By Lindsay MacAdam
For as long as I can remember, I’ve gone through life in a near-constant state of lethargy. Exercise is the only thing that gives me relief, albeit temporarily. I’ve asked medical doctors about it. I’ve seen naturopaths, who have banned me from gluten, dairy, refined sugar and caffeine for months at a time, convinced there’s some sort of food intolerance at play. I’ve taken supplements. I’ve taken breaks from running. I’ve taken vacations. Nothing has helped. But now, with less than six weeks until I tackle the Erie Marathon in hopes of slashing 23 minutes off my personal best time to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon, I’m more motivated than ever to get to the root of this problem. Because it stands to reason that whatever is causing it is also negatively impacting my running.
After attending the “What Is Your Body Telling You When You Run” workshop led by naturopath Liz Mingay at the Runner’s Academy last month, I knew I needed to speak with her one-on-one. A competitive runner with Toronto’s MB Performance racing team, who regularly works with runners, I was optimistic that she could snap me out of my years-long funk—and hopefully without suggesting the marathons are to blame.
Liz is a firm believer in using blood work to develop treatment plans for patients. Before we spoke, she took a look at mine. Two things immediately stood out to her: my vitamin B-12 and ferritin (iron) levels, though technically within the “normal” range, were far the feel-good levels. As she explained, that would have a direct effect on my energy, my recovery and, ultimately, my running. They could also be to blame for my perpetual fatigue. “If you’re running on lower resources than you could be, obviously your potential to get faster and really capitalize on those resources is being hindered,” she explained.
Confident that I can boost my B-12 and ferritin levels quickly enough to have a noticeable impact on my upcoming race, Liz urged me to take action immediately. Since B-12 isn’t absorbed well orally, injections were the way to go. So, I’m going to get one per week until the big day. So far I’ve had three, and though I’m still feeling tired, there’s a noticeable bounce in my step.
Low ferritin, unfortunately, is not as easy to fix, as getting too much can have serious consequences. Since my levels aren’t low enough to be considered anemic, injections aren’t an option. Instead, Liz recommended supplementing with heme iron, the most formal of the mineral—one capsule in the morning and two in the evening, with vitamin C and to stay away from caffeine and dairy. Beyond supplementation, I’ll be getting the majority of my iron from lean animal protein and cooked greens. (Too bad it took me 34 years to find out you need to cook your greens to make the iron and calcium within them accessible.) When consuming red meat, Liz stressed the importance of filling three-quarters of my plate with vegetables to buffer the acidity that red meat creates in the body.
Some more blood work insight: my thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels were a little on the high side, which could also be a contributor. Liz prescribed five selenium-rich Brazil nuts a day as an alternative to supplementation. From a purely nutritional perspective, Liz touched on every runner’s favourite food group: carbohydrates. She said to make sure I’m having a fist-sized serving of them with every meal and snack to replenish the stores that get depleted with high mileage.
Another critical point: take in carbs within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, even if it’s just an electrolyte drink, because this is when we can maximize our glycogen stores. So if you’ve been craving a high-sugar Gatorade or CLIF Bar, this is the time to indulge.
Since runners take on inherent inflammation just from training, Liz recommended at least four servings of fish per week for its anti-inflammatory benefits. To further calm the inflammation, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and sugar for at least a week before the race is strongly encouraged.
My final piece of homework: sleep. Liz suggested seven to eight hours of solid, restorative shut-eye each night. And in case I needed another reason to turn off Netflix and get bed at a decent hour, she reminded me that some believe that the hours of sleep before midnight are the most valuable.