The Six Components Of Fitness Of Sessions:6

The Six Components of Fitness of Sessions:6

It’s common thought that to become a better athlete you simply need to train more and push harder to be successful. 

Many athletes are familiar with the 10,000 hour rule which states that it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to obtain elite level proficiency in your sport. In many ways this concept holds true; you need to put in the time for your body to adapt to and learn the skills and movements required to perform at a high level of sport. However, we have found that there is more to the equation of improvement in sports than simply just training more. You certainly can and do become a better athlete simply by doing more of what you are striving to improve; more hours on the bike, more miles on the run, or more time in the gym. Assuming you have the time and fitness to spend 5+ hours a day training your sport, in time, you will become highly competent in your sport, allowing you to compete at a very high level.

There’s no question that if you put in the time, you will improve. But is this high volume, single-focused training approach the right way to maximize performance? Maybe, maybe not. Is it the only way to maximize performance? Definitely not.

Then what is the ‘right’ way or ‘best’ way to improve as an athlete?

There are many theories out there to follow, however we have found the answer to be: “It depends.” It depends on who the athlete is. How old is the athlete, what is the athlete’s background in sport, what is the athlete’s lifestyle, do they have a job, do they have a family, do they have the time, energy and physical capacity to allow them to train 30+ hours a week, week in and week out? If you’re a 20-something year old, athletic individual with minimal life stress and plenty of financial backing then it’s time to put in the big volume. However, if you’re over thirty, have to make money to support yourself and/or your family, or are a less than perfect physical specimen, then simply doing more of the same thing is not the best path to follow to reach your fullest potential.

Through working with hundreds of different athletes coming from all shapes and sizes of background in sport, we have found that there are six essential components required to maximize fitness and athletic development.

So how is the aspiring athlete going to maximize improvement when spending endless hours cranking out the effort is not an option? We have found over the years that all athletes must make fitness and sport a lifestyle, much like a professional, focusing on both the large and the small components of fitness to build the best possible athlete they can be. We have identified six key elements that are crucial to athletic success, and they can all be implemented regardless of the individual experience level or the amount of time the athlete has to devote to their sport.

The SIX elements of sport performance that make up the SESSIONS:6 Sport Performance philosophy:

  • Aerobic Conditioning

  • Strength & Stability

  • Skill Proficiency

  • Diet & Nutrition

  • Stress Management

  • Mental Fitness

By learning, incorporating and striving to always improve upon these six key components of fitness, an athlete will be better able to reach their fullest potential in sport performance.

The first three components, aerobic conditioning, muscular stability, and skill proficiency make up the physical “training” an athlete with do.

Aerobic conditioning can be achieved by not only spending more time performing their sport, but also through various modalities of cross-training during specific times of the year. Training aerobic endurance by going longer at times, as well as incorporating moderate and high intensity interval training, at and above an athlete’s aerobic and anaerobic thresholds at specific points in their training year, will improve their aerobic conditioning.

Including muscular strength and joint stability training will improve an athlete’s range of motion, application of force, and overall durability. Improper joint mobility and/or joint stability limits nearly every athlete in some manner. Improving these characteristics through proper strength training modalities, an athlete will become more efficient and able to use more of their given maximal aerobic capacity.

Developing the skills to move the body in the most efficient manner is critical to maximizing strength, power, speed and endurance. Wasted energy through improper movements not only slows you down but wastes valuable energy, limiting your performance. By incorporating drills into an athlete’s training program they will be able to maximize gains in strength and power as well as achieve a higher usage of their given maximal aerobic capacity.

The last three key components, diet & nutrition, stress management, and mental fitness are efforts made in between the physical training sessions.

These details require as much or more effort to incorporate into an athlete’s routine, but they can also often yield some of the biggest results.

Most athletes are aware of the importance of nutrition but few actually take it seriously for any length of time. Through optimal nutrition you not only perform better on race day, but you are also able to achieve optimal body composition for improved performance, optimal energy levels to improve training capacity, and optimal hormone operation within the body to improve health and recovery.

Recovery between training sessions is critical to maximize your training consistency and adaptation. Learning and incorporating proper recovery methods as well as recognizing other forms of stress in your your life and adjusting your training accordingly will allow you to train more effectively and get more from each training session.

Finally, perhaps the most neglected and overlooked component of success in sport is the power of the mind. Getting yourself in the right mindset to train to your fullest potential and compete to maximum ability is one of the toughest things for athletes to learn. It is subsequently also one of the most important abilities for athletes to transform themselves into champions. Practicing mental strategies and learning how to train and compete to your true ability will unlock the complete athlete within you.

To become the best athlete you can become and reach your fullest potential in the least amount of time possible, you must address these six crucial components of sport performance development: aerobic conditioning, strength & stability, skill proficiency, diet & nutrition stress management, and mental fitness.

When any one of these components is neglected or underdeveloped, an athlete will fall short of their maximum ability. Don’t fall into the trap that there is only one path to improvement, doing the same thing over and over. Rather, choose to expand your vision and athletic ability by addressing these six components of fitness to allow yourself to continually evolve and improve as an athlete.

