Running is good for you. According to the American Heart Association, aerobic activity like running is not only good for losing weight but is also beneficial in preventing “serious health conditions (4).”
Running can help develop muscles, improve your lung capacity and strengthen your heart. It also comes with mood-boosting benefits.Yet for some runners the endorphin rush is just not enough; they want to see tangible results in their running endurance.
You may want to improve your endurance to compete in a full or half marathon, to beat your previous best time in the 10K, or simply get fit and shed some pounds. Whatever your reasons for wanting to improve running endurance, it is possible with focus and determination.
Here are eight tips on how to increase running endurance:
1. Start Slower Than You Think
Even if you feel ready to push your body to its limit, it’s always a good idea to go slow. Believe it or not, by starting slower, you’ll build more endurance.
Starting slow is a good idea because it:
Allows Your Body To Gradually Get Used To The Increased Physical Activity
If you push your body hard from day one, it’s going to likely have a major meltdown. It could be hurting like you never imagined, get exhausted before you know it, or possibly even giving out. You’ve probably seen people do this before – they jump into exercise all gung-ho only to quit a few weeks later.
Gives You A Chance To Work Out Different Muscles
It’s always a good idea to alternate the muscles you use while running. The thing is, iIf you do the same movement over and over again, your body will make compromises and then your efforts will not be as effective.
If you push yourself to the limit from day one, you run the risk of injury due to the overuse of certain muscles (12). Your body is smart – if you give it time, it will adapt to what you do overtime, only if you allow it
Starting slow and making incremental gains in your training program gives you something to look forward to and to work towards.
If you do the same thing day in and day out, it can get very boring. You could end up hating exercise because it becomes a chore instead of something fun and refreshing.
2. Work On Your Posture
Posture is key in anything we do – from running, walking, and even sitting down! A good understanding of good posture means your body will be able to function easily and without pain.
When we have bad posture, we put our bodies under unnecessary stress and tension. This could lead to muscle spasms and pulls or degenerative diseases like arthritis (8).
Furthermore, you can hardly run faster or longer when you have bad posture. Practice good posture by:
Keeping Your Head Up And Facing Forward
This will help straighten your spine, improve breathing and prevent you from tripping over things.
Keep Your Back Straight And In A Neutral Position While Running
If you lean or bend too far forward or backward, it puts a strain on your back and takes away from the movements in your arms and legs.
Keep Your Stomach Muscles Engaged While Running To Prevent Hyperextending Backward
This position prevents an excessive curvature of the lower back, which could lead to injury or damage to the vertebrae.
Land On The Midfoot Instead Of The Heel
Landing on your heel is a result of bad posture. Landing on the midfoot helps prevent injuries because it distributes pressure evenly throughout the foot and ankle, as opposed to putting too much stress on them at once (6).
To improve running endurance, you’ll have to work on your posture on and off the track. While off the track, make sure to practice good posture while standing, sitting, and walking.
3. Include Strength Training In Your Workouts
Many people think that strength training and running are incompatible with each other. The truth is, they can go together very well if you do it correctly.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, performing strength training exercises at least 2 to 3 days a week can help improve one’s running economy (15).
Strength training helps to (11):
Develop Strong Muscles In The Legs, Hips, Glutes, And Core
These are the most important muscle groups when it comes to running because they stabilize your body, absorb shock and provide you with propulsion.
Reduce Your Chances Of Getting Injured
Strong muscles can improve running form by helping you maintain posture and run more efficiently.
So, which strength training workouts can you do? This depends on your experience and fitness levels. Generally, you should aim to perform 2 to 3 sets of compound exercises with 8 to 12 repetitions of each.
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4. Be Consistent
Increasing endurance doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to be consistent when doing cardiovascular exercise if you want to see results.
The key is not in how often you work out, but in how consistently you do it. Working out too much can be counterproductive and lead to injury or overtraining (7).
A good rule of thumb is: start slow and work your way up. Don’t rush things, especially if you’re just starting.
Don’t try to go from zero to 60 in a few days because chances are your body won’t be ready for that kind of intensity.
Remember that consistency is everything when it comes to increasing running endurance. You’ll get better results if you work out regularly as opposed to waiting a long time before doing your next session.
5. Try Incline Workouts
This is an effective way of challenging yourself to run faster and work your way up from level one.
When you run against the resistance of an incline, your muscles and joints work together harder than when running on flat ground.
Training on hills is an even better way of building muscle strength, burning fat, and increasing cardiovascular capacity.
Hills are inclines — they develop leg muscles and tendons which means they also help you run faster and longer.
So, how fast should you go when running hills? The same pace as when running on flat ground would be a good start. As your endurance increases, so will the speed at which you run up the hill.
6. Sprint Interval Training
Endurance is not only about how long you can stay on the track but also how fast you can go. Sprint interval training is a type of interval training that involves alternating between sprinting and recovery.
Sprint interval training helps improve running endurance by improving your cardiovascular capacity, coordination, and strength (13).
It also improves speed and efficiency of movement as well as enhances your ability to recover quickly after high-intensity exercise.
If you’re new to the world of speed and sprinting, then start by simply running as fast as you can for 100 meters, walking back to your starting point, and repeating the process eight to 12 times.
Eventually, you can perform sprints at 100 percent effort, also known as all-out sprints. Take longer rest periods while doing all-out sprints to help with recovery and prepare you to go all out again.
7. Get Proper Nutrition
Think of food as fuel for optimal physical performance. What you eat before and after working out plays a big role in improving endurance. Your diet, in general, can also affect how well you run.
