Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Why You Should Eat Cake Before A Run


My mum tells me that when I was a child I would insist on having my desert before my main course. After initially telling me that I would only get my desert after I ate my dinner my parents’ good intentions came up against a four year-old’s stubbornness. After several very fraught meal times the four-year old won. And so for about a year I would eat my desert first but I would also always eat my dinner afterwards (irrespective of what it was). That was the deal my parents had come to with me and we both stuck to our ends of the bargain.

I mention this because we normally think of a reward is something we should get after the hard work. The piece of cake after a long run or the beer after the hard work out, to put it simply desert should come after you’ve eaten a healthy meal.

Recently in my running training I have found my four year old self has resurfaced though and it has made me rethink the whole concept of work and reward.

Take this morning for example. At 6.15am when the alarm went off I did not want to get up and venture out in to the cold dark January morning and run 22km. I’d had a rough day the day before and work commitments meant that I hadn’t got to bed till late.

If you view running as the healthy dinner the biggest motivator for me to run in sub-zero temperatures was because I had already eaten my desert.

The night before I had eaten a massive bowl of spaghetti. As a keen amateur distance runner I eat a lot of carbs, I justify it as being necessary to “fuel my hard work outs”. In reality I know I sometimes use that as an excuse to eat large amounts of calorie rich comfort food far more than I need to "fuel" – I’ve always loved spaghetti long before I started running.

If I had not eaten the food the night before there is no way I would have run this morning. Far from a reward at the end of a run motivating me to get out there, it was because I had already had my reward that I felt compelled to pay for it the following morning.

When I am running and after running I do not crave a reward or want to eat unhealthy cake and high carb food. In fact I’ve even read a recent study that this is quite common. Because of the high level of dopamine (the happy hormone) the body produces during heavy exercise, people crave money, drugs, alcohol etc less afterwards. The dopamine is the reward in itself.

And so if I am going to try and find ways to motivate myself to do the right thing and train when I’m not feeling like it I think I had figured it all out when I was only four. Eat your desert first and the rest will follow.

(The original version of this blog appears on )

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