By incorporating these 6 components into your daily training and lifestyle you will be able to consistently improve your performance year after year.

Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and  Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.

I. Aerobic Conditioning

I. Aerobic Conditioning

In a previous blog post, I introduced our six components of fitness surrounding the Sessions:6 training philosophy. In this blog post I’ll dig a little deeper into the first component of sport performance:  Aerobic Conditioning. 

When people think of the word “fitness” the mind often goes first to aerobic conditioning. Aerobic fitness gives an athlete the ability to “go” and keep going. This is especially true for endurance sports like running, cycling, swimming, etc. Building up the endurance to go the distance is a primary objective for those athletes newer to athletic training and/or those training for long distance endurance events. But training to go long is not the only piece of the aerobic conditioning puzzle.

You can think of Aerobic Conditioning as two distinct elements:  

  1. Endurance

  2. Speed

Think of these two elements in these defining ways: endurance is the ability to maintain pace while speed is the ability to create pace. To be successful in sport and fitness you need to maximize both endurance and speed through creative training strategies. The shorter your goal event the greater an emphasis on speed and power will be required; while the longer your goal event the greater an emphasis on endurance will be required. However, regardless of the length of the events you are training for, you need to train both elements to maximize your aerobic conditioning.

Picture aerobic conditioning as a sliding scale. On one end you have the shortest duration, highest intensity output, the ‘alactate’ burst of maximum power; on the other end you have the ‘all day’ maximum endurance effort. In between these two extremes you have the classic physiological energy systems of anaerobic power (60-seconds to 4-minute max output), Vo2 max (8-minute to 16-minute output), lactate threshold (30-minute to 60-minute output), aerobic threshold (2-hour to 4-hour output) and aerobic endurance (extended output).

 

Energy System:                               Duration:

  1. Alactate                                                   <10 seconds          
  2. Anaerobic Power                  1-4 minutes                
  3. Vo2 Max                                  8-16 minutes                
  4. Anaerobic Threshold           30-60 minutes                                  
  5. Aerobic Threshold                2-4 hours                            
  6. Endurance                              >4 hours

       

Training all six of these ‘zones’ of intensity is critical for all athletes. Balancing the amount of each level of intensity, and at what point in their training year it is emphasized, makes up an effective aerobic conditioning training program.

Aerobic conditioning is highly trainable, although it can take many years to fully maximize in human physiology. Every human is born with an innate capacity to process oxygen, known as maximum oxygen uptake or, simply, Vo2 max. The more oxygen an athlete can supply to their working muscles the faster they can go. Vo2max is trainable to a certain extent, but everyone has their genetic ceiling of maximum uptake. One of the primary goals with aerobic conditioning is to maximize the sustainable percentage of their Vo2max they can reach in training and racing. Improving one’s ability to perform at the highest sustainable percentage of their Vo2max can be achieved by training any of the above mentioned energy systems, but is most effective by training all of the energy systems through an effective training program.

Training longer durations at lower intensities has many identified benefits such as increased mitochondria and capillary density to improve oxygen delivery, maximizing the use of slow twitch muscle fibers, improved fuel utilization and carbohydrate storage, and an increase in the volume of blood your heart can move with each beat. Long, slow distance training has been a staple of endurance sport training for years. For athletes that are coming to endurance sports from a ‘speed based’ background, are relatively young, healthy, have the time, and have lofty goals of racing performance, high volume training can help them succeed. Although as valuable as the benefits of low-intensity training are, you must have the time to put into this method as it requires increasingly higher and higher volumes to create the stimulus needed for improved fitness.

Most amateur athletes with a job and family to balance with their training schedule usually can only find time for limited amounts of high volume training. This leads us to consider how else can we improve our aerobic conditioning?

Training the short, powerful, high intensity energy systems happens to also have many identified benefits, and these can often be achieved with much lower training volumes. Benefits of high intensity training include increased oxygen utilization, improved lactate tolerance/utilization, maximizing the recruitment of both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, increased hormone production, reduced insulin dependency, and improved movement efficiency. The benefits of high intensity training cannot be ignored, nor should the high intensity training in your training program. High intensity training definitely has its place in the sport performance training program, with the amount and timing of it being a key part of the metabolic puzzle.

Every individual has their own genetically given strengths; some athletes are more powerful and faster over short distances, while others are built for the long haul and can maintain moderate outputs for extended periods of time. To maximize your own sport performance you must identify your strengths and weaknesses and then create a training program that will improve your weaknesses while maximizing your strengths. Put simply, by improving your short-term high intensity energy systems you can go faster for longer, and by improving your long-term low intensity energy systems you can extend your speed over longer periods. These opposing ends of the physiological energy system scale should come together at some point inline with your targeted race-day intensity level you plan to predominantly utilize during your goal events.

Regardless of your strengths and weaknesses, your objective should be to create your own training program to give you the right amount of training stress to minimize fatigue and maximize performance.

