Facebook Twitter Instagram
Log in

Month: November 2016

Energy Availability

Posted on November 18th, 2016 by

We all have experienced once in a while a poor training run. Running through tiredness, suffering from low energy levels and after a few minutes into the run we would have wished to have opted rather for a rest day. For those of you preparing for a marathon and doing their long runs, you may have hit the wall and experienced what it means to run low on energy. You are wondering why this is happening to you. On other training runs, we feel great, firing on all cylinders and everything feels relaxed. Energy levels play a vital role and determine the quality of our training runs. In this week’s Hare Brains blog, we want to explore what drives our energy availability and highlight important considerations.

So far I have written a lot about the specifics of endurance training and provided relevant information for the winter training plan. The training schedule explains the types of runs, distances, duration, pace and intensity. When we put a training plan together, we assume, runners have infinite amounts of energy available. We are confident that we always manage to complete the running session as scheduled. Common belief is, for anything longer than 1 hour we don’t need to fuel. Hydration and nutrition are more an aftermath.

Nutrition for distance runners is highly relevant if we want to compete at our best. For a powerful aerobic engine to produce the maximum energy output, what goes into the engine, high-performance fuel is vital. When immersed in running, nutrition plays a second role. Without adequate fuelling, we cannot perform and sustain prolonged periods of training.

In the weight-sensitive sport of running, we are conscious about our physical appearance and weight. After all the hard training, we want to maintain an ideal weight and get anxious about putting on more weight. If we put too much emphasis on trying to control weight beyond healthy levels that it affects our eating patterns, then it can have a detrimental effect impacting performance.

A well-balanced diet is the foundation of healthy and smart training. However, those new to structured training face a problem regarding how much fuelling is required to sustain the training week, month and entire season. Important considerations, which need to be factored into the training regime.

Endurance runners often ask, what should I eat before, during and after a run? While the intent of this blog is not a discussion on the latest diet trends (high carb/low fat or high fat/low carb), we want to highlight the importance of managing energy availability (irrespective of a particular diet).

For the body to function, we need to meet the minimal energy requirements for its organs to work. If we do not do that, or if we try to fast, inner organs will not receive the minimum amount of energy, which can have severe health implications.

Energy Availability (EA)

Energy needs are highly individual. No two runners are the same. Energy requirements vary according to body size, the energy cost of training (volume, frequency, and intensity of workouts) and growth or changes in body physique. For example, a young athlete experiencing maximum growth spur requires different amounts of energy in comparison to a well-conditioned master runner. Those running 80 miles per week have a significantly higher energy demands compared to those training 40 miles per week.

The term ‘Energy Availability’ (EA) has been used by exercise physiologist to reflect the specifics demand of energy requirements for sport. When not taking part in sport, we expend less energy compared to anyone who takes up sports for a couple of hours per week. The term EA takes this into consideration. EA  refers to the amount of energy left over and available for your body’s functions after the energy expended for training is subtracted from the energy you take in from food.

A balanced EA is essential for cells to function, muscles to repair, maintain body temperature and keep the immune system intact. EA is a vital input to the body’s physiological systems.

Energy Availability (EA) is calculated based on energy intake (EI) minus exercise energy expenditure (EEE). As a guideline, healthy athletes have 45 kcal/kg FFM (Fat-free Mass). Maintaining a normal resting metabolic rate requires 30 kcals/kg FFM. EA lower than 30 kcal/kg FFM is considered alarming. Similar to a scale, EA illustrates a balance between EI and EEE. If EEE is very high and EI is low, then EA is out of balance and vice versa.

EA and energy balance are mixed and used interchangeably. However, both concepts are not related. Energy Balance (EB) consists of Energy Intake (EI) minus Total Energy Expenditure (TEE), i.e. beyond energy expenditure beyond exercise. EB is rather an output from the body’s physiological systems. It is less significant for athletes to maintain EB.

