Archive for March, 2017

Improve Your Training Intensity Balance with Structured Workouts

Brought to you by

A training plan is only as good as its execution. No matter how knowledgeable and experienced the coach who created it is, and no matter how perfectly suited it is to your needs, a training plan will not deliver the results you want if the workouts you do are different from the workouts prescribed.

With traditional online training plans, these discrepancies are all too common. The problem is not that athletes intentionally do workouts incorrectly. Rather, it’s that something gets lost in the translation of the workout from phone or computer screen to the road, track, trainer or pool. Most commonly, athletes do the workout or parts of it at higher or lower intensities than the coach intended.

As the co-creator with David Warden of the 80/20 Running plans that are available on the TrainingPeaks platform, this issue has long been a source of frustration for me. The 80/20 training system is based on the idea that correct intensity balance is critical to the effectiveness of any endurance training program. Research indicates that athletes improve the most when they do roughly 80 percent of their training at low intensity (i.e., below the ventilatory threshold, which falls around 78 percent of maximum heart rate in the typical athlete) and the remaining 20 percent at moderate to high intensity. But the vast majority of endurance athletes spend far less than 80 percent of their training time at low intensity and far too much at moderate intensity. For a variety of reasons, even athletes who know they should do most of their training at low intensity and who choose a training plan that adheres to the 80/20 Rule end up getting caught in the moderate-intensity rut.

That’s why David and I did a happy dance when TrainingPeaks developed structured workouts and we wasted no time in converting our 80/20 Running plans to the structured workout format (our 80/20 Triathlon plans are under conversion now and will be available soon). This new capability makes it a lot easier for athletes to do every part of every workout at the right intensity and reap the full benefits of 80/20 training. It’s the next best thing to having one of us physically present with you when you train. Here’s why:

Custom Intensity Zones Fully Integrated into Workout Descriptions

In the bad old days before structured workouts, our workout descriptions were semi-generic and required translation on the part of the athlete. For example, if a certain workout called for Zone 4 running intervals, the athlete had to translate this information into a specific pace or heart rate range using our 80/20 Zone Calculator (note that our zone system is a little different from the standard system used by TrainingPeaks). But the structured workouts feature does this translation for the athlete, thereby greatly reducing the likelihood of incorrect execution.

Preferred Intensity Metrics

Because individual athletes use different metrics to monitor and control intensity, we have created multiple versions of each of our 80/20 plans. Runners can choose to have either pace or heart rate zones integrated into their workouts. When our 80/20 Triathlon plans are fully converted, multisport athletes have the following three options to choose from:

Swim: Pace
Bike: Heart Rate
Run: Heart Rate

Swim: Pace
Bike: Power
Run: Pace

Swim: Pace
Bike: Heart Rate
Run: Pace

The less generic a training plan is, the less chance there is of incorrect workout execution. By allowing us as coaches to deliver plans that employ the specific intensity metrics you use, the structured workouts feature spares you from having to translate umbrella zones covering all metrics into power, heart rate, or pace.

Easy Zone Updating

To determine your current 80/20 intensity zones, you must first identify your lactate threshold run pace or heart rate. As you gain fitness, however, your threshold numbers will change, requiring a recalculation of zones.

The structured workouts feature makes it easier to stay current with your zones as you work your way through an 80/20 Running or Triathlon Plan. With minimal setup in TrainingPeaks and your third-party device, such as Garmin Connect, your intensity targets for all of your future workouts will be updated automatically. All you have to do is retest your threshold and enter the new number.

When our 80/20 Triathlon plans are ready, you’ll be able to do the same with pace-based swimming zones and with heart rate-based and power-based intensity zones.

Workouts That Go Where You Go

All of the above is great. But if athletes had to remember every detail of their workouts when they stepped away from their computer or phone and went out to execute them, there would still be a high possibility of erroneous execution. Fortunately, structured workouts can be exported to compatible devices, so that you, the athlete, can take them with you and you don’t have to remember them. When a workout is exported to a supported device, the athlete is prompted through each step of the workout. The device alerts the user to transitions from warm-up to intervals to interval recoveries to cool-down, as well as to the intensity of each segment.