The goal within your training program should be to apply just the right amount of low intensity and high intensity aerobic training to create the perfect amount of stimulus for your body to adapt to. Too much stimulus can lead to illness, fatigue or injury; not enough stimulus and you fail to continue improving and don’t reach your fullest potential. Mixing the right amount of training stress (balanced with “life stress”) into an individual’s training program is the secret to maximizing fitness and is unique to every athlete.

 


Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and  Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.

II. Muscular Strength

II. Muscular Strength

Our training philosophy revolves around the idea of maximizing six components fitness (read about the concept HERE). This post will focus on element number 2: Muscular Strength. The idea that there are six areas of development required for endurance athletes to maximize their fitness came about from years of working with endurance athletes coming from a variety of different backgrounds. Improved muscular strength is one area that we continually see needing attention in nearly every athlete we work with (including ourselves). We’re not talking about moving big weights around, making a lot of grunting noises (well, maybe a little grunting), and using the word “bro” throughout your training dialogue kind of strength training; we’re talking about moderate to light weight and body-weight exercises performed in functional movements that apply to your sport.  Developing the core stability required to maintain form and function when you’re deep into your race should be the goal in your strength training and the following paragraphs will help you understand why we think this is true.

Most endurance athletes are surprisingly weak.

Sure they can complete a marathon, an Ironman, or even a 100 mile foot race through mountainous terrain, but none of that necessarily equates to them being particularly strong or stable. Strong in will and determination, perhaps, but ask them to perform a one-legged squat and not have their knee track to the inside or execute a single-leg prone bridge and not have their hip drop, and more often than not, they can’t do it. Many will claim that endurance athletes don’t need to be “strong”, rather they argue that aerobic fitness is the most important thing and that any time spent training outside of their primary sport is a waste of time. They say for example, “If you want to be better at running, you simply need to run more.” Aerobic fitness is certainly required to participate in endurance sports and it is true the more you run the better a runner you will become; however, time spent improving your muscle recruitment, strength, flexibility, and stability will improve your economy of movement. This means you will be able to move (with what fitness you have) more powerfully and efficiently while wasting less energy and minimizing potential injuries. All which in turn, yield faster speeds and increased endurance at the same level of aerobic fitness.

Pure muscular strength, the muscle’s ability to apply force to a stationary object, is what allows us to move.

When swimming, we apply force to the water, pulling ourselves forward with every stroke; when riding a bike, we apply force to the pedals while turning the cranks at high cadences to produce more power; when running, every foot strike applies force to the ground for the push off, and with appropriate stability and flexibility allowing increased stride lengths and stride rates, we run faster and faster. Through the implementation of resistance training you can increase the force-producing capabilities of the “major muscles” that contribute to forward movement. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, leg curls, leg extensions (to name a few) will train the force-producing quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscle groups; exercises like pull-ups, pull-downs, chest press, rows, shoulder shrugs and presses will train the larger back and shoulder muscles for force-producing movement strength. A stronger muscle will be able to produce more force for the power required to move as well as fatigue at a slower rate, thus increasing your muscular endurance.

There are several other factors to consider when addressing the concept of muscular strength. Equally important, and perhaps even more valuable to the endurance athlete is the concept of muscular stability. This concept focuses more on the “minor muscles” that don’t necessarily contribute directly to forward movement. These muscles include, but are not limited to, the collection of core muscles that surround the hips, including the lower back and deep abdominal muscles. Stability and power in all sports initiates from the hips and extends outwards to the limbs that make the movement happen.

Excess movement beyond that which is required to execute forward movement is wasted energy, and this excess movement occurs from lack of stability.

Wasted energy occurs in running when your hips drop from side to side with each stride, or your knee dives inward or outward with each step, for example. “Fish-tailing” when swimming indicates lack of core stability and wastes energy as you move down the lane wiggling from side to side with each stroke. Rocking hips and/or upper body movement when cycling is another example of wasted energy that stems from a lack of stability in the hips. Along with hip stability, shoulder stability is another critical area that requires attention for swimmers (or any activity involving power production from the arms). Stabilize the hips and shoulders with specific training movements and you improve your form, efficiency, power production and endurance. Time well spent.

A factor that coincides with stability surrounding a joint is flexibility. Joint flexibility contributes to range of motion which is essential to producing power for movement. Anyone with inflexible joints can attest to the limited power and speed that is attainable. On the contrary, hypermobile joints that are “overly flexible” can create issues of instability and possible injury. An increase in muscular strength surrounding the hypermobile joint can often improve the stability for those individuals. Just like strengthening muscles with specific exercises, you can improve your flexibility and range of motion with specific exercises. By honing your flexibility (either minimizing or maximizing) your surrounding joints will become more stable and powerful, and in the long run, be less prone to injuries.

Being able to perform an endurance sport event requires your muscles to repeat movement over and over for many minutes to several hours. Overuse injuries are a major cause of missed training and unmet goals for endurance athletes. If your muscles are not functioning in the way they were designed, you are putting increased stress on your other soft tissue and joints.

Training muscles to function or ‘fire’ correctly when called upon, and for longer periods of time, requires specific training.

