On Wednesday I was at a conference titled ‘How Can Sport and Exercise Medicine Help the Endurance Athlete?’ It was definitely one of the more interesting conferences that I have been to in recent years. Surprise, surprise, given the title! Anyway I thought I would pass on some of the key lessons I learnt because some of them may also help you not only perform better but also avoid getting things wrong and suffering some of the negative consequences of participating in an endurance sport.
- If you collapse during or after an event and have an altered level of consciousness someone will take your rectal temperature! So be careful out there. Excessive fluid intake is a real problem and drinking sports drinks will not prevent hyponatraemia, a very serious condition that may cause an athlete to collapse and can result in death if not managed correctly. Being female increases your risk and so does being out there on the course for a long period e.g. >4hrs in a marathon.
- We used to think that the heart did not fatigue during physical exertion. Like skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle does fatigue, which does have an effect on heart function. So after a heavy training session and certainly after racing when you have been at or near your physical limit for an extended period, look after your heart and take the time to allow it to recover. That way you will hopefully enjoy a lifetime of being physically active.
- Eating enough food is vital to avoid Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) – The syndrome of RED-S refers to impaired physiological function including, but not limited to, metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis and cardiovascular health caused by relative energy deficiency. Guys, this can affect you too (although not the menstrual function bit of course)! It sounds simple but some athletes feel pressured to make ‘race weight’ or look a certain way, or have beliefs about nutrition that can lead them down a slippery slope resulting in not just under-performance but ill health. Spend more time at your favourite eating establishment! This calculator can help guide you to decide if you are getting enough energy given your energy expenditure.
- Women will never be as fast as men! Sorry girls, it is the truth and based on hard science. While Chrissie Wellington and Mirinda Carfrae have brought down the gender gap in long course triathlon I am afraid that the gap will always remain due to the physiological differences between men and women. However, that does not mean that our girls won’t whip some boys’ butts this year because women are just as trainable as men. It’s only at the very top that the gap will remain. So you boys had better train hard and train smart!
- Beetroot juice really does improve your endurance performance! It has to do with nitrates and the mitochondria in your cells (the power house in each of your cells). It gets a bit geeky from here on in so if you want some more info about how it works we can discuss the topic over a glass of beetroot juice!
I came across this fantastic video the other day. I love the way this guy gets choked up about running. He has obviously found something that he is truly passionate about. I hope we’ll all find something that makes us feel like this some day. This weekend I am spending two days talking about and analysing running so I will see you next week. Tim (LFTC Coach)