This is truly where the structured workout becomes the next best thing to having David or myself physically present to make sure you don’t go too fast or too slow, that you do the correct number of intervals, and so forth.

David and I believe strongly in the 80/20 training approach and in the potential effectiveness of our 80/20 plans. And now, thanks to structured workouts, we are more confident than ever in the ability of athletes like you to fully realize both the plans’ potential and yours by executing every single workout as it was intended.

Ready to get started? Find all of our Structured 80/20 Running Plans here.

Got a Garmin? Get all of your 80/20 Structured Workouts sent directly to your device using the TrainingPeaks Connect IQ App.

The post Improve Your Training Intensity Balance with Structured Workouts appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

Tapering For Your Marathon to Guarantee Success

Brought to you by

Training for a marathon, like many other endurance events, can be daunting. The preparation, planning and time commitment needed is ultimately rewarded once you cross the finish line. The journey to a marathon is sometimes greater than the race itself. If done properly, you will see your physical and mental levels reach heights that you could not have dreamed of when you started your training.

The hardest part for many athletes is planning out the tapering portion of their program, which is interesting because it is by far the shortest amount of both time and mileage. Two-time Olympic marathoner and co-author of “Advanced Marathoning” Pete Pfitzinger writes that, “Studies have shown that a well-planned taper leads to improved running economy and increases in muscle strength and power.”

Indeed, how well you taper can easily determine whether you meet, exceed or fall below your performance goals. How best to taper for a marathon can be extremely subjective and highly personalized depending on your adaptation ability, race experience, training ramp rate and even your personal physiology. Over the course of this post, I will lay out several key components of a good taper so that you can apply them to your own marathon taper as needed.

What is a marathon taper?

A marathon taper is a gradual decline in mileage that precedes the event, giving the athlete time to rest, recover and allow proper absorption of their final build phase of training (generally speaking this means your final 20- to 22-mile long run). Every marathon training routine should end with a taper roughly two to three weeks heading into the race. The taper has been scientifically proven to help improve performance between three to five percent (which can be the difference between a PR or a Boston Qualifying time for many runners!). During this phase, your training is not geared toward physical improvement, in fact, there are very little fitness gains you can make this close to race day. It’s more about allowing your body to catch up to itself. In other words, you will be cutting back your mileage to allow muscle improvement as well as allowing your internal system (glycogen levels, hormones, enzymes, immune system) to achieve optimal levels prior to race day.

When a taper starts, your body is somewhat depleted. You would have put in a lot of work as you approach this stage. Remember: the taper is meant to re-energize you.

Like anything else in training, your taper process needs to be personalized. You might want to go the route of a three-week taper versus two weeks or cut back drastically on mileage while maintaining intensity. Another option is to tweak your mileage just enough and cut back on intensity. For the best results, you should be following a marathon training plan or working with a coach. But if you are on your own, you can choose what works for you. It might take some trial and error, but once you figure it out, you will be golden.

A taper should start the day, or the following week after your last longest run. Typically that run will be in the 20- to 23-mile range. Whenever you do start cutting back, you should look to reduce your long run into the low teens. An ideal number would be 13 to 14 miles. You can even go lower if you want to. At this stage, any long run you do is not going to add any physical improvements for you. Now is not the time to try and slip in some last minute endurance training—that is a guaranteed way to show up on race day fatigued.  

Your overall weekly mileage will also start to go down. Ideally, look for a 20- to 25-percent reduction in overall mileage. The cut back in mileage also will pertain to your  individual workouts. During your taper, make sure to do a (shorter than usual) tempo run every week, ideally at your goal marathon pace. For example, if you have been doing 30-minute tempos, move that to 20 minutes. If you want to taper for three weeks, then you can add a tempo run one week and an interval workout (i.e. a track workout) another. For intervals, if you have been getting in six to 10 sets, move that to three to six. Keep the pace the same. Just cut back on the numbers completed and the time on your feet.

During taper weeks, look to add in one extra day of rest. Rest means a complete day off. As I tell my athletes, a day off means a day off. Do nothing active. Rest.

