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Running for Life

Running or “footracing” as it used to be called, ranks among the most popular of all the known sporting events. Some people run just to keep their weight down. Others pick up the pace to improve their aerobic capacity, lower blood pressure or reduce heart disease risk. But for the more courageous and daring of heart, running is a function of personal challenge and competition.

Modern competitive running ranges from sprinting, which emphasizes explosive, continuous high speed, to the grueling ultra long-distance and marathon races, requiring great endurance. Running is also a component of many sports, including soccer, lacrosse, basketball and football. As millions of North Americans and countless others across the world have discovered, running is easy, fun and just plain good for you.

Running is Unique

If I had to choose just one form of cardio for fitness from all the variety that exist, it would be running. Walking is great; it’s therapeutic, relaxing and mildly thermogenic. It’s easy on the joints, somewhat meditative and wonderful for pleasant conversation. But walking as an exclusive and single means of activity isn’t intense enough for a single choice, even for seniors.

Scientists once believed that the key to a long life was to minimize stress and activity in order to preserve one’s adaptive stores and organ reserve. Then a panel of experts got together and told the world that short spurts of low to moderate-intensity activity would best promote health and prolong life. That advice was better, but still missed the mark.

Intensity is Essential

A 20-year study on 17,000 Harvard alumni discovered that men who expended at least 1500 calories worth of strenuous, high intensity activity each week had a 25% lower death rate than those who burned less than 150 calories a week. Running at a good clip burns up to 1000 calories per hour, depending on your body weight and speed. It also encourages the release of human growth hormone which keeps us younger and stronger. Walking isn’t intense enough to release hGH and expends only about 20% of the calories (200 per hour).

The 1964 Hammond study reported on more than a million men and women in the U.S. It showed that those who did not exercise had death rates much higher than those who did. And guess who lived the longest with the least incidence of disease…those who trained the hardest and the most consistently. Pauling, Linus PhD, How To Live Longer and Feel Better (1986)

Researchers at the Cooper Institute in Texas have also proven that exercise performed at maximal levels displays the best improvement in health and longevity. Colgan, M. PhD, The New Nutrition (1994) It is the strong that survive, and to maintain strength and function throughout life, you have to challenge yourself, set goals, be disciplined and apply positive pressure.

Running as a Antidepressant

I don’t run to burn calories or modify my weight. I run because it maintains my heart and lung capacity and because it feels good. It’s called the “runner’s high”. Running has a nice mood enhancing effect. In fact some physicians prescribe running as a therapy for patients who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Individuals with depression or low self-esteem find improvement following just a single session or two. Why? It has to do with increased oxygen to the brain and substances called endorphins and enkephalins.

It appears when we run far or long enough, nature likes to fill our gray matter upstairs with special substances called opioids, which not only make us feel good and inhibit pain, but also aid in memory and learning. They’re similar in function and structure to opium, morphine and heroin, except they’re made inside of us in response to running, naturally.

In a recent study, 156 men and women (aged 50 years or older) with major depression were randomly assigned to 1) a program of aerobic exercise 2) antidepressant medication or 3) medication and aerobic exercise. After 16 weeks of treatment, aerobic exercise alone was as effective in reducing depression as the medication. Blumenthal JA, et al. Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression. Arch Intern Med 1999; 159:2349-2356.

Running is Natural

If you study the mechanics of running, and if you actually run yourself, you’ll soon discover it’s an inherent natural function. As two-footed bipeds, Nature has bestowed us with this ability as a function of survival; running enables us to move away from any dangerous or life-threatening situation at maximum speed.

Watch how children play. They run everywhere. In the house, up and down the street, at the park and in the mall. Adults make the mistake of reducing physical activity as they age. Even walking is a chore. That’s why so many of us struggle with obesity, fatigue, depression, anxiety and insomnia. By the way, running helps you sleep more soundly. It’s a good remedy for insomnia and many nervous disorders.

Burn Calories After Running

The neat thing about running is the post-metabolic lift you get. For hours afterward, you oxidize fatty acids and glucose at a higher rate. Following an aerobic workout that combines moderate intensity with sufficient distance (5-10K), your metabolic rate remains elevated for up to 24 hours. Approximately 15 extra calories are burned during recovery for every 100 calories expended during exercise.

Let’s assume you’ve just run a 10K, and based on your bodyweight and running speed, you expended 600 calories to fuel the run. Over the next 24 hours you’ll burn up another 90 calories. If you run three days per week over the next year, that adds up to about 14,000 calories or 4lbs of fat, provided you run in the morning.

Afternoon and evening runs are highly beneficial, and for those of you who are naturally lean or “night owls” running in the evening is probably ideal. But if you’re a “morning lark” and prone to storing excess energy, you should really consider running first thing in the morning before your day begins, or you’ll miss out on most of the post-metabolic fat burn.

The training deficit or energy cost of running is the same regardless of when you run, but the thermogenic effect induced afterwards is reduced by up to 75% if you run in the evening, because your metabolic rate goes way down after you go to bed. Morning exercise also refreshes the mind and is seldom interrupted by employment obligations, family or stress-related post-work fatigue.

Relief from Constipation

Here’s another great reason to run. You can walk, swim, cycle, dance or play hockey for two hours, and still not get the laxative effect afforded by 20 minutes of running. High-intensity running decreases intestinal transit time by as much as thirty (30) percent. That means stool and body toxins, including allergens, pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants, dioxins, organic solvents, recreational drugs, prescription drugs and pathogenic microorganisms move through and out of the intestinal tract more quickly.

Need a major blowout? Drink 500ml of filtered water with ½ - 1tsp. Ester-C powder added. Warm-up with some light stretching, do some Ab work and then head out to the track. You’ll sweat, respire and excrete waste through every biological channel like never before! Aerobic exercise directly enhances the activity of liver detoxification enzymes and the rhythmic action of abdominal, arm and leg muscle contractions summoned in running greatly improves lymphatic flow.

Yes, running can and often does evolve into a wonderful lifelong experience; something you look forward to…fresh air and sunshine; exposure to the elements and the beauty of nature. There’s something majestic about running beside a lake or a stream in a park unimpeded by traffic and noise pollution. And greeting another runner in passing with the nod of your head or a raised hand and a smile invokes a feeling of comfort. Running is joyful for many because it fulfills that sensation of freedom and passion sometimes lacking in the urban jungle. And incidentally, it’s one of the few things in life you can still do for free.

Depending on distance and intensity, running can get you leaner and improve both muscle endurance and muscle strength. Your heart gets stronger and your body’s entire aerobic capacity improves over time. A 5-10km romp through the hills is also guaranteed to change your persona. Anxiety and depression will flow out through your pores along with the rest of your body toxins. Afterwards, your mood is up, your complexion is rosy and you feel more “athletic”. Running energizes your whole being.

Aerobic activity improves blood flow to the heart and makes the endothelial cells that line the walls of the arteries healthier. Healthier cells secrete more nitric oxide (NO) which helps supply more blood to the heart muscle. NO also keeps vascular irritants from sticking to the surface of the artery wall, thus preventing arterial narrowing.

Hydration: The Key To Running Success

Water and its effect on exercise performance is crucial to understand. During strenuous or prolonged physical activity, the water content of all body compartments decreases as a result of fluid loss through sweating and insensible water loss from the lungs, especially at high altitude.

Performance impairment in athletes, soldiers and laborers has been observed at 1% dehydration (600-800ml water loss); a 2% loss of bodyweight via water loss can greatly reduce exercise capacity and greater than 7% can lead to complete body collapse. Cognitive function is also adversely affected by fluid and water loss.

Except under resting conditions, thirst is not a reliable stimulus for fluid replacement. The body’s thirst center is located in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus. When cells in the hypothalamus are stimulated by rising osmotic pressure of extracellular fluid, they produce the sensation of thirst. Voluntary fluid intake in response to thirst replaces only up to 56% of sweat loss, as observed and measured in controlled labour, military & exercise studies. So drinking plenty of filtered water before, during and after running must be a planned, mechanical procedure, like the run itself.

Electrolytes control fluid dynamics within the various water compartments of the body, allowing for a constant, well-regulated exchange of nutrients and waste products. Electrolytes affect nerve transmission, muscle action and gland function. They also maintain the permeability of the plasma membrane in vascular tissue and regulate the acid and base qualities of body fluids and blood.

Electrolytes are lost primarily through sweat and urine. Excessive water and electrolyte loss can impair heat tolerance, reduce exercise performance and induce severe cramps, exhaustion and stroke. Important electrolytes include potassium, magnesium, phosphate, sulfate, bicarbonate, sodium, chloride and hydrogen.

Consuming a 6-8% carbohydrate solution reinforced with electrolytes and Ester-C can extend exercise capacity, improve tolerance to exercise stress and delay muscle fatigue. Serum insulin and blood glucose concentration is maintained for longer periods and blood lactate after 30 minutes of exercise is lower compared to a solution of water only.