We engage our larger ‘primary mover’ muscles very easily when training, but often the smaller supporting muscles get overpowered or neglected causing them to ‘turn off.’ These muscle ‘imbalances’ often lead to frustrating niggles, if not full blown injuries, that can derail an athlete’s training and racing objectives. By activating these smaller muscles with stability training exercises, you allow them to ‘turn on’ in conjunction with your dominant muscles both improving your economy of movement and resistance to injury.

Fortunately, many endurance athletes embrace the idea of strength training. Most athletes typically include some form of strength training for several weeks during their off-season. Unfortunately, most athletes end up dropping their strength training sometime early in their pre-season training, either because they are bored due to limited knowledge of core exercises or they feel it gets in the way of their sport-specific training. This is an unfortunate occurrence. For long-term continuing improvements to occur from year to year, it is critical to include strength and stability training throughout the entire year. Your return on investment in strength and stability training includes increased force and power production with decreased rate of muscular fatigue for forward movement, increased economy of movement with less wasted energy and ability to tap into more of your given aerobic capacity, and more consistent training and capacity for higher training loads due to increased injury resistance. For these reasons alone, endurance sports athletes should make strength and stability training a high priority in their overall annual training program in order to reach their highest level of performance.


Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and  Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.

III. Skill Proficiency

III. Skill Proficiency

We’re continuing in our thought process for our “6 Components Sport Performance” with our third component we’d like to address: Skill Proficiency (here’s components I. Aerobic Conditioning & II. Muscular Stability in case you missed those).

All sports, activities, and human movements are learned skills. As newborn babies, we are capable of only laying in one spot, with minimal skill to move. As humans grow and develop, we quickly gain strength and learn new physical skills, from supporting our own head, to sitting, to crawling, to squatting to standing and finally walking. From there the pace at which we learn new skills occurs rapidly and seemingly with minimal effort. We begin to learn more complicated, although still basic skills like running, jumping, skipping, throwing and catching a ball, and riding a bicycle. Then, if you’re fortunate enough to be introduced to higher level complicated movement skills, you might learn how to swim, swing a golf club, or perform gymnastics to name a few. Every one of these learned skills requires practice to be able to get to a point where they appear to happen effortlessly. For some people, this effortless appearance of skill comes more naturally than others. One thing that holds true is that the more skillful you are at particular movements the better you are able to become at the activity and the higher level of performance you can likely achieve.

Learning and practicing proper technique is crucial to mastering any skill.

Proper technique, in and of itself, can often be argued or debated within circles of experts in a particular area of movement. Regardless of the agreed upon “correct” technique, finding a technique that works for you and practicing to improve it leads to improved skill proficiency. In most endurance sports, the specific movements required to participate are relatively basic skills we learn as children (swimming, cycling and/or running being the most common). Unfortunately, with perhaps the exception of swimming, most endurance athletes feel they already ‘know how to’ pedal a bike and run from a mechanical standpoint, therefore neglect the aspect of developing effective technique in their sports. By learning effective movement techniques and spending time practicing them (as elite athletes do) you are able to improve your own strength, stability and range of motion specific to your movement, leading to improved movement efficiency. These factors enable you to perform your movements with more power, less energy, over longer periods of time and with less chance of injury.

You will often overhear athletes and coaches talking about or read about the importance of an athlete’s Vo2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize). This number is often used as a comparison between athletes or to measure the potential they may have in endurance sports.

While an athlete’s Vo2 Max is certainly an important value, another equally important (if not possibly more so) is the measure of an athlete’s efficiency.

Take two similar runners with identical Vo2 Max values; the runner with greater running efficiency will out-run the other with less efficiency because she is wasting less energy and therefore can sustain a higher percentage of her Vo2 Max for a longer period of time. In fact, movement efficiency is so important that a “hard working” athlete with a genetically lower Vo2 Max can out-perform the more “naturally talented” athlete with the higher Vo2 Max by being more efficient and wasting less energy. And the longer the test (or race) the more noticeable the effect of improved efficiency is.

It could be said that success in endurance sports is directly related to efficiency. In the study of physics, efficiency is the ratio of output to input. In the equation (r = P/C) P is the produced output and C is the consumed energy. The produced output (P) can never be higher than the consumed energy (C), therefore efficiency can never be higher than 100%, with the higher the percentage equaling less wasted energy (in endurance sports, energy not directly being used to move yourself forward). Your goal as an endurance athlete is to achieve the highest level of efficiency through skill proficiency so you can tap into the highest percentage of your given Vo2 Max. We do all the training we do to maximize our endurance, strength and speed to achieve the highest Vo2 Max possible, but if we neglect the skill proficiency piece of the puzzle, we are limiting the percentage of the trained Vo2 Max we can tap into. On race day, it eventually all comes down to minimizing the the amount of energy wasted that leads to fatigue that slows us down. Look at the elite fields at any high level endurance event and the abilities of the top level athletes are very similar; they all have similar Vo2 Max values and they all train and race at near similar speeds.

The athletes that cross the finish lines first are not always the fastest athletes in the race, but rather, they are usually the athletes that slow down the least.