Marathon Race Week Strategy

For the week of your marathon, you will be cutting back your mileage quite a bit. Typically, one short speed workout four days out followed by a tempo run of short time and distance. A good example of marathon race week might look like this:

Sunday: 10 mile run

Monday: Off

Tuesday: 15-to 20-minute warm up followed by 8 x 1 minute at half marathon pace with 90 second slow jog recovery. 10-minute cool down

Wednesday: 15-minute warm up followed by 10-minute tempo at marathon goal pace plus 15 to 20 seconds. If your goal pace is 8:00 then your tempo goal pace is 8:15 to 8:20. Cool down for 10 minutes

Thursday: Off

Friday: 4-mile run (can be switched with Thursday)

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Race

Some coaches don’t like taking back-to-back days off. Some like getting in a run the day before the marathon. In the end, and as previously stated, find out what works best for you. To check out some of my marathon programs, click here.

A common mistake is to get too nervous about losing “it.” The “it” is the edge and fitness levels you would have achieved up to this point in training. How to avoid that from happening? One word: Relax. Or two words: Chill out. If you start to feel lethargic and “out of it” in the several days before your marathon, that is actually a good sign that you are tapering well. You should notice a marked rise in energy starting the day or two before the race. Just be patient.

Just remember that the taper is your friend. Don’t make it your enemy. Use it wisely. Embrace it. And my last words of advice, don’t use this time to tweak things. Look at this time of rest and rejuvenation as something you’ve earned that will help you have a great marathon day.

The post Tapering For Your Marathon to Guarantee Success appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

TrainingPeaks Garmin IQ App Now Available for Download

Brought to you by

At TrainingPeaks we constantly strive to make it easier for coaches and athletes to track, analyze, and plan their workouts; and using the new TrainingPeaks Connect IQ app (available in the Garmin Connect IQ store) it is now easier for you to execute your workouts with a simple push or swipe of a button. Instead of relying on memory, pen and paper or your mobile device to remember your structured workouts, the Connect IQ app can be loaded onto a compatible Garmin device and taken with you wherever you go. When you’re ready to workout, your device becomes your guide, taking you through every step, pedal or swim stroke.

“This app makes it easier than ever for athletes to perform their workouts at the right intensity every time,” said Dirk Friel, Co-founder and Chief of Fitness Brands at TrainingPeaks. “In staying in line with our longstanding mission to help athletes and coaches achieve their goals, the Connect IQ app will create a clearer pathway for training specificity.”   

With the new TrainingPeaks Connect IQ app, workouts created with the TrainingPeaks Workout Builder can be instantly loaded onto compatible Garmin devices. The app reads the planned workouts from your TrainingPeaks calendar and downloads a .FIT Workout file directly to your device. From there, the built-in workout mode of the Garmin device guides you through your workout in real time using customized Heart Rate, Power or Pace targets straight from TrainingPeaks. No more incorrect interval intensities, just clear instruction tailored to your individual thresholds and daily workout goals.

The completed activity data can automatically sync back to TrainingPeaks for a detailed analysis of your performance, making it easier than ever to track your progress toward your training and racing goals.

The app comes preinstalled on the new Garmin Forerunner 935 watch. The app is also available in the Garmin Connect IQ app store and is compatible with all models of the Fenix 5;  the Edge 1000, 820, and 520; and the Forerunner 735XT. 

“Garmin is excited to partner with TrainingPeaks — providing athletes with a new opportunity to download workouts to several of our running, cycling and triathlon products,” said Matt Bates, marketing manager at Garmin. “Pre-installed on the new Forerunner 935, the TrainingPeaks Connect IQ app enables athletes focused on performance and results to utilize their own personal coaches to become better, faster and more efficient come race day.”

Start building your workouts with a free 30-day trial of TrainingPeaks Premium or choose a free Kickstart training plan and give the IQ app a test ride.