Important to keep in mind is that body weight is not an accurate reflection of energy availability. While body weight can be at a healthy level, EA can be out of balance. When the body is not functioning at full capacity, the body preserves weight and decreases the resting metabolic rate to maintain the body’s function.

What are the causes for low Energy Availability?

There are some reasons which can contribute to low energy availability. Low energy availability can be caused unintentional or intentional.

Unintentional, in the event an athlete starts to build up weekly mileage as part of a marathon preparation. When we double weekly mileage from 25 miles per week to 50 miles per week without adjusting energy intake, then EA is declining. The runner has a lack of awareness of their increased exercise energy expenditure, which results in weight loss and not eating enough.

Intentional, runners are trying to reduce their weight and reducing their energy intake too far. Reducing energy intake too far and too rapidly. This results in a slow metabolism and weight loss start to plateau. Additional reduction to unhealthy levels would be required to promote further weight loss, which total energy expenditure and performance in a negative manner.

Psychological reasons can cause Low energy availability. Eating disorders and disordered eating, which are present in athletics and many other endurance sports. In the event eating patterns are affected, runners should seek professional and specialist help.

Case Study 1 – Athlete, trains 3x – 4x / Week

Let’s look at an example of a typical club runner, training three to four times per week. A 50 kg athlete with 10% body fat running for up to 1 hour per day, would require a minimum energy intake 2250 kcal. The amount of body fat corresponds to 5kg (10%), which is subtracted from the bodyweight, resulting in 45 kg lean body mass (LBM). Applying the EA formula, energy availability would be 2250 kcal – 1000 kcal, 1250 kcal. A healthy individual requires 45 kcal per kg (lean) body weight, hence 28 kcal per kg lean body mass. In this case, the athlete is below a healthy level of 45 kcal/kg and low on energy availability. This means the athletes dietary energy intake is insufficient to support the energy expenditure required by the body to support healthy daily living after the cost of exercise has been taken into account.

If the runner were 10 kg more, with the same amount of body fat, the energy intake would be 3250 kcal, resulting in 42 kcal/kg LBM which is a healthy level of energy availability.

As distance runners, our energy demands are higher. We need to make sure we adjust our energy intake.

Case Study 2 – Ultra Runner

One of my athletes has completed the 84 mile Druids Challenge, a multi-stage race of 3 marathons on three consecutive days. On average, based on Fitbit data, the athletes Exercise Energy Expenditure (EEE) was 4500 kcal / day.

As an ultrarunner, running approx. 10 minutes per mile pace, energy is provided by approx. 50% carbohydrates/muscle glycogen and 50% body fat. Like for any marathon, it is important to load up carbohydrates before the race to ensure muscle glycogen stores are fully charged up.  After each marathon, the recovery process begins, followed by replenishing depleted muscle glycogen stores.

What would be the athlete’s Energy Availability (EA)? Let’s assume a 70kg ultra runner with 15% body fat (10.5 kg), equates to 59.5 kg lean body mass (LBM). As stated above EEE is 4500 kcal / day during the competition with the aim to maintain a healthy EA of 45 kcal / kg.

59.5 kg x 45 kcal/kg + 4,500 kcal = 7,177.5 kcal = EI

During a multi-stage ultra-event, energy intake of 7,177.5 kcal is required to maintain healthy levels of energy availability. A lot of food to take in to maintain a healthy EA. EI needs to be carefully dosed to avoid GI distress.

However, the EI contains all energy intake during the race too. Let’s assume our ultrarunner used energy gels during the race. For example, a Powerbar Performance Energy Gel provides 110 calories. Taking on 2 Energy Gels every 30 minutes, would provide 220 calories / hour (1,100 kcals during the race). We know from marathon training we can only consume a limited amount of carbohydrates within 1 hour. Approx. 20% of the Exercise Energy Expenditure / hour, 180 kcals / hour of carbohydrates, consumed through energy gels. Still, our ultrarunner needs to replenish a minimum of 6,000 kcals after the race.