They are the athletes who waste the least amount of energy and are the most efficient. Improving one’s skill and technique equates to less wasted energy, higher efficiency and faster race times.

Skill proficiency and the subsequent improved efficiency can be developed in two ways. The first being the concept of simply time spent performing an activity. This is in line with the “10,000 hour theory”; stating that if you spend enough time doing a particular activity (10,000 hours according to the theory) you will become highly proficient at it. But what if you don’t have 10,000 hours to wait for this improved proficiency and you want to get better at your sport in less time?

Good news, you can!

With specific and deliberate practice through technique drills you can accelerate your learning curve.

We can improve our individual muscular strength, stability, mobility and flexibility by performing an endless variety of exercises off the playing field in a gym or our own homes. While this practice is critical to long term development and success in sport (see previous article addressing this concept), these exercises are rarely specific to our exact movements we are trying to improve in our sport. Performing glute bridges for example, is a great exercise to improve hip stability, however we do not come anywhere close to performing a glute bridge in our actual competition. Performing technique drills however do just that; technique drills typically take you through a very specific movement pattern (often broken into a smaller segment or skill of the movement) pertaining to your specific sport. Technique drills effectively incorporate sport-specific development of strength, stability, mobility, flexibility, balance and/or coordination. For this reason alone, all elite level athletes perform technique drills in their training programs throughout their entire year and all age-group athletes should do the same.

We’ve all seen the poor swimmers at the pool with the wonky arms, sinking hips, or dropped elbow. We’ve also all seen the cyclists with the bobbing upper body, or crazy low cadence, not to mention the runners missing any knee lift, or dropping their hips with every step or extended ground contact time and loping strides. Don’t be that person! Your skill and technique can be easily developed with deliberate and consistent practice, throughout your entire training year. It’s in your control.

In fact, aside from dropping excessive body weight, improving your skill and efficiency of movement is probably the fastest and easiest way to improve your race times!

I’ve seen so many athletes come to me with technique issues, and by spending just a small amount of time every week addressing these weaknesses, they have seen enormous improvements in not only speed and endurance but also the enjoyment of their sport.

 

 


Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and  Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.

IV. Diet & Nutrition

IV. Diet & Nutrition

Discussions of diet and nutrition are often the most hotly debated topics in the fitness world. They can be fueled by emotion, personal beliefs and preferences. Within physical training methods there are many ways to achieve similar levels of fitness and performance (high volume-low intensity vs. low volume-high intensity, for example); the same can be said for diet and nutrition concepts. There are multiple variations that can lead to similar results (meat eaters vs. vegetarians for example). The key point here is that people are different, and different strategies work for different people. There is no right way. Regardless of where you stand on diet and nutrition, there are some key points that recent science and ‘experts’ have established that cross over between all ‘diets’ and are crucial for both long-term health and improved sport performance.

Without argument, athletes can make major breakthroughs in their training and racing performance by incorporating intelligent diet and nutrition strategies.

As you read on, please keep in mind that this is our opinion (Cody & Kathy’s) based on our own experiences and my study as a lifelong elite endurance athlete, as well as over 13 years in the coaching business. I am not a dietician, however I have always had a strong interest in diet and nutrition (for both ‘healthfulness’ and performance) along with a true passion for good food. This passion for food led to a short stint as a coffee shop and catering business owner after completing culinary arts school.

Before we go any further, we should address my definitions of ‘diet’ and ‘nutrition’ within this specific discussion, as by themselves they can carry a multitude of different connotations. I like to break apart daily food intake and the total calories we consume into two parts. Diet is what I refer to here as your daily food intake (what’s on your plate) to get you through the day. Nutrition is referring to your training and racing intake (what you consume pre, mid, and post training).

YOUR DAILY DIET

Without writing pages and pages of nutrition concepts and theories, I want to keep it short and simple with advice on how you might be able to improve your diet, nutrition and performance. As athletes we hear the term ‘eating clean’ thrown around a lot. This term ‘clean’ can have many different meanings based on what you perceive as clean. Clean could mean simply not eating ‘fast food’, or it could mean eating only organic and naturally raised plants and animals, or it could mean a strict plant-only diet. The point is ‘clean’ is a relative term and what is clean to one person may be far from it to another (much like when you ask a typical single man what a clean bathroom looks like and what my wife, Kathy, thinks a clean bathroom looks like…two different bathrooms).

How ‘strict’ you want to be with your diet is up to you, but two focus points I have found to help everyone is to first limit/reduce the quantity of processed foods, and second, to base your diet on eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible. By simply following these two basic guidelines, you can transform an average diet into a very effective one. Processed foods are foods produced in a factory or laboratory. In general, the more humans tamper with ingredients found in nature the worse it becomes for you from a nutritional standpoint. For some reason humans think we can improve nature, and we like to add additional ingredients and make our food ‘man made’. Take for example, butter. Butter was once thought to be bad, so we manufactured margarine as a ‘better’ alternative. Not a good idea, as now we are finding it to cause all sort of problems. Surprise, saturated fats are not what we once thought! Or take the egg; the cholesterol in egg yolks was thought to increase cholesterol in our blood, so we decided to separate what nature designed to be together by creating ‘egg whites’. Sadly, this ‘improvement’ meant we missed out on the nutrients in the egg yolk. This deeply held and popular belief has recently been disproved. Cholesterol in food actually has little to no correlation to cholesterol in our blood and, in fact whole eggs are one of the best foods we can put in our mouths!