The Downside of Running

What about the hazards of running? Isn’t running bad for your knees? Surely we’ve all heard of shin splints, side aches, muscle cramps and diarrhea. And what about the risk of getting hit by a car or mugged in the park? Doesn’t running increase the production of free radicals or worse yet, reduce muscle mass, strength and testosterone?

There’s no doubt that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Every coin has two sides. Over-training and excessive running can and does damage the body. Physical exercise and especially competitive sport, if carried to its extreme or if misapplied (as it commonly is) does involve certain risks. Any athletic event, every sport and all recreational activity carries with it a component of potential damage. The key from the perspective of functional and predictive medicine is to analyze and understand those risks.

Most running related damage is a function of several possible factors, including “excessive use syndromes” due to constant over-reaching, inadequate rest, poor nutrition, dehydration, structural complications related to the hip, knee and ankle joints, exclusion of warm-up and stretching procedure and ignoring the principle of periodization.

Periodization is a training plan, which changes workout intensity, exercise patterns and frequency at regular time intervals. Workouts, based on personal objectives, are planned weeks, months and even a full year in advance. Cross training substitutes running with an alternative form of aerobics every so often, like swimming or cycling. This minimizes risk of injury associated with chronic repetition and forces an improved neural adaptation response.

The “weekend warrior syndrome” describes those who seldom train consistently, and then randomly explode with intensity without adequate conditioning backup. This phenomenon greatly increases one’s risk of injury and death, especially in the over 40-age category. Conditioned athletes adapt to the effects of running and training stress by generating more antioxidant enzymes within the cell matrix of vital organs and muscle, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) catalase and glutathione peroxidase. These enzymes protect the cells against oxidative damage. Powers, S., Exercise training-induced alterations in skeletal muscle antioxidant capacity: a brief review Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 7, pp. 987-997 (1999)

Running with excess bodyfat poses a problem too. Anyone who is obese, meaning men with more than 25% bodyfat, or women with more than 30%, should start with a combination of walking and light resistance training, such as dumbbells and rubber cords, and then work up to running as they gradually get leaner and improve their aerobic capacity. Carbohydrate and fat intake is extremely important. Swimming, dancing, cycling and inline skating pose less strain on the weight bearing joints.

Smart Thinking

Keep this in mind. Don’t run or perform any aerobic activity with the exclusive intent to lose weight (fat). Run to improve pulmonary function and to condition your heart and lungs. You may lose bodyfat (and muscle) as a consequence of increased oxidation and calorie expenditure, but optimum nutrition combined with correct exercise is the real key to ideal weight management, health & wellness.

Exercise and physical activity improves and maintains form and function; nutrition gives you the fuel and energy to move your form and the building blocks to hold the machine together. Many, many obese individuals, who run for the sole objective of losing weight, lose fat and muscle, get injured, then regain the fat (and more) and are seldom successful long term. Optimum nutrition backed by the intelligent use of dietary supplements is the key that unlocks the door to health freedom and long-term exercise compliance.

Reducing adipose storage fat to ideal levels while protecting lean mass is more a function of insulin chemistry and blood sugar stability, glucose intolerance, macronutrient profile (quality & quantity of protein, carbs and fat consumed), thyroid health, digestive and metabolic enzyme patterns, body type, calorie intake, calorie oxidation and utilization, food intolerance & allergies, overall daily activity, resting BMR, thermogenesis and your attitude towards food.

Medical Management

Knee injuries affect about 25 percent of all serious runners. Most of these injuries are due to “Runner’s Knee”. Excessive pronation can exaggerate how the lower leg normally twists inward, causing the kneecap to painfully rub against the long bone of the thigh. Special inserts called orthotics, which look like an arch support, can resolve this problem.

Made from a cast of your feet, orthotics have an acrylic post under the heel which restricts the foot from rolling inward excessively. By preventing the arch from going flat, painful injuries associated with “flat feet” can be resolved. Other structural abnormalities include high arch, unequal length of legs or bowlegs, knock-knees and curvature of the spine. In these cases, it’s wise to consult with a Chiropractor, a Podiatrist or a Sports medical physician with running experience.

A good running shoe can also limit excessive pronation. Make sure the shoe “fits” your foot, be it wide or narrow. Buy two pairs of shoes and alternate their use. The sole should be flexible, and the internal design should consist of a wedge designed for arch support and comfort. Take account of your body mass. Heavier individuals require extra cushioning and support for greater impact.

