Having a Nutrition Strategy Improves Endurance Performance


It never ceases to amaze me how few athletes young or older (not old!) go into an endurance race without a nutrition plan. Here is some recent research evidence from Denmark highlighting that using a scientifically-based nutrition plan can improve race speed by close to 5%.

The Research

The researchers investigated whether a marathon run (42.2 km) was completed faster by applying a scientifically-based rather than a freely chosen nutritional strategy. Importantly from an applied perspective, gastrointestinal symptoms were also examined and reported. 14 non-elite runners performed a 10 km running time trial 7 weeks before the Copenhagen Marathon 2013 for estimation of running ability. Based on that time, runners were divided into two performance-matched groups that then completed the marathon by applying either of two race nutritional (gels and water) strategies – one they chose themselves, the other scientifically-based and given to the runners in that group under instruction from experts in the sports nutrition field. Runners applying the freely-chosen nutritional strategy (n = 14; 33.6 ± 9.6 years; 1.83 ± 0.09 m; 77.4 ± 10.6 kg; 45:40 ± 4:32 min for 10 km) freely choose their in-race food and water intake. Runners applying the scientifically-based nutritional strategy (n = 14; 41.9 ± 7.6 years; 1.79 ± 0.11 m; 74.6 ± 14.5 kg; 45:44 ± 4:37 min 10 k time) were targeting a combined in-race intake of energy gels and water, where the total intake amounted to approximately 0.750 L water, 60 g maltodextrin and glucose, 0.06 g sodium, and 0.09 g caffeine per hr. Gastrointestinal symptoms were assessed by a self-administered post-race questionnaire.

The runners in the scientifically-based nutrition and fluid group took in the following:

  • 2 energy gels (each gel contained 20 g maltodextrin and glucose, 0.02 gm of sodium and 0.03 gm caffeine) and 200 ml of water 10-15 minutes before the start of the marathon
  • 1 energy gel after 40 minutes of running and 1 gel every 20 minutes after that until finishing
  • water was encouraged at every one of the 10 water stations with 750 ml per hour the recommended target with each station having each individual athlete’s recommended water intake. Runners were encouraged to stop and drink

The Results

Marathon time was 3:49:26 ± 0:25:05 for the runners applying the freely chosen and and 3:38:31 ± 0:24:54 hr for the scientifically-based strategy nutrition and water intake strategy. The difference was statistically significant and represented a 4.7% faster marathon when using the scientifically-based nutrition plan. Some of the runners experienced diverse serious gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. urge to defecate, reflux, bloating, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, urge to urinate, dizziness), but overall, symptoms were low and not statistically different between groups.

So What?

The sport scientists concluded that non-elite runners completed a marathon on average 10:55 min (4.7%) faster by applying a scientifically-based rather than a freely chosen nutritional strategy with both groups having the same incidence of gastrointestinal upsets. In endurance races I often see or hear of well-prepared athletes who train the house down but forget race nutrition. These same athletes say they were worried about getting gut upsets, the lack of gels etc being available on the race course or hard to find and buy, or that simply did not know what the scientific principles of race nutrition are. These present findings tell you to learn what these principles are and prepare yourself rather than relying on the race organisers. When it comes to race day nutrition I’ve always worked on the 6P’s Principle – Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor (pardon the french!) Performance or another well known saying, Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. For more detailed information on nutrition before, during and after training or racing, see Chapters 6, 15 and 16 of my book The Masters Athlete.

Sources: 1. Hansen, E. and others (2014). Improved marathon performance by in-race nutritional strategy intervention, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(6): 645-655. 2. Pfeiffer, B. and others (2012). Nutritional intake and gastrointestinal problems during competitive endurance events. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(2): 344-351. 3. O’Neal, E. and others (2011). Half-marathon and full-marathon runners’ hydration practices and perceptions. Journal of Athletic Training, 46(6): 581-591.

Pump Up the Music to Fire Up Performances


I love listening to music to relax. Cold Play, U2 and Sleepy Jackson are my favourites. But I’ve never thought to use  music to pump up my sporting performances. Here is some research suggesting that listening to music can help sprint performance, especially in the morning when you might be half asleep!