Put simply, avoid processed foods and choose to eat as close to what nature provides us as possible, with the base being fruits and vegetables.

A third key concept is to NOT adhere to a ‘special diet’. Your daily diet should not have a name (Paleo, Atkins, Ketogenic, Gluten-Free, Low-Fat, Low-Carb, High-Protein, etc.), rather just a good well-balanced diet based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and small amounts of high-quality animal protein (if desired). Conforming to a ‘specific diet’ is not sustainable nor does it create a positive relationship with food. You can agree with concepts of specific diets, but when you begin to strictly avoid certain food groups, you are setting yourself up for a struggle (unless you have a true medically-tested allergy). As athletes we need all three macro-nutrients in our diets (carbohydrates, fats, proteins). Our primary fuel sources come from fat (low-intensity) and carbohydrate (moderate to high intensity) and when you limit your intake of either, your physical performance will stagnate or decline over time.

Depending on your activity levels throughout your training season, you may need more or less of carbohydrate which leads to carbs being the largest variable macro-nutrient. Protein is not directly a fuel source but rather predominantly a hormone-regulating nutrient that is responsible for keeping our bodies functioning correctly. Most first world people consume excessive amount of animal protein in their diet beyond what the body actually can use. Rather than making the ‘meat’ the focal point of every meal, fill your plates first with vegetables, followed by whole grains as needed, and  then add small portions and of the highest quality protein (wild, natural, grass fed, organic, etc.) you can afford and prepare at home.

As endurance athletes, it is safe to say that nearly all of us are chronically dehydrated.

The fourth concept is hydration.  If you train for 10 or more hours a week and don’t consciously consume multiple glasses of water a day (outside of training) you are in a negative state of hydration. Hydration is not always recognized by our thirst mechanism. Often it is confused with hunger, which leads to excessive calorie consumption. By making a conscious effort to drink large glasses of water throughout the day and before meals you can do your body a world of good.

The final piece of the puzzle and, perhaps, the most important for those struggling with achieving an ideal body composition, is to only eat when you’re hungry and to stop eating BEFORE you feel full. Achieving your ideal body composition has more to do with the “calories in vs. calories out” principle than actually eating healthfully. By eating both healthfully and in the appropriate quantities that your body requires, you will continue down the road towards the lean and powerful body you desire.

DAILY DIET DOs & DON’Ts:

    • DO eat when you’re hungry (as frequently as needed)
    • DO eat as close to nature as possible
    • DO maximize fruits & vegetables (8+ servings/day)
    • DO avoid processed foods (chemically altered and/or high in refined sugar)
    • DO eat the highest quality foods you can afford (organic, natural, free-range, grass fed, wild, etc)
    • DO drink plain water throughout the day (between workouts)
    • DO eat small quantities, more frequently
    • DO eat pleasurable foods (“treats”)
    • DO NOT exclude foods or food groups (unless you have a true allergy, or you just don’t like them)
    • DO NOT follow a ‘named diet’
    • DO NOT over consume animal protein
    • DO NOT over eat (except at Thanksgiving, then go BIG!)

 

TRAINING/RACING NUTRITION

Supporting your physical training efforts with adequate and appropriate nutrition is essential for long term success in endurance sports. The more you train the more nutrition you need to support your training and recovery. Improved sports-nutrition can also lead to improvements in your body composition (ie. increased lean tissue) which is perhaps the most effective way to improve both your speed and endurance for racing.

As mentioned above, our primary fuel sources are fats and carbohydrates (glycogen). Fats are the ‘unlimited’ fuel source for low-intensity activity. Through effective aerobic training we improve our body’s ability to use fats for fuel at higher and higher effort levels. The more aerobically fit you are the faster you can go while using more fat and sparing more glycogen. Training the body to spare glycogen is one of the primary goals of the training that we do as endurance athletes. Glycogen is a limited source, and for longer activities, we must supplement with carbohydrates to spare and help delay the depletion of our stored glycogen for as long as needed to get to the finish line. For this reason, training nutrition revolves around consuming the right amounts of carbohydrates in our daily diet and as sports-nutrition while we train. This is why low-carb diets do not work for endurance athletes when they are in stages of heavy training and/or racing. We need carbohydrates to perform at our peak! During other times of the year, when training volume and intensity are low, reducing the extra carbs is helpful to minimize weight gain (ie. nutrition periodization).

Consuming calories prior to, during (for longer sessions/events), and following training sessions sets you up for success with not just the immediate session but sessions in the days to come. On the flip-side, you do not want to consume any more calories than required to fuel your training. Your muscles require fuel to function and the following are some simple guidelines to consider to maximize your training program.