The post TrainingPeaks Garmin IQ App Now Available for Download appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

File Analysis: Team ORICA-SCOTT Rider Luke Durbridge’s 4th Place Finish at E3-Prijs Harelbeke

Brought to you by

The 2017 E3-Prijs Harelbeke was set to be a showdown with all the major spring classic performers gathered under sunny conditions to race 206 kilometers around the iconic Flemish Hills. The 2017 edition was widely seen as one of the hardest in recent years due to the intensity of the race right out of the gate.

We had the privilege to look at fourth-place finisher Luke Durbridge of ORICA-SCOTT’s power file and analyzed the effort and power needed to make it at the front of such an iconic race. Upon finishing the race Durbridge was adamant that the intensity had surprised him all day long. “You can’t go much deeper than that, eh. You don’t go much deeper than that,” he said. “I went absolutely to my unbelievable limit. It was a hard day.” When a rider of this caliber says that he “can’t go much deeper,” you know it truly was an epic day in the saddle.

Some of the GPS data has not been transmitted properly which leaves the speed and distances on the analyzer difficult to track, but the power, locations and time of the efforts are all there to be seen. Now, let’s see what it takes to be a classic rider powerhouse.

To view Luke Durbridge’s SRM file click the image below:


Overall Stats for the Race

Total distance: 206km

Total time in saddle: 4hr 48min

Average speed: 42.5kph

TSS score: 355

Normalized average power: 361W (average power 312W)

Watts/kilogram: 4.63 w/kg

The Start

The start to E3 was exceptionally hard compared to both previous editions and other 2017 classics. The main reason for this is because the early break was not formed until the second hour, which generally means that in the period until the break is formed there is aggressive and fast racing from the riders and teams wanting some early glory and needing to help set up the race for the main contenders later in the day. Because of this the race was averaging 40 kph for the first hour and 45 kph in the second hour—there was no relaxing in the first part of the race for anyone. This can be seen in Durbridge’s data during the initial 80km:

Time stamp: 1hr 50min

Normalized average power: 327W (average power 287W)

4.19 W/kg

If we compare this to other races we have seen in the 2017 season, protected riders such as Durbridge would expect to be around 3 to 3.5 W/kg average in the first part of the race before the fireworks kick off. From this we can gather that many riders hit the hills with more fatigue than they would have liked. This may have played into the hands of a rider such as Durbridge, with his big engine and ability to churn out high power for hours on end I expect that he will have felt the fatigue less in this initial two hours than other contenders.

Into the Hills

The real climbing starts around the 93 km point, this is noted with the ascent of “La Houppe” climb and it is succeeded with the “Oude Kruisberg,” “Knokteberg,” “Hotondberg” and “Kortekeer,” which take place along a 36 km stretch. During the period Luke was well protected by his ORICA-SCOTT teammates keeping him in position close to the front and out of harm’s way. During this period Luke normalized 341W and 4.38 W/kg but within this he had four climbs to tackle which lasted between two and five minutes.

La Houppe: 5 min; 333W; 4.24 W/kg

Knokteberg: 2 min; 438W; 5.58 W/kg

Hotondberg: 2 min; 393W; 5.01 W/kg

Kortekeer: 3 min; 449W; 5.72 W/kg

Within this section you can see that the climbs required Durbridge to ride around 5 to 5.5 W/kg for a duration lasting between two and five minutes. This can be seen as Durbridge riding within himself to maintain position and keep his power ready for the fight which lay ahead.

The Attacks Start

The Taaienberg climb has traditionally been the place where the big guns start firing, and this year’s addition did not disappoint. At this point, the lead break was around three minutes in advance with a small group of three between that and the main contenders. On the approach to the Taaienberg climb the pace was increased by the Quick Step Floors team setting a fast pace to hit the climb at full gas. The twisting roads leading to this hill make positioning crucial, unfortunately Durbridge found himself a little farther back than what he may have liked with him sitting around 20th wheel from the front of the peloton as he hit the slopes of the Taaienberg. In the 1.2km before the climb Durbridge averaged 469W at 47 kph, what is interesting is that within these 90 seconds he had to do two, 10-second efforts of between 800W and 900W. This was due to the pace which Quick Step Floors had set along with the desire to maintain and increase his position toward the front of the peloton before the climb. This is a true trait of a classics rider being able to hit short, neuromuscular efforts and then still being powerful enough to kick out a high, prolonged VO2 effort within close succession. One other important observation to note, up until this point (where the real race for the win is about to start) Durbridge had accumulated a 200 TSS. This means he needed to be at his best after hitting an already very high TSS score. Something us mere mortals should find both impressive and exceptional.

