June 11, 2019

Do This! Performance Directives For Endurance Athletes

Sometimes it’s nice when people tell you what to do. Here is everything you can do to improve your endurance performance in the form of directives.

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With so much information available online, much of it conflicting, sometimes it’s just nice when people tell you what to do.

With that in mind, I wanted to document Coached’s holistic approach to endurance performance in the form of simple directives.

Here they are broken up into six categories.

  1. How to train.
  2. How to fuel training and racing.
  3. How to eat.
  4. How to recover.
  5. How to race.
  6. What else to do.

Over time, it is likely we’ll add to this, update it and refine it as we continue to learn and develop our philosophy.

For now, here they are.

How To Train

Don’t rush the process; always make training progressive to keep it enjoyable and to avoid injury.

Get the basics right. Develop a robust aerobic system and consistently work to improve your form and technical abilities.

Carefully plan your training and schedule it to hold yourself accountable. If you need help, engage an experienced coach to help you.

Do as much training as you can recover from while remaining motivated, healthy and injury free.

Increase your mileage by upping your training frequency. Train more often, not longer in each session. This improves recovery and the quality of each of your training sessions.

Train by time rather than distance. Time self corrects for factors like fatigue, fitness, climate and terrain. When stress is low, you’ll cover more distance. When stress is high (example: you’re running up a mountain, into a headwind on a 35-degree day), you’ll cover less distance. That’s ok!

Training intensity is very important. Do around eighty percent of your training in zones 1 and 2. Zones 3, 4 and 5 should make up the remaining twenty percent. Allocate that twenty percent based on the distance of the race you’re preparing for.

Wear a heart rate monitor regularly to ‘dial in your feel’ and ensure you’re training in the right zones.

Track your heart rate against your pace to monitor your progress. When your pace at the same heart rate gets faster, you know you are getting fitter. Alternatively, a lower heart rate at the same pace indicates the same thing.

How To Fuel Training And Racing

Teach your body to burn more fat so that you conserve glycogen. By doing this, you’ll also find it easier to maintain a lean body composition and have better energy levels from day to day.

Train on an empty stomach during your easy sessions. This helps your body to improve its ability to generate energy from fat. If a session is more than 90 minutes long, introduce energy from external sources from 90 minutes onwards.

Practice your race fueling in training, especially as the race gets closer, and the miles go up. Everyone is an experiment of one and what works for others may not work for you. Test it!

Split your fuelling strategy into two parts:

  1. Hydration.
  2. Energy.

Hydrate with water and sodium. Drink to thirst.

Take in energy from gels. As much as your stomach can tolerate without feeling bloated, sick or the need to visit a restroom.

For races and important or long training sessions, preload with sodium. We recommend Precision Hydration’s 1500 drinks. Drink a 1500 sachet or tab in 500 ml of water the night before the race/session and 90 minutes before the start.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

How To Eat

You can’t out-exercise a poor diet so eat for fuel, not for entertainment.

Eat real food, not food products.

Stop carbo-loading. If you eat a standard Singaporean, Western or Indian diet, you’re likely carbo-loaded. Eating additional carbohydrates will add no value and only work to make you fatter.

When eating carbs, aim for high-quality sources of carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, dark chocolate, quinoa etc. Avoid white, starchy carbohydrates and other refined sugars.

Don’t fear fat! Eat good quality fat from places like coconut products, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, eggs and other animal fats.

In a gram of carbohydrate, there are 4 calories of energy, and in a gram of fat, there are 9 calories of energy. When you lower your carbohydrate intake, you must increase the healthy fats so that you have enough energy to fuel your training and racing.

How To Recover

Consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer. Take a session off to avoid a day off. Take a day off to avoid a week off. Take a week off to avoid a month off.

Sleep 7 – 8 hours a night. In a cold, dark and quiet room.

Monitor your resting heart rate or heart rate variability every day upon waking.

Nap daily, if possible.

Eat high-quality and nourishing foods. See how to eat (above) for more.

Don’t be a sedentary athlete. Keep moving around throughout the day, especially if you work a desk job. Movement helps to keep blood flowing and to flush byproducts from your system.

Use a foam roller or get a regular massage to keep your muscles in good condition.

The brain uses approximately twenty percent of your total daily energy. Avoid social media, text messages and other forms of digital stimulation (especially at night) to allow your brain to recover. It’s in your best interest to be bored occasionally!

How To Race

Never try anything new on race day, that’s what training is for.

Results take care of themselves, so don’t sweat the outcome. If you’ve prepared well (see directives above) and you execute a smart race (see directives below), you’ll achieve the best possible result given your starting fitness and the length of time you had to prepare.

In a race there are things you can control (pacing, fuelling, equipment choices, form etc.), things you can influence (fellow participants) and things outside of your control (weather, delayed start times etc.). Focus on the things you CAN control!

How you feel does not dictate the outcome. You can feel terrible and still produce a great result. Likewise, you can feel great and be moving slowly.

Choose your gear wisely and use a checklist (Download a running or triathlon checklists) to ensure you don’t forget anything on race day. You must avoid any unnecessary stress in the lead up to your race start.

Race with self-control and patience. Aim to race an even effort/paced race. You’ll pass a lot of people in the later stages of the race, and you’ll achieve the best result if you do this.

Use body checks to manage pain and to avoid spiralling into a negative state of mind.

Fuel consistently and according to the strategy you have practised in training.

You race for fun. Remember to soak it in and enjoy the experience.

What Else To Do

Pay for the advice of people smarter and more experienced than you. Investing in the guidance of experienced coaches, physiotherapists, doctors, dieticians and the like will almost always be money well spent.

What gets measured, gets managed. Use performance testing to optimise your training and track your progress.

Work hard. The best equipment and tech is not a substitute for doing the work.

Image: Zoe Tan

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.