What To Eat Before Your Run
If you want to improve your running endurance, then it’s recommended that you get around 70 percent of your daily calories from unprocessed carbohydrates such as fruits and veggies.
This is especially important if you’re doing longer training sessions because carbs help with energy production and carbohydrate loading can increase muscle glycogen stores and help stave off fatigue (17).
On the other hand, eating too much protein and fat could be counterproductive if you’re not exercising intensely because these nutrients require a lot of energy to digest and process which can lead to fatigue.
At least 1-2 hours before you start, you should have a small snack with some fast-digesting carbohydrates.
Some ideal pre-run snack ideas are:
- PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Yogurt with an apple and granola
- Greek yogurt with blueberries and almonds
- Egg and cheese on a whole-wheat English muffin
- Apple, peanut butter or almond butter, and oatmeal
Remember that you don’t need to eat a lot — just enough to give you some energy before embarking on your run.
What To Eat After Your Workout
After you’ve completed your workout, the most important thing is to refuel so that your body can recover from exercise and get ready for the next day’s training session.
Your body is most responsive to carbs after a run because this is when your muscles are craving energy.
To replenish muscle glycogen stores, eat foods that are high in carbohydrates immediately after your run. Include protein-rich food in your post-workout meal because it helps with muscle repair and provides amino acids for your body to make new proteins (2).
Some ideal post-workout snacks include:
- Banana with almond butter
- Turkey or chicken sandwich on whole-wheat bread
- Peanut butter on toast with a glass of milk
- Rice bowl with beans, veggies, and cheese
- Whole wheat pancake with berries
- Protein shake with banana
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How Should A Runner’s Diet Look Like
Nutrient-timing aside, your diet as a whole should be tailored towards building endurance. Bear in mind that how fast or long you can run depends on your stamina, strength, and fitness level.
Here are some diet tips worth considering:
Eat Whole Foods Instead Of Processed Ones
Whole foods are rich in nutrients and contain naturally occurring fiber that’s good for digestion. On the other hand, processed foods are generally low in nutritional value and contain refined sugars that spike the blood sugar level, which leads to fatigue (10).
Carefully Select Your Beverages
Your hydration needs depend on many factors such as the temperature, your body size, and how intensely you’re working out.
If your workouts are long enough to deplete your glycogen stores, then it’s best to replace lost fluids with water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes (9).
When it comes to sports drinks, you might want to swap them out for natural, electrolyte-rich foods drinks such as coconut water for a healthier alternative.
Reduce Salt Intake
Too much salt in your diet makes you retain water, which can lead to dehydration when exercising (3). To avoid this from happening, eat foods rich in potassium such as bananas and potatoes because they have low sodium but high amounts of electrolytes that prevent muscle cramping.
Up Your Protein Intake
Muscle loss is common among people who run a significant amount of time every week.
One way to counter muscle loss is to consume sufficient amounts of protein which builds new muscles and maintains existing ones (5).
If your goal is weight loss, then you might want to incorporate low-fat dairy products such as milk and Greek yogurt into your diet. These products are high in protein but lower in calories.
Other Sources of Protein Include Fish, Beans, Nuts, and Poultry.
Stay Away From Unhealthy Fats Unless Necessary
Trans fats are types of unsaturated fatty acids that clog your arteries. They tend to be solid at room temperature which means they’re common in fast foods.
Although research is still inconclusive, a few studies say that trans fats might affect how well your body uses oxygen during exercise.
To avoid consuming unhealthy fats, you might want to limit your intake of fast foods and processed foods because they contain high amounts of partially hydrogenated oils which contain trans fatty acids.
8. Take Rest Days As Seriously As You Take Training Days
The importance of rest days cannot be stressed enough because it allows your muscles to recover from the stress of training (1).
If you don’t get adequate rest, you’ll feel tired which leads to poor performance during workouts and injuries.
Furthermore, when you don’t get enough sleep at night, your immune system becomes compromised making you more susceptible to colds and the flu (14).
Ideally, you should be taking at least 1 rest day a week, even while training to improve endurance.
7-8 hours of sleep at night is the recommended amount of sleep for runners. To sleep better each night, you might want to take a warm bath before hitting the hay, meditate, and have consistent sleep and wake times.
The Bottom Line
Improving running endurance is possible through proper nutrition, rest, and training. That said, if you want to achieve success as a runner, then it’s best to look at the big picture.
Maintaining good health is more than just running – it’s about taking care of your physical and mental well-being on all levels including exercise, nutrition, sleep, and mental wellness.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 8 Reasons to Take a Rest Day (2018, acefitness.org)
- Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption (2018, mdpi.com)
- Acute Effects of Sodium Ingestion on Thirst and Cardiovascular Function (2010, journals.lww.com)
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids (2018, heart.org)
- Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit (2019, mdpi.com)
- Is changing footstrike pattern beneficial to runners? – ScienceDirect (2017. sciencedirect.com)
- Overtraining Syndrome (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Postural awareness and its relation to pain: validation of an innovative instrument measuring awareness of body posture in patients with chronic pain | BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders | Full Text (2018, biomedcentral.com)
- Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports (2019, mdpi.com)
- Refined Sugar – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
- Resistance Training is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health (2012, journals.lww.com)
- Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature (1992, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes (2018, journals.lww.com)
- Sleep and immune function | SpringerLink (2011, link.springer.com)
- Strength Training in Female Distance Runners: Impact on Running Economy (1997, researchgate.net)
- The effects of incline and level-grade high-intensity interval treadmill training on running economy and muscle power in well-trained distance runners (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)