On the Taaienberg climb Durbridge rode the 700 meters (9.5-percent average gradient) at 500W average, 6.38 W/kg. At this point Tom Boonen and Daniel Oss (of Quick Step Floors) opened the gas and split the group leaving Durbridge in a chase bunch as they fought to regain ground on the 20 or so select riders who now formed the front bunch. Over the top of the Taaineberg climb and onto the approach to the Boigneberg climb Durbridge rode at 370W for around eight minutes as he fought to keep within striking distance of the lead group. This was a critical time for Luke as the requirement to make the junction to the leading favorites, which were now around five to 10 seconds in front, was critical.


The Bridge

The lead up to and on the Boigneberg climb saw Luke produce his peak power for the day on durations between 20 seconds and six minutes. This was all due to his massive effort to bridge the gap to the leading select group which included Philippe Gilbert,  Greg Van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen and Lukas Pöstlberger. Durbridge made this bridge with Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) of Cannondale-Drapac and it clear they dug very deep:

Stats for Boigneberg climb:

Length:  2 minutes

Average power: 524W  (6.68 W/kg)

Max power: 1,180W (17.3 W/kg)

If we break this down further, we see a massive one minute effort in the initial phase of his pursuit across to the leaders which was on the steepest part of the Boigneberg climb. Here he did a massive one minute effort of 632W (8.05 W/kg) on the steepest section of the climb as it pitched up to a 15-percent gradient.

To make things just the little bit harder and more painful, within 10 seconds of Durbridge bridging the gap to the leading group and having a very short rest, he then produced his peak 10-second effort as he fought to stay on the back of the leading group when Van Avermaet accelerated out of the corner to keep the pressure on to open the gap to the chasing riders. For these 10 seconds full of pain, Durbridge produced an average power of 980W (12.5 W/kg) maxing out at 1,172W (15.02 W/kg) for the 10-second effort. This is not something you would normally like to do after having already produced his peak one-, two-, three-, four-, five- and six-minute powers in the lead up to this sprint. Ouch!

Keeping Pace with Leaders

After the Boigneberg climb the race was well and truly on, with the lead break established and everyone riding to their maximum. During this extremely hard period the riders tackled some of the hardest climbs of the day. This section had them hit Eikenberg, Stationberg, Kapelberg and Paterberg climbs in quick succession and all within 20 km of each other. The rise in power and effort is noticeable during this section compared to the early climbs that met the riders before the big selection was made. On the first climbs in the race Durbridge was riding approximately 5W/kg to 5.5 W/kg. On this section of climbs he was having to sit between 6 W/kg and 7 W/kg.

Breakdown of the Eikenberg, Stationberg, Kapelberg and Paterberg climbs:

Eikenberg: 2:30; 481W; 6.13 W/kg

Stationberg: 1:30; 495W; 6.31 W/kg

Kapelberg: 1:45; 429W; 5.46 W/kg

Paterberg: 1:11; 570W; 7.26 W/kg (maxing out at 993W on this short climb at one point)

Between these climbs Durbridge was riding between 330W and 350W (4.2 W/kg to 4.5 W/kg), which was needed to take turns with the leading riders in the world as they rode hard and committed to keep the gap to the chasing bunch (led by Quick Step Floors) as they approach the Oude Kwaremont.

Oude Kwaremont

With the iconic climb of the Oude Kwaremont looming, this was to be the showdown that was to play out the final selection. The climb was hit with ferocity as Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale forced the pace which was to be too fast for Durbridge to remain with.