The Research

The purpose of this research was to assess the effects of listening to music while warming-up on the dailyvariations of power output during the Wingate all-out 30-second sprint cycling test. 12 physical education students underwent four sprint cycling tests at 7am and 5pm, after 10 min of warm-up with and without listening to music. The warm-up consisted of 10 min of pedalling at a constant pace of 60 rpm against a light load. During the sprint cycling test, peak and mean power in watts were measured.

The Results

The main finding of the study was that both peak and mean power improved from morning to afternoon after no music warm-up. However, these daily variations disappeared for mean power and persisted with a greater morning-evening difference for peak power after music was used in the warm-up. Moreover, peak and mean power outputs were significantly higher after music was used in the warm-up compared to a no music warm-up during both morning and afternoon testing.

So What?

Thus, this research strongly suggests that music should be used during warm-up before performing activities requiring powerful muscle contractions, especially before morning competitive events. Previous research as shown that afternoon performances are generally better than morning because our body temperature is higher by about a degree Celsius in the evening when most world records are set. Warmer muscles mean better energy production. So to pump yourself for those high-intensity morning sessions, think about getting the earphones on!

For more scientifically-based advice on (legal) performance-enhancing ways to improve performance (including specific details on how much and when and how to take supplements such as caffeine, creatine, sodium bicarbonate), see Chapter 18 (Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Chtourou, H. and others (2012). Listening to music affects diurnal variation in muscle power output. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 33(1): 43-47.

Why do older sprinters get slower?

The IntroductionSprinters - masters

The purpose of this review was to identify the major factors leading to declines in sprint (run) speed in track athletes. The German-based research describes the factors that affect age-associated changes, including reduction of training overload, reduction of maximum force, and change in body composition (mainly a decrease in muscle mass due primarily to a reduction in fast twitch muscle fibre size) associated with aging. The three major factors the research suggests are responsible for a decrease in sprint speed in older track athletes are: the lower maximum strength of the lower limb muscles, the slower rate of force development and force transmission to the ground, and reduction in the elastic energy storage and recovery in tendons.

The Research

The researchers reviewed 34 papers that have examined the effects of aging on the speed of muscle contractions and tendon elasticity in both rats and humans including non-athletes, endurance and sprint runners.

The Results

They concluded that aging sprint runners preserve their stride frequency but appear to reduce their stride length as they age. Moreover, this reduced stride length appears due to reduced propulsive ground reaction forces and the rate of development of this force. That is, the ability to push off the ground quickly is reduced. This reduction appears mainly due to three major factors:

  1. Lower maximal strength of the lower limb muscles (about 30% from young to old) due to reduced size of the fast twitch muscle fibres;
  2. The slower rate of force development and transmission of this force to the ground; and,
  3. Reductions (about 35% from young to old) in elastic energy storage and energy recovery in tendons due to reduced tendon stiffness in older athletes.

The So What?

The news isn’t good is it? However, while declines in all these factors appear inevitable in older sprinters, we can reduce the rate of decline in a number of ways. First, ensure hypertrophy (muscle enlargement) resistance training becomes part of a sprinters training regime, especially in the off and pre-season. This will help build or at least maintain muscle mass. Specific details (exercises, sets, reps, loads etc) on how this is done are found in chapter 7 of my book The Masters Athlete. Second, power training including pliometrics (bounds, hops, and jumps) and gym work (e.g. jump squats) is included in all training programs. This type of training develops the rate of force development and elastic energy stored in tendons and the tissue surrounding muscle fibres. Specific details on pliometrics (examples, principles, suggested repetitions) are found in chapter 8 of my book The Masters Athlete. Finally, flexibility training is crucial for all masters athletes, especially sprinters whose stride length decreases with age. Again, chapter 9 of my book The Masters Athlete discusses in detail the principles and how to’s of flexibility training.

Arampatzis, A., Degens, H., Baltzopoulos, V. and Rittweger, J. (2011). Why Do Older Sprinters Reach the Finish Line Later? Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews. 39(1): 18 – 22.

Photo Source: http://www.masterstrack.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=45390&g2_imageViewsIndex=1

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