If the athlete does not follow a strict fuelling protocol, it will be only a matter of time until muscle glycogen stores get depleted, forcing the runner to slow down and impacting the recovery process.

What effect does low Energy Availability have?

Chronic low energy Availability can have a severe health implications. In the past, chronic low energy availability was linked to the Female Athlete Triad. The Female Athlete Triad is concerned with the inter-dependency between energy availability, lack of menstrual cycle and bone mineral density. The triad moves along a spectrum from optimal health to pathology. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has revised, updated and broadened the concept of the Female Athlete Triad and coined a new term ‘Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport’ (RED-S). RED-S refers to impaired physiological functioning caused by relative energy deficiency including, but not limited to metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis (muscle repair) and cardiovascular health. RED-S highlights the underpinning issue of the energy deficiency and put energy deficiency in the context of performance.

RED-S applies to men as well as women. RED-S describes a situation when athletes are not taking on enough energy for growth, repair and their training needs. However, RED-S equally applies to non-athletes too, everyday people not taking on enough energy.

Relative energy deficiency in sport affects almost all body systems. The immune system, menstrual cycle, bone density, metabolism cardiovascular, digestive system, etc. Psychologically, energy deficiency can impact psychological system in both ways, as a result of low energy or directly from eating disorders.

Despite the physiological and psychological body functions, RED-S impacts performance. Endurance levels drop, the risk of injuries (stress fractures), lack of response to training, anxiety, depression and lower muscle glycogen stores are performance related consequences of RED-S.

Managing Energy Availability Levels

Most of us have a packed day and a busy work / lifestyle. Balancing training and social life can be challenging. However, when you plan your training ahead you can prepare your energy intake.

The more we train, the more energy is needed. The same applies when the intensity of your training increases. Ensure energy intake aligns with training load and intensity. When training more intense, up your carbohydrate intake to ensure muscle glycogen levels are at full capacity. Timing is equally important. Always have a snack available for before and after a training session. Missing out on replenishing burnt calories slows down the recovery process.

Some run to work from time to time. Don’t skip breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day and is part of a healthy diet. Aspire to a regular eating pattern, even though if work sometimes gets in the way.


Every runner, female and male, should be aware of the concept of Energy Availability (EA) and RED-S. To optimise performance, managing Energy Availability during periods of more frequent and intense training is important.

Endurance athletes can track their EA as part of their training and balance their food intake. Contrary, if things don’t go so well, revisiting the notion of Energy Availability can provide clues where your training has gone wrong.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday.


Running your best 10k

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by

It is the time of the year when the Mornington Chasers Club Championship 10k returns to Regent’s Park. Many of you are looking forward taking part and want to do well, perhaps running a personal best. Running your best 10k is an art. Mastery takes practice and good judgement. In this week’s blog, we explore how to a run your best 10k.

The last time I watched a 10,000m race was during the Rio Olympics. Do you remember who won the gold medal? Of course, Mo Farah won the gold medal for Great Britain. However, who won the women’s 10,000m? It was Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia. While running well at a high level for the previous years, Almaz Ayana was less of a household name. When Almaz Ayana ran the final, she smashed the 23-year-old world record by Wang Junxia in the fastest women 10,000m in history. Arguably it was the greatest performance by a female distance runner. As a spectator, I thought she would not be able to sustain this pace and would pay for it towards the end. She did not slow down, in fact, she speeded up. Ayana’s winning time, in her 2nd 10,000m race ever, was 29:17.46. A new world record. She completed the 2nd half of the race in 14:30.64, faster than the first half by running 10 seconds faster than the Olympic Record for the 5,000m. Some athletes questioned the performance, though Ayana had the 5,000m credentials and superior running technique compared to her competitors, which makes such a performance possible.