Stats for Oude Kwaremont:

Length: 1.1 km

Duration: 2:52 minutes

Average power: 463W (5.9 W/kg)

Max power:  651W (8.35 W/kg)

Having lost contact on the slopes of the Kwaremont, Durbridge put in a massive effort over the top of the climb, where they were met with a cobbled section. Here Durbridge rode at 422W (5.38 W/kg) for four and a half minutes as he tried to regain contact with the three leaders (Gilbert, Naesen and Van Avermaet). Unfortunately, this effort was not enough to regain contact. The next 36 km to the finish was going to be painful if they were to keep the distance on the chasing bunch.

Fighting to the End

With most of the climbs behind them and mostly rolling terrain toward the finish in Harelbeke some 26 km away, Durbridge was to use his incredible time-trial ability to keep within two minutes of the leading trio and maintain a gap on the chasing peloton as him and Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe rode hard to fight it out for fourth and fifth place.

Stats for the last 26 km (after already some 180km of all-out racing):

Average speed:  44 kph

Duration: 35 minutes

Average power: 367W (4.68 W/kg)

Normalized average power: 380W (4.87 W/kg)

After the race Durbridge had this to say of these last 26 kilometers, “I literally couldn’t close the gap. I tried for 30 kilometres but I couldn’t close it.”

This was a massive effort to keep a consistent effort through these last 35 minutes of the race,  having already put his body to the max during the previous 180km. The finish saw Durbridge beat fellow breakaway companion Lukas Pöstlberger in a sprint to the line. Both riders were at the end of their powers, however Durbridge had enough energy to do one min at 413W (5.26 W/kg) as he approached the line to take fourth. This was a battle fought hard to the end.

E3-Prijs Harelbeke is known as a “Mini Tour of Flanders” but it is very much a classic in its own right. With this in mind and with only a matter of days before the Tour of Flanders is played out across the hills of Belgium, the riders who made E3 so thrilling will be the same players who will make the Ronde Van Vlaanderen so speculator. Who would bet against Luke Durbridge fighting it out for a podium with the early season form he has shown in recent weeks?

The post File Analysis: Team ORICA-SCOTT Rider Luke Durbridge’s 4th Place Finish at E3-Prijs Harelbeke appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

Can Fit Athletes Really Be Unhealthy?

Brought to you by

We often use the words “fit” and “healthy” in our everyday language to mean the same thing.  If you’re fit, then surely you must be healthy. The two terms go together in commonplace language. But in actual fact, as I’ve written recently with legendary coach and clinician Dr. Phil Maffetone, the terms have entirely separate meanings. Allow me to explain.

We can define fitness as simply the ability to perform a given exercise task. For example, an elite cyclist or triathlete might possess a maximal mean cycling power output of 5.5 W/kg over five minutes, which is indicative of a high VO2max power output. We can say that this athlete has incredible fitness. But that number actually doesn’t tells us much about the athlete’s health.

Health is defined distinctly as a person’s state of well-being, where physiological systems are working together in harmony to achieve a level of balance. While we typically view athletes as fit and healthy, more often than you think, they may not be.

In my past, I’ve had the privilege of working in a high performance Olympic environment, where I was part of a team charged with helping athletes win on the world stage. Doing so involved routine case conferences with coaches focused on day-to-day problems hindering athlete preparation and performance.  Reported athlete symptoms would vary, but could include anything from general persistent fatigue and muscle soreness, to mental-emotional issues ranging from depression and anxiety to a lack of motivation. Often these would be associated with insomnia, and eventually reductions in performance would be seen. Fitness was typically the last to go.

The global term we place on our unhealthy athletes is that they are simply “overtrained.” We tend to use this expression when we can’t explain the precise problem. Essentially, however, our unhealthy athletes display nervous and hormonal systems that are battling hard against too much stress.

Stress comes in many forms, and we need a certain level of it in life to be healthy. Having no stress is equally a problem. Forms of stress include mental-emotional life stress, the stress of our physical environment (altitude, heat, pollution), and even lack of movement from sitting for prolonged periods in our offices or in automobiles commuting.

