Lifestyle Physio Cronulla Blog

How to cheat endurance. Hydration, Nutrition, Sleep.

Ever thought about challenging yourself in an endurance event? A marathon, triathlon, a mud run or maybe city to surf? It could be anything that pushes you beyond your current limits.


If you have, you’ll likely research training plans, incorporate interval sessions, strength training, mobility work, rehab exercises, long workouts and activity specific training. BUT what if there was a way to ‘cheat’ your own capacity? It won’t cost you anything AND its legal…



1.      Hydration 


This starts long before your event does. Starting fully hydrated is like rocket fuel for peak performance. In the days leading up to an event, ensure you have a water bottle by your side, and it might help to put some electrolytes in the water to ensure you maintain adequate sodium levels. Maintain a high fluid and electrolyte intake for at least 3 days prior. Before the event have a few sips of sports drink (sip, don’t scull!), take a deep breath, maybe a wee (shows good hydration levels!) and you are off.


“When you are thirsty, it’s too late” is old school. Recent studies have shown that our perception of thirst is a great indication that it’s time to drink. Did you know that you can become over-hydrated? It’s a real problem for endurance athletes as they try to stay ahead of their dehydration.


Studies have shown that upwards of 10% of athletes are finishing events with hyponatremia (that is excessive loss of the sodium, through sweat, that is not replenished but instead diluted through water intake). The general recommendation is to drink to replace sweat or drink to thirst, which is roughly a bottle every hour of electrolyte or sports drink (or water and use a supplement).


Follow your gut… literally. 


2.      Nutrition


Heard of carb loading? Sounds like a great excuse to eat lollies without compromise. There ARE a few rules. If your event is to last less than 90 minutes, a 24 hour period of “topping off” carbohydrate levels is all that’s necessary. If the event is likely to last longer than 90 minutes, carb-loading for 36-48 hours is recommended, and may improve performance by 2-3%!


Suggested carb intake is at least 6g/kg and up to 12g/kg during this carb-loading period. For example if you’re 70kg, and we use and average of 10g/kg, this would mean in the 24 hours leading up to the event you should try to eat 700g of carbs! For reference, a donut contains roughly 50grams (per 100g) of carbs or pasta which contains roughly 31 grams (per 100g).


SO if you wanted to eat all your carbs in pasta, you’d need to get through over 2kgs of it!


In the 1-4hrs just before the race, a single meal of roughly 1-4g/kg of carbs is ideal. And while you may feel too nervous to eat, its an important meal and there are lots of carb dense foods to choose from (white bread, bagels, cakes, oat bars, cereal, low fat chocolate milk, fruit juice and pasta).


Many nutritionists suggest that you only have to worry about fuelling during the event if the activity lasts longer than 60 minutes. In this case, active fuelling is recommended to maintain carb availability in the body, so you can keep moving. Generally 30-60g/hour (1-2 gels/hour) is ideal for 1-2.5 hour events. That being said, events lasting longer than this may require up to 90g/hour! But BEWARE this can quickly lead to gastrointestinal issues if not consumed correctly. It is best to test this out during training. How does your body respond to solid food such as a sandwich or carb bar, how about sports drinks, or gels? And which gels or which sports drink? This comes down to personal preference, just get the carbs in! 


3.      Sleep 


Ahh, a favourite topic! So many athletes and people overlook the importance of sleep on performance (not just physical performance). Did you know that getting less than 7 hours sleep can severely impair your performance? This can include faster exhaustion, reduced accuracy, reduced reaction time, increased risk of injury or illness, and inhibited ability (e.g. reduced sprint times).  And while these effects may not all relate to endurance events, they can affect motivation! Ask any endurance athlete- I bet they’ve turned the alarm off once or twice after a poor nights sleep. The dreaded lack of motivation.


Sleep hygiene should be a high priority. Some quick tips:


          Adults should aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep every night 

          Aim to wake up at a similar time each morning to establish a healthy body clock

          Reduce exposure to bright lights late at night (e.g. phone or dim house lights) to increase feeling of tiredness associated with our natural circadian rhythm

          Don’t do caffeine after midday! Caffeine has been shown to reduce deep sleep by 30% and can speed up the effects of ageing. Caffeine has a ‘half-life’ of 5 hours, that means your double shot half soy half almond latte with extra cream and a side of caramel sauce at 2pm, is the same as having another single shot coffee at 7pm! 

          In the days leading up to the race, slowly adjust your wake (and sleep) hours to match that needed for race day to ensure you still manage your 7-9 hours.


An edge, without cheating! This is not an exhaustive list but absolutely proven ways to improve your speed and/or endurance. Simple changes just might make a huge difference!


As physiotherapists, we understand the importance of physical strength and conditioning to be able to perform endurance feats. Without a holistic view and considering factors outside of the body itself, we wouldn’t be able to educate our patients on how to live a full, pain-free life all while achieving your goals!

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