During endurance training and competition what are the top challenges that athletes face ?
1. Not Enough Liquids
While there is some concern about overhydrating and hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) that have received attention from the media for events such as Ironman triathlon or ultra distance running events, failing to take in enough fluid is a much more common and widespread problem.
It is common for many athletes to not drink enough as exercise dulls the thirst mechanism.
One of the top reasons for poor performance is dehydration, since it not only increases your heart rate, it can make exercise seem harder (what sport scientists call an increase in perceived exertion).
It can lead to stomach upset and contribute to heat stroke since the body struggles to cool off effectively. Dehydration also reduces mental functioning, hence making you more prone to accidents.
To make sure that you are properly hydrated, begin exercise well hydrated and practice a good hydration plan to match sweat losses. Liquid needs vary based on a number of factors such as environmental conditions, clothing, intensity and individual sweat rates.
Drink at regular intervals before, during training and racing rather than all at once.
Common general guidelines suggests that approximately 400-800ml per hour of exercise or approximately one half cup to one cup of fluid every 15-20minutes would be a good place to start.
It is important to include some sodium rich foods, electrolyte supplements and drinks in your diet especially for events over two and a half hours, although they may also provide some benefit for shorter events as well.
2. Not Enough Carbs
Carbohydrates (carbs) are arguably the most misunderstood nutrient for athletes. Consuming the right type of carbs at the right time … they can become your secret weapon !
Carbs are stored in the body as glycogen which is the energy fuel for your muscles. Failing to take in enough carbs overall in your training diet along with improper carb supplementation during endurance exercise leads to varied symptoms such as fatigue, heavy weak muscles, increased perceived exertion and nausea.
After one and a half hours to two hours of continuous activity at a moderate intensity without carbohydrates, physical and mental performance will decline as a result of glycogen depletion which is commonly known as bonking or hitting the wall.
Start carb intake repletion early during endurance exercise. Since it takes time for the carbohydrate to be digested and enter the bloodstream, begin supplementing within the first hour and stick to a timed schedule throughout your workout so you don’t fall short.
Current carbohydrate guidelines suggest the following during exercise:
Brief exercise <45 minutes: not required
Sustained high-intensity exercise 45-75 minutes: small amounts of carbohydrate including a mouth rinse of a carbohydrate containing sport drink (even if not swallowed) has shown to be performance enhancing.
Endurance exercise 1-2.5 hours: 30-60 grams per hour .
Ultra-endurance exercise >2.5-3 hours: up to 90 grams per hour .
3. Not enough Variety
Combining the correct type of carbohydrate found in foods and beverages during endurance sport has also proven to be important. Sports nutrition research shows that products providing multiple transportable carbohydrates (glucose-fructose mixtures) will achieve higher rates of carbohydrate absorption and breakdown during exercise.
It is important for events which last longer than 2.5 hours, to use different types of carbohydrates rather than the same carbohydrates. This can help to improve endurance performance. Learning to mix up your choices may also be better tolerated in the gut and lead to less digestion issues for endurance athletes.
Practically speaking if you only train and compete with one or two food or drink choices instead of a range you may also experience taste fatigue. It can be detriment to performance if you have only ever used one type of sport drink or bar and suddenly find yourself unable to choke down a particular food or beverage flavour.
Carb Fueling During Endurance Sport
Everyone has different taste preferences and sport specific portability needs. Be sure to test out your individual tolerance during training and don’t try anything new when competing.
Here are some options:
Dried fruit (such as apricots, dates, raisins)
Homemade energy bar
High-carb sport bar
Pretzels or crackers or Graham Wafers or Fig Biscuits or Oat cakes / Oat biscuits
Bread/wrap with honey or jam
Fruit smoothie - I love making my own fruit smoothie with spirulina powder before a competition.
Cut up pieces of bagels or English muffins
Fresh fruit - preferably bananas
Sweet potato or white potato
Cypriot athletes - a piece of Soutzoukos is perfect !
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !