How to build up endurance safely

How to build up endurance safely

As South Africa and the world at large continues its craze into major endurance events, we look at the dangers of going too big to quickly. On this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, David Katz’s hits Mark Wolff with why this can be so dangerous? Parents of kids looking to start early especially, listen to this…




Thanks for joining us once again on 32Gi Sports Nutrition. I hope you enjoyed those fantastic tips and advice, as always, from Mark Wolff last week; where we looked at post-event and how people tend to often pick up colds or to pick up some form of illness, and there are so many factors that come into play. If you missed that, go and listen to that.

But we talked near the end of it, I mentioned something about loading and loading the system and there’s society created, worldwide even, not just in South Africa, but endurance events and going further and going longer and people are doing it quickly without doing shorter stuff. People are doing it from a young age and is this happening too fast and it does lead people to having injuries and it can have very negative effects on your body and on your health.

We’ve got Mark Wolff back onto the podcast. Mark, I mean from children to grown-ups, if you’re new to something like endurance sports, something like an Ironman, you really should be building up incrementally to doing an event like that. Not just saying: That’s my goal, I’m going to do that in the next couple of months.

Why load needs to be added incrementally

Mark Wolff: I agree. I think one of the biggest problems that we’re seeing in endurance sport at the moment is that a lot of people are just ticking these massive endurance events. When I say major, I’m talking about a very big Ultra marathon or a long course triathlon such as Ironman.

The problem is that they haven’t actually developed their bodies to be properly, let’s put it this way, to be solid enough to cope with the load of such endurance volume. They jump into those distances very quickly and they don’t give themselves time to build up the proper strength phases and to go through these things over a period of time.

There seems to be like a Bucket List item and there’s a lot of impatience in getting there. The problem is that I look at this and I say to myself: There’s two things to really take into consideration. The one thing is yes, it’s not that it’s not doable, it is doable. But the question is, how hard are you going to impact your health and what kind of risk are you going to place yourself under, if you do not take the time to do these things properly?

We’re seeing a lot more people jumping into these big distances so quickly and what it’s leading to, in the end, is major injuries and major health issues, even to the extent that I tell people: You’re shortening your life by putting your body under such severe stress without doing it properly.

DK: Mark looking at children and people with children who are young adults and they’re getting them onto this craze, endurance, from a young age. Around the end of their teens, maybe anything between 16 or 18 already you might have kids going: Look, we want to go do these events. If you were a parent of a young adult at that age, maybe between 16-21, what would you be recommending to them?

We really don’t want to encourage that, they’ve got the time, they’ve got the time to build the speed, play around with shorter distances. They really should be doing that, as opposed to targeting something as big as say an Ultra marathon or a long distance triathlon?

How to approach endurance with your kids

MW: I fully agree with you Dave. I think first of all you need to look at a youngster and see where they’ve come from and where they’re going to. I just believe that somebody that immediately goes into their 20’s and starts going into these Ultra distance events, I see the damage, I see the hurt. I also see, if it is a sporting career that they want to take on, I see it’s going to be very short-lived.

I deal a lot with athletes locally and obviously internationally and it’s actually quite interesting. I think Sebastian Kienle who said a couple of months ago, somebody asked him after Kona last year: Why do you think it is that the Germans took the top positions at Kona last year? Why do you think they’re such a strong endurance nation? He made a very interesting comment.

He said: Well, a lot of the other nations are being dropped at school or catching a bus to school, where we live, we’re riding our bicycles to school every single day. What that’s doing at a very young age, is building up thousands and thousands of kilometre’s when we’re in our youth. By the time we get to our 20’s or our 30’s, we’ve built up a massive endurance engine already.

I really think it’s about lifestyle and also what you’re exposed to. Somebody that’s going to start doing short course stuff and they haven’t got that endurance engine in them. It’s going to take quite a few years of actually developing that endurance engine and getting to a state where they actually might be able to achieve as far as the distance goes. There’s many athletes that come to mind, I think it just depends on what they’ve been exposed to and how they’ve taken their time to develop their talent through those sports.

