Scientific findings which can aid our running performance emerge by the month, so what did we learn in 2016? Peta Bee reviews the evidence and uncovers some rules to help you improve

LIFT WEIGHTS BEFORE YOU RUN

Weight training after a run could be compromised, according to findings published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research in October.

Male athletes were assessed during strength sessions that were completed after four different aerobic pre-workouts — including an easy 45-minute run, a steady 20-minute run, 5 x 3-minute intervals or 20 minutes steady running up a gradient of 6-9%.

The volunteers were asked to perform three sets of 6-10 repetitions at 70-80% of one repetition-maximum (1RM) of the five-exercise resistance session — which comprised the high pull, squat, bench press, deadlift and push press — after each of the runs. Results showed that they managed as many as 18.6% fewer total repetitions of the exercises compared to when they didn’t run beforehand.

DRINK CHERRY JUICE

In August, a team from Northumbria University showed how sprint speed could be maintained for longer than usual when athletes consumed a concentrated dose of the tart-tasting Montmorency cherry extract.

Of the 16 participants in the trial, half consumed 30ml of cherry concentrate mixed with 100ml of water twice a day — in the morning (at 8am) and evening (6pm) — while the rest of the volunteers took a placebo drink.

They then repeated a shuttle test assessment, with results suggesting the cherry shots produced a lower inflammatory response in the athletes’ muscles, enabling them to keep running at high speed for longer.

REST BETWEEN CIRCUIT SESSIONS

Circuit training is considered a valuable training addition for runners, but overdo it and you could be in trouble.

A study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology looked at whether circuit training on two consecutive days affected the immune function of a group of fit volunteers who had been circuit-training for a minimum of six months before taking part. Dr Ramires Tibana of the Catholic University of Brasilia, the lead author, found the consecutive sessions provoked a strong metabolic response and reduced the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines — proteins produced by white blood cells that act to dampen inflammation.

In short, strength and conditioning sessions should not be performed on consecutive days.

EAT TEFF

A prized Ethiopian staple, this millet-type grain has long been favoured by many of the country’s distance runners for its sweet, molasses flavour.

Ethiopian athletes not only consume teff in the form of a creamy porridge, but as flatbreads called injera.

Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie are fans of the nutrient-packed grain and it’s not hard to see why, given it contains impressive amounts of fibre, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and immune-boosting zinc.

Teff takes the crown for the most calcium of all grains; it offers 123mg per small serving, about the same as cooked spinach. But it is also gluten-free. In 2016 we saw the super-grain become widely available in the form of Teff flour, bread and flakes (tobiateff.co.uk or hollandandbarrett.com).

PERFORM WEIGHTED SQUATS

Runners who perform loaded half-squat jumps as part of their weight training can expect significantly enhanced sprint performances, according to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

For the trial, 12 regional-level track runners and 13 footballers (with an average age of 18) were first tested over 40m sprints using dual-beam light timing gates for accuracy.

Each group then repeated the sprints after both nine minutes of sitting down (control) or two sets of six repetition half-squat jumps. Results showed sprint times were significantly enhanced over both 0–20m and 20-40m in the track and field athletes, but not in the footballers.

GET SPECIALIST ADVICE ABOUT RUNNING SHOES

In July this advice was issued by The College of Podiatry following research involving 2000 UK adults which revealed 19% of people don’t get a proper fitting before buying trainers and 33% bought online, without trying them on at all beforehand.

It partly explains why one in 10 of those questioned had to be treated by their GP for injuries while 4% had to get treatment at hospital and another 4% paid for private treatment.

“We are seeing increasing numbers of people reporting to us with more musculoskeletal problems that could be avoided with the right footwear advice,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, consultant podiatrist at The College of Podiatry.

HAVE A COFFEE BEFORE YOU RUN

In May, Dr Jason Tallis, a researcher into caffeine’s effects at the University of Coventry’s department of biomolecular and sport science, reported on his trials that have shown how caffeine — in the right dose — can produce a 6% improvement in power output during endurance events like marathon running.

It works for both highly trained athletes and complete beginners, he says. For someone who would expect to run a marathon in around four hours, that is the equivalent of slicing almost 15 minutes off their finishing time.

It is astonishing that something so readily available is so potent.

GET YOUR NITRATES

There was plenty of research this year confirming the benefits of beetroot, along with other nitrate-rich vegetables such as kale and Swiss chard.

We learned how a high intake of these healthy veg boosts performance in high-altitude conditions, aids recovery and improves overall performance.

In November, Professor Andrew Jones and his research team at the University of Exeter reported how a 70ml concentrated shot of commercial beetroot juice is all that’s needed to significantly improve sprint and high-intensity intermittent running performance, such as fartlek or track sessions.

That amount provides 400mg of natural dietary nitrate, the active ingredient linked to a multitude of physiological benefits. For the trial, athletes were given a 70ml beetroot shot each day for five days and performed a series of intermittent sprint tests. Results showed significant increase in sprint performance over distances of 5m (by 2.3%); 10m (by 1.6%) and 20m (by 1.2%) after the beetroot shots had been consumed.