  • PRE-WORKOUT

The calories you consume prior to your training sessions provide the starting point from which you draw energy. For efforts lasting two hours or less you need little more than your regular meal 1-2 hours out from the start. For longer efforts you can ‘pre-load’ with a bit more calories (especially if it’s low to moderate intensity). If it’s been more than 2 hours since your last meal (ie. early morning workouts), you will likely be better off with 100-200 calories of primarily carbohydrate before your session. With proper fueling throughout your day you are less likely to need a ‘pre-workout’ snack or meal.

  • MID-WORKOUT

Workouts lasting 90 minutes or less require little to no mid-session fueling, other than water and/or electrolyte drink. This is especially true if you are well fueled prior to beginning the session. Workouts beyond 90 minutes are best served with 100-300 calories (of predominantly carbohydrate) per hour of training. The fuel source when training at low intensities is best coming from whole foods as much as possible versus ‘sports nutrition’ sources. As intensity ramps up in training, more calories can come from liquid/semi-liquid sports nutrition sources. Beyond 90 minutes, you also want to include electrolyte supplementation through drink mixes or tablets, and plenty of water (1-3 bottles an hour depending on body size, temperature and humidity).

  • POST-WORKOUT

Consuming calories following your workouts is essential for maximizing recovery, refilling energy stores, and readying yourself for your next session. The trick with recovery nutrition is understanding how much fuel (and what type) you burned in your workout compared to how much you replaced while working out. Far too often I see athletes sucking down ‘gels’ in the middle of an hour long session or finish a moderate session and then down a 300 calorie ‘recovery drink’ before going home for dinner and throwing down another several hundred more calories of food. This ‘train hard, eat hard’ way of thinking can make it difficult to achieve your goal body composition for competition. The goal with recovery nutrition should be to consume enough calories both during and following your session to replace the carbohydrates you used in order to refill glycogen stores. Your next meal will address the additional calories (if any) that may be needed to feel satiated. Here are some recovery nutrition guidelines for different training sessions. Keep in mind that your daily training load also affects your calorie needs (ie. the more sessions per day the more accumulation of calorie burn occurs).

      • Low to moderate intensity workouts under 90 minutes: little glycogen utilized. All you may need is a glass of electrolyte drink (low-calorie) and your next meal.
      • High intensity workouts of 1-2 hours: moderate to high amounts of glycogen utilized. Immediate 150-300 calories recovery drink, predominately carbs and 10-20 grams protein. Follow with next meal an hour after.
      • Low to moderate intensity workouts of 2-6 hours: with proper mid-workout fueling you shouldn’t dig too deep into your glycogen stores. All you may need is a glass of electrolyte drink (low-calorie) and light post-workout snack or drink. Followed quickly with your next meal.
      • Mid to high intensity workouts of 2-4 hours (races): high amounts of glycogen utilized (possible depletion). Immediate 200-400 calories recovery drink predominately carbs and 15-25 grams protein. Follow with carb-based meal when stomach is ready for it. Follow with potentially a second meal 1-2 hours after the first (more fats/proteins).
      • Monster workouts/races of 6+ hours: you’re likely depleted and dehydrated. It doesn’t really matter because you’ll need a few days to recover anyway…drink a lot and eat what ever the heck you want (without over eating!).

 


Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and  Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget. 

 

V. Stress Management (Recovery)

V. Stress Management (Recovery)

What can create both a positive and a negative response, is something everybody experiences, most people desire less of, and many people struggle to balance?

The “S” word… STRESS!

Stress Management is our fifth component of our Six Components of Sport Performance. In our daily lives, we experience both physical and emotional stress. As athletes we need physical stress in the form of “training load” to provide the stimulus from which we can improve. The key to a good training program is one that provides just the right amount of stress; not enough and we stagnate or get stuck on a plateau, too much and we get fatigued, sick or injured. Both too little or too much physical stress leads to a lack of progress in your fitness.

Emotional stress encompasses stress from work, social/family interactions, and general life stress. Deadlines at work, bills piling up, and arguments with a loved one are all examples of the emotional stress people experience in their daily lives. While it’s impossible to avoid all emotional stressors, it is important to keep them to the lowest level possible. The key point here from an athlete’s perspective is that at the end of the day stress is stress, whether it is physical (training) stress or emotional (mental) stress. All stress adds up and contributes to your ability, or inability, to recover from your training and improve your performance.

Combining both your physical stress from your training and emotional stress from your life provides your complete ‘stress score.’

In general, the more stress you have, the more difficult it will be to train, recover, and improve. One of the largest factors that contributes to a professional athlete’s high level of performance is that they are able to organize their life in such ways to minimize their emotional (life) stress while maximizing their physical (training) stress. True ‘professional’ athletes are able to make training and racing their only job, minimizing their financial stress via sponsorships, minimize their social stressors and general life ‘overhead’.