In South Africa, I mean most children are dropped at school, most children don’t run to school or ride bicycles to school. They don’t have the same active outlet that say a European does. Because if you go to Europe you’ll see that they ride bicycles everywhere.

If you look at, maybe if you look at runners in Kenya or Ethiopia, the kids are actually running or walking to school all the time and over km’s and km’s. They’re already building up that foundation, but we don’t have that same culture in this country and it could be other countries as well.

The importance of a proper foundation

I think when you are doing sport, it needs to be a proper foundation, needs to be laid down. I believe that when you’re younger you should be focusing on shorter distances and really, gradually and slowly building up to the bigger distances. Only to tackle the bigger distances, I always tell people: Pick your battles. When you’re ready to race a specific distance, only then should you race it. Don’t pick it and say: I’m going to go and do this long distance event. You might be very young for that long distance event and you might be doing yourself a disservice and damage.

There’s that analogy where you take a glass and you put rocks into it and there’s still air pockets and then you put sand into it and there’s still air pockets. Once you put water into it, it fills it up completely. To be honest, you don’t want any air pockets in your own body. You want to make sure that you’ve solidified every single aspect of your training when you take yourself into these events. I just believe that people these days are rushing to get to certain events.

If you have a look, just have a look at some of the world class athletes, have a look at the Brownlee brothers, also if you take a look at a local South African talent, Richard Murray, the guys have focused very, very much on the short course.

They’ve really got to a very top level for many years and at the right age, or at the right time. I mean we just saw now, I think with Alastair Brownlee this last weekend, he went and did a Challenge event in Europe and he won it outright in a phenomenal time, an absolutely incredible time.

He had such an incredible foundation to step up to that sort of distance. I’m not saying that it’s for everybody, there are some people who might be better at longer distance than shorter distance. But I think for young people, take the time to build up that speed and it’ll benefit you for the longer distance for sure.

How a healthy diet needs to become a lifestyle

DK: Fantastic event that was for Alistair Brownlee. We know he’s dominated the short course triathlon and he absolutely smashed that half distance event this past weekend. As you said, probably the right time for him in his life to make that progression.

Mark, just lastly before we wrap up, nutrition is also very key isn’t it, when you’re making this adjustment, you need to be adjusting, generally people who go from very little to those big, massive Bucket List goals don’t have the greatest lifestyles. That’s why they’ve chosen it and they need to adapt their diet at the same time.

MW: That is so spot on Dave. If you think about, just a motor vehicle, the minute you put down that pedal and you start to drive it and gas goes into the engine and the car is under stress. Those pipes better be in good working order because if there’s a hole, the pipes going to blow and that engine is going to blow.

The thing is that a lot of people don’t realise that when you’re not very active and you’re not walking around, your body requires a lot less nutrition. Why? Because you’re not burning off as much calories and not requiring that much energy.

However, when you start to do exercise, you become far more active and when you become far more active, your body does demand far better nutrition and far more nutrition. Because obviously you’re burning off far more calories. You can’t be in a major deficit, you need to fuel your performance. Not just your performance, you need to fuel your lifestyle.

It’s really critical to select the right types of fuels that would go into your body to make sure that you stay healthy, that you stay fit. That specifically your immune system stays strong, your joints stay strong and healthy. That you’re also able to recover from session to session.

Because that’s a very key element when it comes to endurance training. You cannot forget about nutrition, you cannot forget about rest and sleep. The training is only one very small element of it, so very crucial to put an emphasis on those factors.

DK: Life is very much a journey and not a sprint. We’ve had the World Masters Games in New Zealand this past week and 101-year-old Man Kaur from India, she won the 100m sprint, she’s still got 200m and 400m to go. Arguably she was the only competitor over 100 in her category, so no competition there, but you’re never too old. If you can run 100m at 101-years-old, there’s still time for many of us. Mark Wolff, thank you very much for some fantastic advice, we’ll speak to you soon, right here on the 32Gi Sports Nutrition podcast.

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