Dr Juliet McGrattan - our running health expert - answers your running questions

We asked if you had any questions on running health which we then put to our Dr Juliet. These are the top 5 Q&As.

1. If I lost a few kilos would I run quicker? (Sarah)

It’s easy to assume that carrying a few less kilos will give you the energy to go faster. This can be the case, especially over longer distances but it’s not the whole story. When losing weight, there’s a risk of pushing your body into energy deficiency; this is when you don’t have sufficient calories to fuel your activities. Under fuelling your body can lead to reduced performance and you might be slower. Losing weight rapidly can lead to muscle loss rather than fat loss. Speed comes from power and power comes from muscles. Lose the muscles and you’ll be slower.

An important element of going faster is building stronger muscles but when you gain muscle mass, your weight is likely to increase. In this scenario, gaining a few kilos might make you go faster.

To go faster, you also need to train consistently with some high intensity speed work. This requires you to stay well and have plenty of energy which can be difficult if you’re actively trying to lose weight.

Remember, we are all different and our body composition varies. What is optimum for us might not fit the running stereotypes we see around us. Fuel your body well and if you do want to lose weight, do it sensibly and slowly.

2. I’m three months pregnant, is it safe to keep running throughout my pregnancy? (anon) 

For the majority of women, running in pregnancy is not only safe but beneficial for both mum and baby. There are situations where pregnancies are complicated and running is not advised so check with your doctor or midwife if you think this may apply to you.

Pregnancy is a time to maintain your running rather than try to reach new PBs. Moderate physical activity of at least 150 minutes per week is the recommendation for pregnant and non-pregnant women. Being able to talk while you run is a helpful marker to achieve this. If you’re a high level athlete, frequently exercising over the guidelines or training at vigorous intensities, then seek expert advice as you may need some extra monitoring.

Your plan may be to run up until you give birth but it’s completely normal and absolutely fine if that doesn’t happen. Running may stop feeling comfortable as your bump grows. Pregnancy niggles such as indigestion, needing frequent wees, tender breasts or feeling clumsier can make running difficult. Always listen to your body, warm up well, rest when you need to and take care not to bump your bump. Don’t stop being active though, it’s really important for you and your baby. Switch to walking or swimming if running doesn’t feel right.

3. I’m diabetic and so need to be careful with what I eat when running. Any advice? (John)

It’s really important to exercise if you have diabetes, it can help to reduce the other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as lowering your blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight as well as helping to control the condition itself. However, exercise affects blood sugar levels and you need to get expert, personalised advice to keep you safe when running. The advice will vary depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and what medications you are using. Exercise can affect blood sugar during exercise and for up to 24 hours afterwards. If you are using insulin or certain other diabetic medications, this can put you at increased risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). You will need to monitor your blood sugars carefully and get advice on how to balance your carbohydrate intake and insulin doses according to your intensity and duration of running, to keep your blood sugar within safe limits. Please speak to your diabetic nurse or doctor for individual advice.

4. I never feel hungry straight after running. A friend suggested I try a protein shake – will this give me what my body needs? (Chris)

It’s common for runners to lose their appetite after running, particularly following long or intense runs. Exercise affects the release of appetite hormones in the brain. For some people, the hormone leptin which suppresses appetite becomes most active and for others, ghrelin takes over which increases appetite and leads to that feeling of ‘runger’.

It’s important to refuel your body after a run. There is some debate about the ideal window in which to do this but within thirty minutes is generally advised. You need to take on a mixture of carbohydrates and protein to help your body repair and recover. If you find it hard to face solid food, using liquids such as recovery shakes, flavoured milk or smoothies is a good move. Protein is essential for muscle repair so after your run is a good time to take it. Don’t rely on this for all your protein needs though, it’s important to give your body protein regularly throughout the day.

You also need to replace the fluids you’ve lost so take some water and electrolytes too. Have a healthy meal a couple of hours later when you get your appetite back.

5. I’m concerned about the impact of running on my knees. What can I do to reduce the risks? (Lisa)

There’s clear evidence that running won’t damage our knees and will in fact reduce the chances of us needing a joint replacement. Our genetics are the most important factor in determining whether we get osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis in knees) but there are steps we should all take to look after our knee bones and joints:

  • Increase running duration, intensity and frequency gradually. Bones get stronger through being stressed but can weaken and fracture when overloaded.
  • Prioritise recovery. It’s when you rest after running that bones strengthen. Skimp on rest and recovery and your bones can suffer.
  • Check your biomechanics. Joints were designed to work in certain directions and injuries, muscle weakness and imbalances can affect posture and running gait. A session with a running physio can be invaluable.
  • Vary your terrain. Head off road onto grass, trail or track sometimes.
  • Do strength work. The muscles around the knee absorb impact so strengthening them is a great way to protect your knee joints.
  • Eat a balanced and varied diet. Help your bone and joint health by taking a daily vitamin D tablet and eating plenty of calcium-rich foods. Protein Rebel also recommends daily collagen.

All of these factors become more important as we age so be prepared to adapt and adjust your routines as the years go by.