When we look at Almaz Ayana’s performance, there are principles we can apply to our running as well. We cannot match Ayana’s training age, ability and performance. Nonetheless, tactically, we can apply similar principles to optimise our performance. Let’s have a look at a few points we should consider whenever we run a 10k.

1.) Rest the Day before Race Day

We start with the most obvious piece of advice. Make your day before race day a rest day. When you are running a 10k on a Sunday, then rather opt to volunteer in your weekly parkrun or drop the cross country race on a Saturday afternoon. If you want to do well, you either need to prioritise your races or you have to lower your expectations.

You will do yourself no favours, if you give your best effort in a parkrun or if you put into another big training session the day before. A typical training cycle involves overloading your body followed by recovery. When you overload your body too close to the target race, you will not have enough time to recover. When you plan to race on a Sunday, then do your hard last session on a Thursday. Allowing enough time, 2-3 days, for example, will ensure that your body has time to recover.

Making last minute changes to your training routine or going for a sports massage the day before a race is also not a good idea. You will only end up fatigued. Take it easy on a Saturday, perhaps occupy your mind with non-training, sports or running activities. You have trained hard for the race, relax and look forward to the race. There is no magic session or workout you can do to get an edge during the last 24 hours.

On race day, follow your tried and tested breakfast routine and make sure your energy stores are up. You don’t have to go through a carbo loading phase similar to what marathon runners do the days before a marathon, though being fully recovered and fuelled up is key. When racing a 10k, the majority of your energy resources will come from muscle glycogen, the runner’s super fuel.

2.) Get familiar with the route

Having organised a 5k race this summer, I was surprised how many participants are not reading the instructions and have a look at the course map. It turned out that we had to disqualify 20 odd runners who took a short cut, knowing or unknowingly. To mitigate the risk of going the wrong way, spend time familiarising yourself with the course. Most running events publish the course map on their event website.

Find out if it is a point to point, out and back, or a lap course. Check for any undulations to spot slower or faster sections of the race. Perhaps your running buddies have done the race before. Ask them what the course is like and find out if there are fast and slow parts of the course. With the Running Tracking site Strava for example, you can find out about course segments and can work out how to adjust the pace.

The Regent’s Park 10k route is quite straightforward. The course is flat and runs on a concrete path. It is a three lap course. The course is run anti-clockwise. One lap is a bit over 3km or 2 miles. The slowest section is around the fountain. It feels like running slightly uphill. This part of the course breaks the running rhythm, focus during this part and aim to get back on your target pace quickly.

We can control the weather. We don’t always have no wind or perfect running temperature. Check the weather report and adapt your race strategy based on circumstances (heat, cold, wind). When it is windy, try to run in someone’s slips stream for a bit, when hot and sunny opt for the spots with shade.

3.) Pre-race Warm-up Routine

As you noticed, we spend a lot of time warming up on a Thursday evening before the main track session. The purpose of the warm-up is to get your body ready and prepared for the intense running action. We spend time warming up your muscles, priming your nervous system making sure all muscles fire on time and get your mind ready for the main session. Technically, we do dynamic stretches, running form drills and strides.

Spending 10 to 15 minutes warming up before the race can be beneficial. Especially now in the winter, it helps us to increase the body temperature, which will allow us to get more out of the first half of the race. Without a warm-up, it will take you 1-2 miles before you are firing on all cylinders.

Instead of a full warm-up, a reduced warm-up, consisting of 5 minutes of easy running, 5 dynamic stretches ((lunge, leg swings, knee lifts, hamstrings, arm circles), 5 running drills  (high knees, butt kicks, grapevine, skippings, single leg kicks)and 5 strides is a good compromise. Your pre-race warm-up routine should become 2nd nature.

4.) Keep an eye on your kilometre splits

Wherever you race, make sure the course is measured accurately and is certified. There is nothing more annoying racing on a short course and facing an inquiry from your running friends about a suspiciously fast run. For example, the Regent’s Park 10 is measured under UKA Rules and the course has kilometre markers. The course is well known, three laps and the course is accurate.

