Some ideas just won’t die, even if they’ve been invalidated for decades. Here are some of the more common exercise myths that affect the trail-running community, especially those who are just getting started.
Drink a lot of water while running: Far from necessary, this can be downright dangerous. Hyponatremia, caused by drinking too much water, is a condition brought on by the dilution of important minerals and nutrients in the body. Symptoms include confusion, seizures, nausea, muscle cramps, and even death. Call me crazy, but I don’t see any of these things helping you improve your race time. After researching this topic, I can’t find a single instance of a long-distance runner dying of dehydration, but I can find plenty of examples of runners dying from consuming too much water.
Instead of drinking too much, take small sips when you’re thirsty, and train enough that you get to know your body and what it needs.
Stretching reduces injury: Stretching helps your joints move more, but this isn’t good for runners — at least not if you want to stay injury-free. What is needed by runners, especially trail runners, is stability. So ditch the stretching routine. Instead, do joint-strengthening exercises and always start a run with a good warm-up, which will definitely reduce injuries.
Sports drinks are the best way to rehydrate: Not if they’re full of sugar, chemicals, and dyes. Or even if they aren’t. For shorter runs, water is probably your best bet. On longer runs, where it’s important to replenish electrolytes, you can easily and cheaply make your own natural sports drink by squeezing a lemon or lime into your water bottles along with a pinch of salt. Or if you want the ultimate sports drink made by nature, carry coconut water. It contains everything your body needs, without the harmful side effects of artificial sports drinks.
Eat lots of pasta the night before a big run or race: First of all, you need more time to digest all those carbohydrates, so if you’re going to eat a lot of carbs to fuel up for a race, you should do it about 24h ahead of time. Second, a lot of pasta options include more fat than carbs anyway, and not any good sort of fat. Finally, your body can only store so much energy from carbs in the form of glycogen, so if you’re eating a huge meal of pasta you’re probably taking in more than you can use anyway. Inevitably, the excess will be turned into fat. In addition, most pastas are highly processed.
Instead, get most of your carbs from natural sources like wholesome fruits and vegetables, which come with all sorts of other health-inducing benefits. Listen to your body, give it what it needs, when it needs it, and don’t change what works for you on all your other days the night before a race.
To run faster just run more: Actually, the science is increasingly showing that what many runners need is more rest and recovery. If you’re running more than three days per week and can’t seem to improve, try scaling back to three or even just two days of running per week.
In addition, try attempting more exercises targeting your core and arms — the condition of these parts really does influence the performance of your running. Make sure your whole body is in shape, not just your legs. This balanced approach will help you run better, faster, and safer.
You need to eat meat: I recently read these lines in Fitness Magazine: “Vegetarians often try to get their iron fix through lentils, beans, fortified cereals and tofu. However, you’re still missing protein. Make sure to eat eggs, dairy products, or soy at every meal to get your animal-friendly dose.”
False. Think of the largest land animals, like cows, hippos, rhinos, and elephants. What do they have in common? None of them eat meat. Yet they get plenty of protein. Granted, cow stomachs process plant material differently than do human stomachs, but there are plenty of plant-based sources of protein for endurance athletes, like seeds, legumes, nuts, nut butters, tofu, soy milk, sprouts, whole-grain sprouted breads, nutritional yeast, broccoli, spinach … need I go on? For lots of details on this topic visit NoMeatAthlete.com.
By Joshua Steimle
Joshua is the CEO of MWI (mwi.hk), a digital marketing agency, and a writer for various business publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur. He lives and runs in Hong Kong. You can contact him @joshsteimle or firstname.lastname@example.org.