Adding a Little Science to Your Running Program

By Ed McNeely, Peak Centre for Human Performance

Gone are the days when one coach could do it all. With advances in every discipline of sport science happening far too quickly for any one individual to keep up with everything, the best coaches in the world, no matter how experienced, now use sport science teams to help them develop, monitor and prepare their athletes.

There are six disciplines that make up the applied sport sciences:

  1. Physiology – how your body responds to your training program. Physiology finds the answers to how hard, how long and how often an athlete should train. It allows training programs to be individualized and progress to be monitored so that competitive goals can be met in the most efficient manner.
  1. Nutrition – the interaction of the foods you eat with your performance, recovery and health. A major focus of nutrition is the timing of nutrient intake and the use of proper supplementation to help enhance performance. Nutritional support is more than just looking at a food log, it involves measuring calories, carbohydrate and protein requirements and monitoring hydration.
  1. Mental Training- develops the skills to focus, relax, visualize and deal with the pressures of competition. Mental training helps an athlete get the most out of their physical preparation by ensuring that they have plans in place to deal with distractions and problems that may arise on competition day and during training.
  1. Technology/Biomechanics – the use of technology to analyze a sport performance and technique. This could be a gait analysis for a runner, bike fitting for a cyclist, or analysis of team tendencies in the third period for a hockey team. Technology/biomechanics takes advantage of the latest developments in force, speed, and power measurement as well as video analysis to help improve movement efficiency.
  1. Strength and Conditioning – helps athletes improve speed, strength, power and prevent injuries. Strength and Conditioning professionals are more than personal trainers. Strength and Conditioning takes the findings from the other disciplines and brings them together into a comprehensive program that functions as part of the coach developed program.
  1. Motor Learning – the science of learning and perfecting movement skills.

Every athlete, whether competitive or recreational, young or old can benefit from sport science support to make their training more effective and efficient. The top athletes in the world use it to take the guess work out of their programs and to ensure that there is no wasted time in their pursuit of Olympic Gold; your time and effort is just as valuable. While you do not need to have all the services of an Olympian, there are a couple of areas of support that are crucial for all runners.

  1. Program individualization – Determining individualized training zones takes the guess work out of how hard you need to work. Training zones need to be assessed using a combination of heart rate, speed, oxygen consumption and blood lactate. Without direct measures of your training zones you are only guessing at what you are doing. For endurance athletes knowing the speed and power zones that are right for you will ensure that you are getting the right training adaptations at the right time.
  1. Fueling and refueling optimization – The amount of energy, carbohydrate and protein that you need before, during and after training is key to getting the most out of your training and improving performance. Without giving your body the right nutrients at the right time you may be wasting a lot of training sessions. While there are lots of books that can give general guidelines only by measuring your fuel use and needs will you find out how to tie your nutrition and training program together.

Over the coming months, we’ll talk in more detail about sport science approaches, and how they can apply to your running. If you’d like more information about obtaining sport science support, you can also visit

About the Peak Centre for Human Performance

Over the past decade private sport science businesses have sprung up to provide services to any athlete that wants to excel at their sport. A leader in this area is the Peak Centre for Human Performance. The Peak Centre is a network of sport science centres across Canada that offer physiology, technology/biomechanics, nutrition, mental training and strength and conditioning services. The Peak Centres employ some of the top people in the industry. Peak Centre staff has worked with 17 different Canadian National Sport Organizations and have helped 38 teams and individuals reach the Olympic podium.