I’m what could be called a late bloomer. That is, it wasn’t until I was well into my 40’s that I decided a pursuit of triathlons would be a fun thing to do. Problem was, as someone with a generally athletic lifestyle my whole life, I had no idea about the demands of endurance sports such as triathlon. I certainly couldn’t fathom swimming 3.8 km, cycling 180 km, and running 42 km all in the SAME DAY! That’s definitely the epitome of endurance.
When discussing athletic endurance, we are talking about the ability to sustain prolonged exercise – sometimes for many hours or even days, which demands optimal efficiency from our respiratory, circulatory, and immune systems. Like many things in life, as endurance athletes (or aspiring endurance athletes), we can train our cardiovascular systems to function more efficiently to optimize endurance.
Understanding our Energy Systems
The body creates energy in two different ways: anaerobic, and aerobic.
- Anaerobic energy is created when the body burns sugars (carbohydrates) in the absence of enough oxygen to fuel the muscles. This would occur in exercises such as sprinting, track cycling, and weight-lifting. In the absence of enough oxygen to fully convert the sugars to carbon dioxide and water, the body will produce lactic acid which will accelerate the break-down of the muscles, and increase fatigue.
- Aerobic energy occurs when the body uses oxygen to convert sugars, fats, and proteins, into energy. Examples would include walking, or sustained efforts of running or cycling. Strenuous, sprint-type efforts will trigger the body to switch to the anaerobic system to provide the energy requirements needed. The goal of the endurance athlete is to remain in the aerobic domain for as long as possible, in order to slow the build-up of lactic acid.
When training for endurance events, the objective needs to be to do most of your training below 85% of your maximum heart rate. This will keep the energy system in the aerobic range and result in less lactic acid build-up and therefore less muscle fatigue and soreness. This approach will also allow for quicker post-workout recovery times which is essential for endurance athletes.
Diet and Endurance
Diet is one of the most confusing subjects out there. Some say eat no fat, some say only fat. There’s the no-carb camp, and the raw food camp. There are vegans, vegetarians, frugivores, omnivores, and more. It’s very confusing. In traditional Chinese medicine, we would say that the “best” diet is a balanced diet of whole foods, naturally in-season, plant-based (which does not mean no animal products, but rather the plant portion should be the majority portion), and primarily cooked. This balanced approach rings true in the book “The Endurance Diet”. Endurance coach Matt Fitzgerald analyzed the diets of elite endurance athletes of 25 countries, and determined that there are six basic categories of natural whole foods: vegetables (including legumes); fruits; nuts, seeds, and healthy oils; unprocessed meat and seafood; whole grains; and dairy. The overwhelming majority of elite endurance athletes regularly consume all six of these.1 The reason they do so is that a balanced, varied, and inclusive diet is needed to supply the body with everything it needs nutritionally to handle the stress of hard training and to derive the maximum benefit from workouts.
Japanese Red Reishi
The health benefits of this amazing fungi have been recognized by practitioners of traditional medicines of China, Japan, and other Asian countries for over 2000 years. In recent years, it has been heavily studied, and in an Italian study regarding its effects on high-level cyclists, researchers found that after three months of supplementation, the testosterone/cortisol ratio changed in a statistically significant manner, thereby protecting the athletes from nonfunctional overreaching and overtraining syndrome.2 In a Spanish study regarding the effects on fitness in women with fibromyalgia, researchers determined that red reishi might be a useful dietary supplement to enhance physical performance of the patients suffering from fibromyalgia.”3 In yet another study, red reishi was used in football players training at high altitude, where the effects of hypoxia and training tend to deplete the immune system. The results of the studied showed that red reishi had an ability to stimulate t-cells in athletes training in high altitudes, and thus optimize an otherwise taxed immune system.4 In addition to these amazing benefits, it is also an adaptogenic herb that helps combat the effects of stress.
Endurance athletes require a great deal from their bodies. A combination of how to train, what to eat, and supplementation with high-quality Japanese Red Reishi can be the difference between surviving and thriving in the endurance sports world.