Those of your relying on a GPS watch, should consider changing the settings from miles to kilometres. Kilometre splits are more frequent compared to mile splits, which allows you to control the pace better and make decisions about your pacing sooner.

Slightly more advanced you could get even more frequent feedback during the last 2km and set alerts. For example, every 500m and every 100 metres for the last 500 metres, which would indicate to you at what stage you can start your finishing kick. However, I strongly advise practising the approach first. It has happened before, that some courses have poor signal or have some sharp corners, resulting in short measure.

Alternatively, in case you have a very basic watch, check the course is marked in kilometres or mile. It has happened before that the kilometre or mile markers have been misplaced. Luckily, this won’t happen, as most of you will be running in the Regent’s Park 10k.

5.) Pacing strategy

What is the best way to pace a 10k? There are three options. Go hard from the gun and run as fast as we can. After the first couple of kilometres, it will become tough to maintain the pace, and you start to slow down gradually. When we run beyond out target race pace, we start to build up lactate during the early stages at a high rate. Also, we burn glycogen as the source of energy rapidly. The combination of lactate build up, and glycogen burn will ask for trouble. Sooner or later, our pace will be forced back into a running pace which we can maintain for a prolonged period.

In contrast, we can start a bit slower than the 10k race pace and up the pace during the race and build up towards a strong finish. A negative split will be a better strategy compared to the mentioned positive split. Aiming for a negative split will avoid building up lactate early on, though we can face the risk that we start too slow and lose out some time due to being too careful right from the beginning.

The best strategy is an even paced strategy, to maintain a level of intensity which can hold throughout the race. An even pace ensures that we accumulate lactate only at a slow rate.

6.) Team Work Makes the Dream Work

Consider to team up with a fellow club member who will be running at a similar pace at yours. Agree on the pace so that neither of you is either running too fast or slow. Further, agree on a pacing protocol. For example, change the lead every 400 meters and more frequently towards the end.

The Regent’s Park 10k offers pace groups too. Try to communicate with the pacers and make them aware that you are running in the pace groups. Some pacers are better than others. Those who provide encouragement and run close with the group are the best. However, everyone runs their own race in the end and you cannot outsource all pacing duties.

7.) During the Race: Mental Strategies

Focus on the runner in front of you. Once you get close, target the next runner in front of you. Avoid sticking to a runner when the pace feels uncomfortable and push on. Nonetheless, drafting behind a runner can give 2-3 seconds per kilometre by maintaining the same effort. When running through bends and corners run along a tangent, covering the shortest distance from one end of the corner to the other. Small marginal gains, can turn into big improvements.

Maintain a positive outlook, perhaps even when going through pain try to smile. Otherwise, your subconscious can take over your mind, which can send you the wrong signals, forcing you to slow down.

Apply positive reaffirmations or mantras.  For example, ‘Today, I smash it!’, ‘I can do it!’, ‘I am really enjoying this now!’

8.) “Just One More Mile”

Mo Farah’s working motto when battling with hard running sessions.

Thinking about the entire race distance from the start can be psychologically overwhelming. Even if we have covered those distances in training, the pressure of wanting to do well and pushing our physical and mental limits can be daunting.

Try to break the race down into smaller parts and conquer each part first. For example, the first half or the 2nd half of the 10k, in laps, or segments. Approach each segment at the time. Equally, you can run each kilometre or mile at the time without thinking about the mile before or afterwards.

Once you have completed a mile, you can correct your pace, but don’t try to overanalyse regarding what you should or could have done and try to predict your finishing time. Also, avoid erratic pace changes.

9.) The Closing Stage

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, says the famous line from a song. In a 10k race, typically from 7 to 9 kilometres requires special attention. We start to heart a bit, start to get feeling tired, though everyone goes through the same experience and will go through the same pain.

