Science of Running

Even Runners Need Strength Training for a Healthy Heart and Longer Life

Strength Training is Essential for Heart Health

Strength Training is Essential for Heart Health

Consistent cardio exercise strengthens the heart muscle and improves the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. Cardio-enthusiasts, however, may not be as healthy as they think unless they also include a solid, strength training regimen to their weekly line-up.

While the benefits of aerobic exercise are well-documented, the effects of strength training are a relatively new area of study. It wasn’t until 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association first issued strength training guidelines recommending a twice weekly practice. Two new studies examined the effects of muscle mass on longevity in adults. Both found adults who strength train tend to live longer. 

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health Milton S Hershey Medical Center and Columbia University, conducted a study to look at the long-term effects of strength training on adult mortality. The researchers examined data from the 1997-2011 National Interview Survey linked to death certificate data through 2011. The survey included more than 30,000 adults age 65 and older. During the survey period, more than nine percent of adults 65 years or older strength trained at least twice a week. The researchers followed the respondents for 15 years through death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics National Death Index. About a third of respondents died by 2011. Older adults who engaged in strength training at least twice a week had 46% lower odds of death for any reason than those who did not. They also had a 41% lower offs of cardiac death and 19% lower odds of dying from cancer. They were also more likely to be a healthy weight, engage in cardio exercise and abstain from regular alcohol and tobacco use.

To parse out whether strength-training had an effect on the adults who lived longer, given the overall healthier lifestyle of respondents who regularly strength-trained, the researchers controlled for physical activity level and people who reported strength training appeared to see a greater mortality benefit than those who reported physical activity alone. Hear that, my fellow cardio lovers?

It's never too late to start strength training for improved heart health.

It’s never too late to start strength training for improved heart health.

Previously Not So Healthy and New to Exercise? Stay Calm. There are Benefits for You Too

Those just getting on the exercise bandwagon, need not panic. Researchers from the David Geffen School of Medicine, a UCLA, found higher muscle masses and lower fat mass in patients with cardiovascular disease resulted in lower mortality rate in a new study published in the American Journal of Cardiology. The researchers found cardiovascular patients with higher muscle mass and low body fat had a lower mortality risk than those with other body compositions. The researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 to 2004, of 6,451 participants who had cardiovascular disease. Each subject was categorized into one of four groups:  low muscle/low-fat mass; low muscle/high-fat mass; high muscle/low-fat mass; and high muscle/high-fat mass.  Those with high muscle mass and low-fat mass had the most moderate risk of cardiovascular and total mortality.

The study was done in heart disease patients, as the “obesity paradox” was first described in this populations of patients, but the results are similar to those we have obtained for healthy individuals in previous studies,” says Dr. Preethi SriKanthan, head researcher of the UCLA study. “I advise patients to do 150 minutes a week of exercise and do 50% cardio and 50% resistance training. The reasoning behind this advice is that muscle mass is better increased with resistance training,” he says.

Marathoners should get at least two strength training sessions in per week. Make the time and reap the benefits.

Looking to PR in Your Next Race? Proven Supplements to Boost Running Performance

supplement photo

Supplements Can Improve Your Run Performance

Four Supplements That Can Improve Your Next Run

Small changes can lead to big gains for runners looking to shave off a few minutes from their race time. The International Society of Sports Nutrition classifies supplements by Groups: Group A being those that have been shown to provide a sports performance benefit. Lucky for us there are several in this category that can help you gain a competitive edge when preparing for your next race. If you’re looking to hit a PR one or more of these supplements may help get you there. Do not take a supplement without first consulting your doctor and getting their approval.

Caffeine for Running Performance

Drink coffee for a performance boost.

Boost it: Your Energy

What it is: Caffeine

Caffeine can boost energy levels, alleviate fatigue and there is sound evidence that it may enhance performance for high intensity (think 1500 meter dash) and endurance sports (I’m looking at you, marathoners).  A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review (1) found caffeine reduces fatigue in endurance athletes when taken before and/or during exercise in moderate quantities.

How You Take It:  Consume caffeine about an hour before your race to enhance performance. The effect tends to be dose dependent. A dosage of up to 400 mg is considered a safe limit for adults, half that for pregnant women. The average runner should consume at least 200 mg to receive a performance boost.

The Downside:   Caffeine can cause GI distress, so experiment before your race to avoid unwelcome surprises. The effect of caffeine decreases with routine use so abstaining for seven days before your race will show greater gains if you are a habitual java drinker.

Creatine for Sports PerformanceImprove It: Endurance Run Performance

What it is: Creatine 

Creatine is a naturally occurring protein. It fuels the body during high-intensity activities. It improves performance for weight lifters and sprinters, increases lean body mass, and reduces fatigue. Several studies show creatine supplementation improves endurance and anaerobic performance.

How to take it: Athletes take 4x5g doses per day for five days after which time they can take 1x3g per day for 12 weeks followed by a three-week break to prevent the body from adjusting to the supplement. There is no evidence that taking more than 20g during the loading phase has an increased benefit on creatine uptake or performance.

The downside: There have not been any reported side effects to taking Creatine.

Beta-alanine for Running Performance

Beta-alanine improves VO2 and lactate threshold.

Beat It: Reduce Lactic Acid Buildup 

What it is: Beta-Alanine 

What it is: Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring substance that reduces acidity in the muscle by helping to formulate carnosine, which is a muscle buffer. Increasing this buffering capacity can lead to increased performance, decreased fatigue, and strength gains. Its use is suited to several sports from sprinters to weight lifters to endurance enthusiasts.

How to take It: Athletes take 4-6g daily for 6-10 weeks. Improvement in performance is seen as early as two weeks and combining it with creatine may also be beneficial.

The downside: If you decide to add beta-alanine to your training regime, get ready to feel tingly. The only reported side effect of Beta-alanine is paraesthesia, a pins and needles feeling that can last upwards of an hour. The side effect decreases with continued use.

Beetroot Juice for Running Performance

Delay fatigue with beetroot juice.

Delay It: Fatigue

What it is: Beetroot Juice

What is unique about beetroot juice? Beetroot contains a high amount of nitrate, which is a precursor for nitric oxide. Consuming foods high in nitric oxide can lead to blood vessel dilation, increase in oxygen delivery, increases in nutrient delivery to your muscles and a delay in fatigue.

How much will it help? Don’t expect to shave a minute off your mile time just by downing the pink stuff. Reports suggest athletes can achieve a 1% performance improvement. Those who are PR obsessed, however, will gladly take the one percent!

Although many elites claim to see results from beetroot juice, more research needs to be done. According to a scientific review (2) written by Andrew Jones, The effectiveness of beetroot juice, “might well depend on factors such as the type of subject, including age, diet, and health and fitness status; the intensity, duration, and nature of the exercise challenge; and the dose applied and duration of the nitrate supplementation regimen. Time will tell.”

How to take it:  A typical dose is about 500ml of juice or 200mg of cooked beets. It can be taken daily for a week or one to two and half hours before you exercise or race.

The downside: Don’t freak if your urine or stool turns pink. It’s totally normal.


  1. Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review Ganio, Matthew S; Klau, Jennifer J, Casa, Douglas J; Armstrong, Lawrence E; Maresh, Carl M
  2. Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance Sport and Health Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences University of Exeter, St. Luke’s Campus, Exeter EX1 2LU UK, Andrew Jones, Sports Med. 2014;(Suppl 1):35-45