Achilles tendonitis is most common among runners, especially runners over the age of 30. This painful condition is associated with weak, inflexible or imbalanced muscles, improper training, wearing poor shoes and running when overweight (fat). In a study of 15 people who had severe, long-standing Achilles tendonitis, all were pain free after 12 weeks of calf training using a standing calf machine. Sports Med, 29: 135-146, 2000

Save Your Knees: Glucosamine, Glutamine & Minerals

We are what we eat, absorb, utilize and do not excrete. Each one of us is literally made and held together from the air, water and food we consume daily. In 3 months our entire blood supply is replaced completely. After 6 months we have a new set of muscles, and in one year, 98% of what we were is gone. Out with the old and in with the new. Cells die and must be replaced. To build a disease resistant body that can cope with the demands of high performance requires the very best that nutrition has to offer.

The knee is a large, complex joint supported by ligaments, cartilage, muscle and tendons. Many athletes use or have used glucosamine sulfate (GS) to facilitate repair of connective tissue and collagen after the damage is done. Several studies have shown that GS reduces pain, swelling, and tenderness and actually mends the damage associated with loss of function.

The amino acid glutamine and glucose (blood sugar) combine in the body to make glucosamine. But heavy training depletes glutamine and this depletion can compromise glucosamine production. As we age, our ability to convert glutamine and glucose into glucosamine also declines because of enzyme deficiency. The best way to ensure stable, elastic and impact resilient knees is to combine adequate glutamine (5-10g) with glucosamine (2g) and take a multiple mineral supplement with meals.

Obtaining a full spectrum of essential minerals is very important. Like protein (amino acids) and fat (fatty acids) minerals enter into our composition. They reinforce the delicate fibers of every joint and solidify the structure of our eyes, fingers and toes. Look for calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper, potassium, molybdenum, silicon, iodine, vanadium, manganese and chromium.

Free Radicals & TBARS

Except for sprinting, distance running is pretty much an aerobic event. Free fatty acids and stored glycogen are converted into ATP through a process called oxidative phosphorylation. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the energy currency of the body. During this process, a small percentage of oxygen escapes as it is processed in the mitochondria of a myocyte (muscle fiber) liberating superoxide free radicals, hydroperoxides and hydroxyl free radicals. These reactive oxygen species are the culprits to blame for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), joint inflammation, organ damage and accelerated aging.

Highly trained athletes also have the highest levels of lipid (fat) peroxides or TBARS (thiobarbituric acid reactive substances), indicating a relatively high level of free radical activity. Pentane, a residue of free radicals found in expired air coming from the lungs, doubles after 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. Cooper, K. M.D., Antioxidant Revolution (1994)

Running forces you to consume up to 20 times more oxygen than when you’re sedentary. Cytochrome C gets used up. This forces a depletion of coenzyme Q10. Oxidative damage becomes a real consequence, and combined with ammonia build-up and phosphate leakage, it’s no wonder muscles get sore and weaker.

Every runner is advised to take d-alpha tocopherol (5-10mg per kg/body weight) and ascorbic acid/ascorbate (50-100mg per kg/body weight in 3 divided doses). In addition, beta-carotene, coenzyme Q10, n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), lipoic acid, pantothenic acid, niacin, glutathione and the proanthocyanidins (PCOs) are effective radical scavengers. Together as a family, they form a synergistic combat team, especially when zinc and selenium are covered.

Whey Protein

Free radical induced muscle damage will persist, even when your diet is right. But supplemental antioxidants can protect muscle mitochondria from excessive or uncontrolled free radical damage. Special cysteine dense peptides in whey protein are known to elevate glutathione, which fights against oxidation and detoxifies peroxides. A good bout of aerobic exercise derives up to 10% of its fuel from protein, and more so from the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine. At 23%, whey protein is one of nature’s highest sources of the BCAAs.

As energy reserves in the form of glycogen decrease over time, alanine and glutamine are released and converted into glucose, which is then converted into ATP, the body’s chief energy currency. As exercise intensity and duration increases, more protein is utilized for energy; all the more reason to supplement with glutamine. Make sure you’re consuming adequate high-quality, non-denatured protein to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, or you will lose muscle.

For most runners and endurance athletes, multiply your lean mass in kilograms (total weight minus fat mass) by a factor of 1.5 grams. This represents your total daily protein requirement. Consume between four to six 20-30g partitioned servings of protein from a variety of sources every 2-4 hours to obtain your daily quotient. Remember, with the exception of sprinting, running doesn’t build muscle. It uses muscle and using muscle athletically increases nitrogen excretion.