When going through the closing stage, apply signal words to keep you alert and focused. Perhaps reminding you of the famous Billy Ocean song or a Don’t Stop me know from Queen will make you sail through this phase.

Typically, the last kilometre takes care of itself. We know we are almost there and can start to prepare for the finish. Ideally, we want to make the last kilometre the fastest. Ask yourself, can you give more?

10.) Put in a Devastating Finish Kick

A good finishing kick gives us to squeeze a few more seconds out of the last kilometre. When you revise the route mark out a point from 400 to 300 meters away from the finishing. For example, the last turn in the Regent’s Park 10k before the finishing straight and start to increase your knee lift, cadence and stride width. Pump as hard as you can with your arms and control your breathing. Don’t start too soon, rather wind up the pace during the last 5km, 400m, 200m to go so that you reach your maximum speed when crossing the finishing line.

‘The Babyfaced Destroyer’ Tirunesh Dibaba or Mo Farah have a great finishing kick. Nobody can match their speed. When they start their finish kick, they will not allow getting past.  Once they start and commit to their finishing kick, then there is no holding back. Both have a long winding up kick, fast last lap type of kick or quick surge in their repertoire.

You never know if there is a finishing camera, so make sure you finish with a big smile and celebrate. Once finished, rather than standing and getting quickly cold, keep on walking to allow your body to cool down slowly.

11.) Afterwards: Cool Down the Engine

Once we crossed the finish line and managed to catch your breath, try to get into dry clothing as soon as possible. When your shirt is still wet from all the sweat and your body temperature quickly falls you will end up feeling cold and will be prone to get a cold.

By now you have accumulated lactate in the body and your muscles feel soreness. As we learnt from the blog on active recovery, a very slow jog for 1-2 km will help to accelerate your recovery by moving the lactate around the body and fuelling the muscle again. A gentle cool down jog can work wonders and can speed up your recovery.

If time permits, within half hour of the race gently stretch the major muscle groups.

12.) Rehydrating and Refuelling the Beast

In a 10k, depending on pace and weight one can easily burn up to 1,000 calories including the calories burnt after the race due to an increased metabolism.

It is vital for your recovery to replenish glycogen stores in muscles and start the muscle rebuilding through protein synthesis. Start to replenish fluids within 30 minutes of exercise.

The best window for replenishing muscle and live glycogen stores is within 30 to 60 minutes after the race. Make sure you have at least 300-400 calories, consisting of a 4:1 mix of carbohydrates and protein. Consuming protein along carbohydrates promotes better protein synthesis and muscle rebuilding. Apparently, many studies suggest chocolate milk is a cost-effective, non-sports specific product, post-race recovery drink. Within about two hours of your race eat a well-balanced meal.

As a word of warning, skipping a post-race snack is not an option. It will delay your recovery and you risk of not meeting your minimum daily energy expenditure, which can cause you a headache and illness.

13.) Retrospective Reflection

Regardless of having run a personal best, a seasons best or a personal worst, there is always something we can improve. It’s through self-reflection we can identify aspects of our performance we want to improve. Important with this is to look at the data and avoid opinions or bias.

In the last blog post, we introduced the concept of a retrospective. To begin with, revisit your performance and outcome goals. Key questions, runners should be asking themselves after the run is what worked well for the race, what did not go to plan, what could I do differently and what’s my plan of action for my next race. Only through a more formal review runners will be able to embed the learning experience form a 10k race and become unconsciously competent in racing 10ks.


Having reviewed a runner’s typical experience of what makes up a good 10k and having provided suggestions on how to turn a good into a great 10k. Chasers should be prepared and confident when it comes to the Club Championship. The 13 points covered can be refined as a checklist and reviewed from a race by race basis.

I hope all Chasers will reap the rewards for their hard training. It’s now time to put everything into practice and run your best  10k. I wish you the best of luck. Go Chasers!

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Sunday).