Why does running matter in the military?
One of the most misunderstood areas of fitness seems to be running, and although the exercise itself is simple, some of fundamental concepts of effective training aren’t widely known or understood.
Why do we care about running? The military cares about it and it’s frequently included as part of our PT. And unlike other areas of fitness, your ability to run is very evident. You’re either fast or you’re not, and that’s defined by the order or the time in which you can finish a run. While you may be able to avoid detection and fly under the radar with poor fitness in other areas, it’s hard to do the same when it comes to running. Wanting to perform better at PT is a great reason to get better at running. As we all know, Soldiers who do well at PT are often treated better. You might also want to improve your running to prepare for something down the road, whether that’s a challenging military school, a half or full marathon, or just wanting to get more fit and healthy.
Will you need to run a 2-mile or 5-mile run during a combat operation? Probably not. We train for those running events because they are part of Army testing. They are part of Army testing because the training for those events, which is the act of running, helps to develop our cardiovascular endurance. Running also helps increase our VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. With a greater VO2 max, your body can more efficiently use oxygen to generate energy within that moment of exercise. For any athlete, the endurance to keep going matters. This has clear implications in a tactical environment. So, while running itself may not be the most important thing, the type of fitness it develops is quite relevant.
Should I lose weight to get better at running?
A frequently asked question we receive is how to get better at running. We’re proud to have recently finished our new Running Advanced guide, which gives you the concepts behind effective run training, recovery, and nutrition. We dove into the effective concepts already used by top American Division 1 college programs. The Army way of running doesn’t work.
An important topic within this guide is nutrition. Specifically, with how much you weigh. In addition to starting some great run training, you may also benefit from losing weight. Not everyone needs to lose weight to get better at running. And this isn’t something that should be done in a drastic manner. But if you’re very heavy, that extra weight may be holding you back from being the best runner you can. This blog will break down this topic in further detail.
Weight Loss and Training:
Fat, also known as adipose tissue, plays an important role in human health. It allows us to store excess energy that we can fall back on in periods of starvation. It insulates and protects vital organs. Fat releases hormones which affect metabolism and appetite. Fat is required, especially for women, for optimal reproductive function. Overall, fat is good and necessary. However, carrying too much (or too little) can negatively affect health and performance
Carrying excess body fat can make it more difficult to meet performance standards especially in power/weight activities such as running. While fat is important for insulation, excess body fat can make it difficult to dissipate heat, particularly in hot and humid environments. It may be beneficial for some athletes to lose excess body fat in order to improve their athletic performance.
So, what is the right amount of body fat? This number is very individual. While one person may perform well at 10% body fat, another may perform at their best with significantly higher bodyfat stores. Body weight and body fat is an outcome of your genetics, environment, diet, activity, and lifestyle. We encourage you to have a discussion with your on-base medical team and / or with your H2F providers. They can help you figure out what weight and body fat percentage may be right for you.
If your medical team has determined that weight loss would be useful for you, here are some things to focus on:
Aim For Small to Moderate Calorie Deficits:
Aim for a 300-500 calorie deficit per day. This would result in ½ lb to 1lb loss per week. Large calorie deficits are likely to leave you feeling on empty, without enough energy to complete training, and increase your risk of injury. Large calorie deficits can also cause sleep disturbances, weaken your immune system, and cause hormone and mood disruptions.
Eat Enough Protein:
When people lose weight, they often unintentionally lose both fat and muscle mass. Eating enough protein will help to reduce muscle mass losses. A good estimate is to consume 0.7-1.4 grams of protein per pound body weight each day.
Increase Your Fruit and Vegetable Intake:
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense foods that don’t contain many calories. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake will help keep you fuller, provide necessary vitamins and minerals, and provide less calories than other food options.
Just like with training, you’ll see the best results from being consistent over time. Small changes that you can stick to will produce better results than drastic cuts you can only stick to for a week.
Get Enough Sleep:
Rest is important, especially when trying to lose weight. Sleep deprivation can increase hunger hormones and diminish feelings of fullness after eating. Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. The first step towards improvements begin with recognizing how much sleep you’re actually getting. From there, you can work on making a slightly earlier bedtime. This video discusses sleep in more detail.
Decrease Alcohol Intake:
While having a few beers after work can be relaxing, other than calories, alcohol doesn't provide much nutritional value. Alcohol consumption can also impair sleep quality, delaying recovery from exercise. Alcohol can also affect your judgement when it comes to food choices. Cutting back can be beneficial when trying to lose weight.
We aren’t here to tell you not to drink. We’re here to make you aware that generally, alcohol isn’t productive with increasing your fitness.
Manage your stress levels:
High stress levels can lead to an increase in the hormone, cortisol. High cortisol levels can increase food cravings and increase fat storage. Find activities that you enjoy to help manage stress.
Watch for warning signs:
Doing all your training but not seeing any gains? Getting injured more often? Feeling irritable? Are you too tired to do the things you normally enjoy? These may be signs that your calorie deficit is too large, and you’ll need to up your food intake.
It’s important to remember that weight is just one aspect of performance. Losing weight alone doesn’t not guarantee faster run times. A 150 pound athlete is not guaranteed to be faster runner than a 180 pound athlete who has put in more training and preparation. Focus on all the aspects that lead to good performance such as nailing your day-to-day workouts, strength training, running form, taking rest days, mental toughness, daily nutrition, or pre-run food choices. Being able to nail these details over the long term will lead you to your ideal weight.
Have questions about running improvements or anything else? You can always reach out to the Blue / Green Training team on Instagram, or within our Discord community. Additionally, be sure to start running with the Blue / Green Run Club on Strava.
This article was written by Megan Foley, the Blue / Green Performance Dietitian. She has been a professional triathlete for more than 8 years. In addition to representing the United States on the world stage, Megan is a performance dietitian, helping athletes unlock their full potential through effective nutrition. With a Master’s Degree in Sports Nutrition and first-hand experience in the highest level of endurance athletics, Megan is ready to enable and elevate B/G athletes through effective nutrition.
Blue / Green Training designs comprehensive fitness guides for military athletes. Our goal is to enable success and capture potential. Our guides include carefully designed fitness programming and explanations to help our athletes understand the concepts behind it all - something we haven't seen anywhere else. We inspire confidence in our athletes by teaching them effective physical training so they can continue their progress after our programming ends. We guarantee you'll get value from our material.
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