Running Can Reduce Muscle Mass & Muscle Strength

Oxygen is essential to prolonged aerobic activity, but it’s highly catabolic to muscle. That’s why powerlifters, bodybuilders and strength athletes avoid medium and long distance running. When I train for the Grouse Grind in September each year, which for me takes about 40 minutes, I always lose several pounds of lean mass and up to twenty percent of my bench, squat and deadlift strength. But my endurance and VO2 peak greatly improves, so it’s a tradeoff. For more information on the Grouse Grind Mountain Run, check out www.grousemountain.com.

If you want to build muscle and optimize your heart and lung capacity, then combine weight training with sprinting or walk for 30 continuous minutes on a treadmill after pumping some iron. Long distance running at a pace close to your lactate threshold (approximately 85% of maximum speed) causes a sharp rise in plasma levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress and inflammation. When chronically elevated, it can rip through lean mass like a chainsaw, hacking it to pieces for use as a fuel source. And it’s even worse if you’re stressed out or sleep deprived.

Vitamin C, HMB, phosphatidyl serine (PS), whey peptides, CLA, glutamine, acetyl-l-carnitine, omega-3 fatty acids (flax, fish, wild game & green plants) and melatonin all possess anti-catabolic and cortisol suppression/dampening characteristics. A new study published in the journal Endocrinology shows that even Gingko Biloba can reduce cortisol by inhibiting ACTH, the pituitary hormone that dictates the synthesis of corticosteroid release from the adrenals in response to stress.

HMB: A Valuable Training Aid

HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate) inhibits the breakdown of protein and reduces muscle damage associated with virtually any form of strenuous activity. It contributes to the process of beta-oxidation (fat-burning) by increasing lean tissue and augments the transfer of energy from fatty acids inside individual muscle fibers. When compared to a placebo in university studies, exercise participants not only lost more bodyfat, but gained more strength when their diet included this supplement. If you want to run further faster, reduce your bodyfat and replace it with strong functional muscle.

HMB is a derivative of the branched-chain amino acid leucine and is a natural component of human breast milk and many foods. It helps strengthen the immune system by enhancing white blood cell production and increases aerobic performance by improving peak oxygen consumption and lactate threshold.

Lactate threshold is defined as the highest exercise level attained before blood lactate concentration increases above pre-exercise level. Lactate is a buffered form of lactic acid, which accumulates in muscle during strenuous exercise. Lactic acid consists of one lactate ion and one hydrogen ion, and it’s the hydrogen that acidifies and reduces muscle pH, causing muscle contraction to cease if it builds up too high. Creatine monohydrate (maintenance dose) combined with carnitine and DMG also contributes to the extension of lactate threshold, while chromium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and lipoic acid enhance insulin sensitivity.

HMB also decreases urinary nitrogen excretion and acts as a “muscle buffer” during high-intensity exercise. One theory suggests that HMB may be converted into special membrane linkage molecules called polymers. These polymers bond to the cell membrane, where they influence nitrogen chemistry and the transport of calcium. I highly recommend HMB to all endurance athletes who want to run, cycle or swim faster. Take 40mg per kilogram of lean mass in divided intervals before and after training with or without meals. HMB is water-soluble.

Ribose For Recovery

Ribose is a naturally occurring pentose sugar in the body. It is synthesized from glucose and is used to make riboflavin (B2), nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA & RNA) and nucleosides (compounds important for forming ATP). In short, ribose is an important carbohydrate that affects energy metabolism and tissue synthesis.

Ribose is essential to the metabolic process employed by the heart and skeletal muscles to recycle and replace ATP, ADP and AMP. Taking ribose as a supplement could help save or salvage more of these important energy molecules crucial to performance and the prevention of work-related fatigue.

Case studies attribute the use of ribose as a successful treatment for muscle cramping and the elimination of severe stiffness, pain and muscle soreness experienced by many people in response to exercise.

Ribose has enormous potential for increasing endurance and stamina. 2-5 grams taken before, during and after training can prevent the usual depletion of ATP (10-25%) normally observed in conditioned athletes. Without ribose supplementation full restoration of ATP can take up to three days to occur after a hard workout.


To perform your best you need plenty of motivation, physical power and good recovery. To remain injury free, you must become a good manager of your endocrine (glandular) system and learn to protect your immune and neuromuscular systems from damage. Strive for excellence in technique. Combine aerobic conditioning with resistance training and stretching, and make health your major focus through the art and science of nutrition.