Many struggling professionals, up-and-comers, or ‘recreational elites’ must maintain a job, balance a family/social life, and cultivate a much higher level of emotional stress that makes it difficult to compete with the more established professionals. Amateur athletes don’t have the luxury of mid-day workouts and time to put their feet up between training sessions. Amateur athletes must make their jobs and families priority number one and two and their sport takes the third or even fourth priority. 4:30am wake-up calls and/or late-night sessions squeezed in around their busy lives is a necessity. Lower training volume is almost always a result, as is also carefully (and often unsuccessfully) balancing the physical stress vs. emotional stress scale to maximize their performance. If your emotional (life) stress is heavy, then your physical (training) stress must be lighter. It all adds up! It’s critical to pay close attention to your stress balance if you want to make continued improvement in your sport.

 As athletes, we look at stress in two ways: chronic stress and acute stress.

Another key piece of stress management is recognizing the different types of stress and their effects on your body. I consider chronic stress as the long term effect applied to your body. This involves your endocrine system and maintaining hormonal balances. The human body releases the hormone cortisol (among others) when under stress. Cortisol is designed to help our bodies manage brief periods of stress, but when we put our bodies under extended periods of stress (through long, hard training sessions (physical), and/or long stressful days at work (emotional)) our endocrine system can overload our bodies with cortisol (and other stress hormones) that can disrupt your body’s natural functions. With elevated cortisol levels you may experience issues including fatigue, inability to recover, slowed tissue repair, digestive issues, weight gain, poor sleep, anxiety, and depression among other things.

How can you improve or lower your chronic stress load?

1. Get More Sleep

Sleep is perhaps the most important stress management tool. Aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep everyday is ideal. Often times, in periods of high stress, it is more valuable to skip a workout in favor of more sleep. Under periods of high stress, sleeping can become difficult for many people. Practicing improved sleep techniques like a warm bath, warm drink, and relaxation before bed can assist in improving sleep.

2. Diet & Nutrition

The more you are under stress, the more important a nutritious diet becomes. Eliminate the junk (sugar, fried foods, refined foods, etc.) and maximize the fruits and vegetables should be the the focus points (read my Diet & Nutrition article). Maintaining stable blood sugar throughout the day with small frequent meals will help regulate proper body functions as well.

3. Relaxation Techniques

Practicing yoga, deep breathing, visualization techniques, and simply reading a book can help lower stress levels. Spend time being still and quiet.

4. Sense of Humor & Laughing

Lighten up! Surround yourself with fun people at times and smile and laugh. It’s proven to relieve stress and make you a happier person.

 

Acute stress is looked at more in the short term. It’s the immediate effect you experience in the hours and days following stressors (specifically physical stress). This is the immediate fatigue you may feel from a training session, or the soreness or stiffness you may experience after a tough workout. High amounts of acute stress can occur by increasing training loads beyond what you are accustomed. These can be planned increased training loads, as in a training camp, or they can be unplanned by doing too much too soon, training too far above your current fitness level. Muscle damage, glycogen depletion, and dehydration can all contribute to high levels of acute stress. Acute stress contributes to increased chronic stress, and if left unaddressed, this increased stress can lead to deep fatigue, illness and/or injury. Always being aware of how you can recover better and more quickly following training sessions will help you get on the right track for managing your acute stress loads.

Our saying is to “Take care of your body!” We see too many people willing to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, travel and entry fees, as well as enormous amounts of time in training yet be unwilling to spend some money on their body to keep it happy, healthy and performing at its best.

How can you manage your acute stress load?

1. Follow a Progressive Training Program

Your training must progress gradually to avoid excessive acute stress. Following a training plan or working with a coach that will keep you on track and hold you back if you are a ‘go getter!’ Fitness is a long term commitment and can’t be rushed.

2. Recovery Nutrition

Consuming calories immediately following long and/ or intense training sessions is a critical recovery strategy. There are commercial products on the market designed specifically for this purpose (First Endurance Ultragen being among the best). The key is to include both carbohydrates and protein in adequate amounts to begin the restoration process (see Diet & Nutrition post for more specifics).

3. Soft Tissue Massage

Massage therapy is helpful for increasing blood flow to damaged muscles and loosening adhesions of soft tissue. Two professional massage sessions a month is a worthwhile investment (weekly is even better, once a month is better than nothing). Daily self-massage (foam rollers, massage balls, massage sticks, etc.) is also time well spent and can be done before bed as part of a relaxation routine.

4. Manual Manipulation

Your body takes a beating with all the training. Take care of your body by visiting a osteopathic physician (D.O.), physical therapist (P.T.) and/or chiropractor to give your body the regular tune-ups it needs. These visits can go a long way to maintaining overall health and keeping injuries at bay.

5. Stretching

While science will say there is no evidence that stretching actually does anything, but most people will agree that, at the very least, it feels good. Unless you are genetically hyper-flexible, including some stretching in your weekly routine will help you stay loose and maintain an effective range of motion. It is another great activity to include in your nightly relaxation routine.

6. Compression

Another controversial technique in the recovery equation. The verdict is still out as to whether compression actually does anything, but if you think it does then go for it! Donning compression clothing post-workouts and pneumatic ‘compression boots’ are two tools to consider including in your recovery routine.

 


Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and  Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.