Sometimes when I Google things like, “How to not kill your child when he shoves his little sister into her new locker”
Or, “How to fart delicately when you are in a social situation” (who knew there are actually activated charcoal underwear and pads?), I happen upon some really interesting information that I think everyone should know.
Today I’m sharing with the you Top Ten Biggest Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make (by Hammer Nutrition). It might not surprise you to find the biggest mistake made is that people don’t use Hammer Nutrition (just kidding, sort of).
I want to share these with you because I am a hugely flawed and mistake-ridden endurance athlete. I have done it all wrong (three injuries in three years), and now I am backtracking and trying to do it all right. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in MRI machines, crying while holding a 20 ounce glass of wine.
Overall, I think it’s a good list even though it is biased towards Hammer Nutrition (which is a great product, but not one I’ve used excessively). I tried not to plagiarize, but instead to summarize in my own words (I don’t want Ms. Priles from ninth grade to come and give me a wedgie and an “F,” which would cause my dad to take away my new Michael Jackson album and my Love’s Baby Soft). I also added in my own two cents because this is my blog and I like to do that. If you take issue with any of these, let me know in the comments section. Some make sense to me and some I’m not sure about.
The Top Ten Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make
1. Too much drinking (and not of the alcohol kind, but that could be problematic as well)
We always hear about watching out for dehydration. Turns out, we need to be just as aware of over-hydrating. Interestingly enough, the front runners in races tend to under-hydrate while the middle to back of the packers sometimes drink too much.
Over consumption of fluid can lead to low sodium in the blood (hyponatremia) and can cause bloating, stomach upset and even death. While hydrating, balance is the key – most doctors/nutritionists agree that approximately 20 ounces per hour will do the trick. This is an average – some people will need more, some less, and of course temperature and humidity come into play. I have a rule of thumb that on every long run I drink 2-3 ounces of water every time my Garmin beeps at the mile mark.
2. Eating and drinking simple sugars
According to the article, simple sugars – fructose, sucrose and glucose - cannot be digested by the body efficiently. There is a whole physiological theory behind this that I am too dumb to understand. It appears that complex carbs (maltodextrins or glucose polymers) are the best choice – they move into your system quickly, digest as easily and rapidly as the simple sugars and may cause less tummy distress (much needed over here). GU is an example of a fuel source that contains maltodextrin (and Hammer, of course). Not everyone agrees that simple sugars are to be avoided. You can read the opposing viewpoint in this article by Matt Fitzgerald.
3. Improper amounts of calories
Apparently, your body cannot replenish calories as fast as it expends them, same with fluids and electrolytes. Therefore, athletes need to figure out the least amount of calories that they can consume to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but not too many calories that they get sick and lethargic. Too many calories and you risk being bloated and having stomach distress. Not enough and you bonk or DNF.
In general and according to the article, an intake of about 250 calories per hour is sufficient for the average size endurance athlete (approximately 160- 165 lbs). Lighter weight athletes will need less, while heavier athletes may need slightly more. I can get by on 100 calories an hour during a marathon. I took in 150-200 per hour during the half Ironman. That’s just what works for me.
4. Incorrect Use of Electrolytes
Basically, athletes need to replenish electrolytes consistently, and especially when it’s hot outside (duh!). This needs to be done prior to becoming electrolyte-depleted. Once that happens, it is tough to catch up. But, it is also important to get the right balance of electrolytes – for example, the article points out that salt tabs alone cannot satisfy all electrolyte requirements and might even cause more problems than they help.
In all of my races I’ve started using Endurolyte Tabs because mixing gels and sports drinks upsets my stomach. I take 2 to 3 before the start of race, and a few during the race, depending on the duration. Throughout the race I do gels and drink only water. Some of my longer races like the Boulder 70.3 took over 5 hours and were done in 90+ degree heat. I’ve never suffered from dehydration. I swear by these capsules and they have never upset my stomach or caused any ill effects.
5. No protein during prolonged exercise
I have to say, this is not something I have done except in the half Ironman. But, apparently when you exercise for more than two hours your body will eat up your own muscle for fuel. This can devastate performance and cause deterioration and weakness. Carbs are still your major fuel source, but you should include small amount of protein. Supposedly, an intake of protein during longer workouts will help reduce recovery time as well.
6. Too much solid food during exercise
I am sad this is a mistake because I love eating eggs benedict during marathons. Just kidding. In fact, there is no way in hell I could ingest much solid food during a race or long workout effort. I know that if I ever did an ultra I might have to train my body to do this, although some ultra runners don’t take in any solid food. Liquid nutrition is easy, convenient and usually digests well. In addition, eating too much solid food utilizes blood for digestion, thereby not supplying it sufficiently to muscles.
The article goes on to say that if you do choose solid foods, avoid refined sugar an saturated fat.
7. Doing/using something new in a race without testing it in training.
This is one that we hear over and over again, “Never try anything new on race day.” This goes for nutrition, shoes, socks, tampons, condoms, etc. (Who wants to get pregnant on the course?)
8. Sticking with your game plan even when it's not working
I think this is a tough one, and I like to compare it to the birth plan. When I was pregnant I told my doc about my plans for labor and delivery. He said, “It’s good to have a plan as long as you’re willing to ditch it if need be.” In other words, have a plan but for God’s sake, be flexible!
No matter how much we “plan,” it’s tough to anticipate what will really occur on race day. There are so many factors at play including weather, aches/pains that arise, etc. In terms of fueling, while it’s good to have a strategy, if the weather is hot, the body cannot process calories as well. Under these circumstances if you gag down food your stomach will fire back at you and it won’t be pretty. This is the point at which hydration has to become the primary focus. Once your body adjusts to the heat, you can try eating again. Like the article says, “Have a game plan, but write it in pencil, not in ink.”
9. Inadequate post-workout nutrition
This was a hard one for me to get when I first started running. I thought more was better. The real gain of exercise comes during recovery when the body has been broken down and begins to adapt and rebuild. But, this can only happen with proper nutrition and rest. Protein and carbs need to be replenished post-exercise (within 30 to 60 minutes), especially for workouts of more than an hour. This will rebuild/repair muscle and support immune system functioning.
Ideally, consume a 3:1 ration of carbs to protein. Good choices are chocolate milk, a protein shake, peanut butter and jelly, an egg sandwich, turkey and cheese on a bagel, etc.
10. Improper pre-workout/race fueling
Basically, over indulging (“carb loading”) the night before a race or long workout is futile. It takes weeks to maximize glycogen stores. In addition, don’t over-eat during your pre-race meal. 200-400 calories of complex carbs is sufficient, and avoid too much fiber. Ideally, stop eating three hours before your race. I usually do this, but only because I’m too nervous to gag anything down near to the start time.
Do you agree with these points? For the most part. Need to learn more about the simple sugar thing, and about eating protein during a race/workout.
What’s the worst “rookie” mistake you’ve ever made during a race? I ran a half marathon with a stress fracture in my foot. I’m an asshole!