body’s main energy sources, and fitness enthusiasts may be underestimating the power of simply carbing up. Opting for a fruit or starchy snack could be all you need, and that way, you’ll avoid some of the downsides of pre-workouts. They point a few of those risks in this hilarious Instagram Reel (careful, video contains NSFW language). While it’s an exaggeration, there is some truth to it – heart palpitations and jitters are some of the many undesirable side effects you can expect when you scoop a little too much. For more on that, read “Pre-Workout: What Does It Really Do?” Like most aspects of nutrition, the danger is in the dose. Most pre-workouts contain 150 to 300 mg of caffeine per serving, which is still below the FDA daily recommendation, but quite a bit stronger than your average cup of coffee. Experts suggest infrequent, moderate use to avoid negative effects while reaping the performance benefits.

Minute 2: This isn’t your typical Boston Marathon

All signs point to this year’s Boston Marathon being a historic event. As we’ve mentioned in recent issues, the world’s greatest marathoner will be making his Boston debut. Regardless of how confident you are that Eliud Kipchoge will win, don’t expect to profit from your hunch, since “Regulators deny request to allow betting on Boston Marathon.” Online sports betting became legal in Massachusetts last month, but the BAA raised concerns over wagering, believing that there wasn’t enough time to ensure proper protocols are followed. We’re excited to have Kipchoge join the race this year, but saddened to learn that two honored guests are no longer with us. Spencer, the official dog of the Boston Marathon, and his “soulmate” Penny both passed away in February. Year after year, they showed up to cheer on runners, gripping a “Boston Strong” flag by the mouth and waving it proudly. To celebrate their memory, “100+ dogs will honor Boston Marathon duo Spencer and Penny at 'Golden Strong' fundraiser.” Race organizers will be selling “Golden Strong” bandanas to raise funds for the Morris Animal Foundation’s canine cancer research. If you’re running Boston this year and are looking for some last minute tips, you should check out this piece from Run Street: “How Long Is the Boston Marathon? Expert Race Guide and Tips.”

Minute 3: What is a “runner’s high,” really?

Are runners getting high on their own supply? For some of us, the mysterious phenomenon known as a “runner’s high” is a regular occurrence. You can expect a boosted mood and lower sensitivity to pain; exactly what you need to make running enjoyable. Unfortunately for some, the experience is quite rare and subtle, and researchers aren’t completely sure why: “Chasing the runner’s high: the elusive buzz scientists are still figuring out.” For a while, it seemed like a runner’s high was all about endorphins. That’s partly true, but new research suggests that a lot of the mental experience of a runner’s high could be related to the endocannabinoid receptor called CB1. For more on what that is, check out “What to know about endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.” Of course, the degree of intensity which these receptors activate can be influenced by your genes, which some unlucky people have a lower ability to produce and get boosted from endorphins: “Hate exercise? It could be genetic.” A 2014 study done on rats and their offspring found consistency across generations in their like or dislike of running, meaning if the rat parents liked running, the rat kids usually did too. Researchers suspect a similar story for humans, and if you were born without this natural boost for exercise built in, you might benefit from different motivational strategies. Giving yourself a reward or aligning your fitness activity with a social group are two of these “4 Science-Backed Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Out.”

Minute 4: The DIY recovery tools that can save your pelvis and other injures

As runners, we read a lot about knees, IT bands, lower backs and even our shins, but the pelvis is a problem area that doesn’t get as much ink. There are good therapies available for this joint that is critical to running: “Pelvis Pain After Running: How to Prevent and Treat It.” It’s believed that more than 50% of people have a discrepancy in their leg length, and that often leads to a sore pelvis. Abnormal pelvic tilts and tense or underdeveloped muscles can be contributing factors as well, but stretching and strengthening exercises around the hip can make a world of difference. Try out some of these “9 Easy Pelvic Stretches to Instantly Relieve Pelvic Pain at Home.” Having the right kind of recovery tool can give you relief without breaking the bank: “How to Make a $5 Lacrosse Ball Your Favorite Massage Tool.” A lacrosse ball can be used similarly to a foam roller, and it’s highly effective at targeting specific locations in your hips and glutes. That’s just one of “6 Great Foam Roller Alternatives to Relieve Muscle Tension.” Tennis balls and softballs can also be used in a similar fashion as a DIY roller if you’re looking for a more gentle massage.

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • Everybody knows that athletes need protein. You’re going to have a hard time building muscle without it. However, it’s less obvious what kind of protein will work best for you, given your specific goals and conditions. Whether you’re on the cusp of a race, or dealing with a digestion issue, this guide from Outside magazine has you covered: “What Kind of Protein Should Runners Be Eating?

  • When it comes to track workouts, short distance runners shouldn’t have all the fun. Endurance athletes may feel like there’s less work to be done on the track, but if you want to maximize your race pace, you’ve got to spend some time running at or above your target speed. That’s when things like repeats and ladder workouts come in handy, raising your top speed while still developing your aerobic capacity. Take a look at these “5 Great Track Workouts For Distance Runners.”

  • We’re always on the lookout for fun and easy ways to add vegetables into our diet, and to that end, it doesn’t get much better than a salad kit. Forget spending time picking out ingredients and matching it with the perfect dressing; somebody’s done the planning for you. All you’ve got to do is throw it in a bowl and enjoy according to: “I Tried Every Salad Kit at My Trader Joe's – This Was My Favorite.”

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

In Minute 6 of this issue, we watched @lauramcgreen translate some thinly veiled Strava post captions to reveal our running buddies’ real messages. We got quite the laugh as the curtain was pulled back, and we’re happy to see the series has returned. This time, Laura is focusing specifically on race posts, and she really hit the nail on the head. No judgment here! We’ve certainly made our fair share of excuses for a lousy race performance before. Even still, we got a kick out of the clever ways runners can twist a narrative worse than they can twist an ankle.


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