We can view the problem of the stress we experience relative to what our genetic makeup is prepared to handle. If we consider our genetic makeup to be built on a hunter-gathering background spanning roughly 2.4 million years, that equates to about 84,000 generations requiring large daily energy expenditures reliant on fat burning to support the primary activities of walking, slow running, resting  and occasionally sprinting. More recently of course, there have been dramatic advances in technology through the agricultural (350 generations), industrial (7 generations) and most recently digital (2 generations) revolutions. Today’s society sees us living in a population adapted genetically for the stresses of life as a hunter-gatherer in the wild, but living in our high-tech, generally sedentary, overfed and emotionally stressful 21st century world.

So what we can we do about it?  In our paper, we propose that two primary drivers contribute to the development of the unhealthy athlete. The first is an inappropriate volume of high intensity training, while the second is our modern-day, highly processed, highly glycemic diet. Both factors merge like a perfect storm to create a stress response that may manifest in any number of symptoms that we globally label as the overtraining syndrome.

As we go a bit deeper into the physiology of stress, we should begin by introducing our body’s central stress response system, called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (Figure 1).

The fit but unhealthy training and eating paradigm. Photo credit: Sports Medicine Open

The HPA axis describes the complex interactions that occur among three endocrine glands: the hypothalamus (which talks to your brain and nervous system), the pituitary gland in the brain (sends regulatory hormones to other organs in the body) and the adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys (which produce adrenalin and cortisol). Together we could call this our neuroendocrine system, and its role is to control reactions to stress, as well as the regulation of many body processes including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality, energy storage and expenditure. With so many jobs involved, it doesn’t take long to realize that if the central HPA axis is out of whack, then other systems around the body also falter. A classic example that athletes may relate to is how our sex drive can be lowered under high training load conditions. In this situation, that same depressed HPA-axis turns off nearby gonad-regulating hormones and related downstream function ensues. “Not tonight honey.”

Back to the central causes of overtraining. Let’s start with training intensity. We have a sport world currently fixated on training hard. The “no pain, no gain” mantra has been around for years, but the message has become even louder through programs such as CrossFit and sport science researchers (myself included) touting the short-term benefits of high-intensity interval training. While the short-term benefits of high-intensity training are real, arising out of cellular, cardiovascular and nervous system adaptations, the sustainability of this training method without adequate recovery is unlikely. Moreover, other effects described in the figure also occur, including systemic reactive oxygen species (free radical) production, inflammation and a metabolic substrate imbalance toward carbohydrate and away from fat oxidation.

On the other side of the equation, we have our highly processed, highly glycemic Western world diet that creates another prolonged stress (constant high glycemic load), due to our tendency to feed frequently. This often arises from a lack of satiety (feeling full) and an underlying message from nutrition authorities to feed, feed, feed. Our genetic foundation, used to fasting and fat-burning, was not equipped to handle such stress. As a result, the ensuing insulinemia is seen to advance inflammation and lower our ability to burn fat and thus we observe varying symptoms of the overtraining syndrome.

The solution? While individual issues will be complex, typically solutions start with resting and recovering, and getting back to training using a lower training intensity that facilitates fat burning, along with a focus toward a whole food diet.  If you’re interested in learning more, follow this link to a successful case study we published in an elite female IRONMAN triathlete who came back from overtraining to world class performance using these very same techniques described.

Physical, biochemical and mental-emotional injuries are not normal outcomes of participation in endurance sport, yet the incidence of these in our athletes is alarmingly high. Practitioners, coaches and athletes should be aware of impending health abnormalities during training and consider periods of reduced training intensity and rest, while emphasizing a natural, unprocessed diet to improve health and promote fitness. For optimal performance, athletes must be both fit and healthy.

Key Points

Fitness and health can be defined separately: fitness describes the ability to perform a given exercise task, and health explains a person’s state of well-being, where physiological systems work in harmony.
Too many athletes are fit but unhealthy.
Excess high training intensity or training volume and/or excess consumption of processed/refined dietary carbohydrates can contribute to reduced health in athletes and even impair performance.

Paul Lauren, PhD will be a speaker at the 2017 Endurance Coaching Summit, held Aug. 3-4 in Boulder, Colo. Learn more from coaches and experts on topics including physiology, race planning, marketing and more. Register now!

The post Can Fit Athletes Really Be Unhealthy? appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

 Page 1 of 7  1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »