The professionalization of any sport must include an appreciation for how and where nutrition can positively affect training adaptation and/or competition performance. Furthermore, there is an ever-increasing importance of nutrition in sports that feature very high training volumes and are of a long enough duration that both glycogen and fluid balance can limit performance. Indeed, modern marathon training programs and racing satisfy these criteria and are uniquely suited to benefit from nutritional interventions. Given that muscle glycogen is limiting during a 2-h marathon, optimizing carbohydrate (CHO) intake and delivery is of maximal importance. Furthermore, the last 60 y of marathon performance have seen lighter and smaller marathoners, which enhances running economy and heat dissipation and increases CHO delivery per kg body mass. Finally, periodically training under conditions of low CHO availability (eg, low muscle glycogen) or periods of mild fluid restriction may actually further enhance the adaptive responses to training. Accordingly, this commentary highlights these key nutrition and hydration interventions that have emerged over the last several years and explores how they may assist in world-class marathon performance.
Anecdotal claims have suggested that an increasing number of ultramarathoners purposely undertake chronic low-carbohydrate (CHO) ketogenic diets while training, and race with very low CHO intakes, as a way to maximize fat oxidation and improve performance. However, very little empirical evidence exists on specific fueling strategies that elite ultramarathoners undertake to maximize race performance. The study’s purpose was to characterize race nutrition habits of elite ultramarathon runners. Three veteran male ultrarunners (M ± SD; age 35 ± 2 years; mass 59.5 ± 1.7 kg; 16.7 ± 2.5 hr 100-mi. best times) agreed to complete a competition-specific nutrition intake questionnaire for 100-mi. races. Verbal and visual instructions were used to instruct the athletes on portion sizes and confirm dietary intake. Throughout 2014, the athletes competed in 16 ultramarathons with a total of 8 wins, including the prestigious Western States Endurance Run 100-miler (14.9 hr). The average prerace breakfast contained 70 ± 16 g CHO, 29 ± 20 g protein, and 21 ± 8 g fat. Athletes consumed an average of 1,162 ± 250 g of CHO (71 ± 20g/hr), with minor fat and protein intakes, resulting in caloric intakes totaling 5,530 ± 1,673 kcals (333 ± 105 kcals/hr) with 93% of calories coming from commercial products. Athletes also reported consuming 912 ± 322 mg of caffeine and 6.9 ± 2.4 g of sodium. Despite having limited professional nutritional input into their fueling approaches, all athletes practiced fueling strategies that maximize CHO intake and are congruent with contemporary evidence-based recommendations.
This case study features an Olympic-level female middle-distance runner implementing a science-based approach to body composition periodization. Data are emerging to suggest that it is not sustainable from a health and/or performance perspective to be at peak body composition year-round, so body composition needs to be strategically periodized. Anthropometric (n = 44), hematological, other health measures, and 1,500-m race performances (n = 83) were periodically assessed throughout a 9-year career. General preparation phase (September to April) featured the athlete at ∼2–4% over ideal competition phase body weight (BW) and body fat (%), with optimal energy availability being prioritized. The competition body composition optimization phase (May to August) included creating an individualized time frame and caloric deficit with various feedback metrics (BW, performance, and hunger) to guide the process. There were significant seasonal fluctuations in anthropometric outcomes between phases (47.3 ± 0.8 vs. 48.3 ± 0.9 kg BW; 53.6 ± 7.8 vs. 61.6 ± 9.7 mm International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry sum of 8 [So8] skinfolds; p < .01), and a significant correlation of decreasing So8 during the peak competition period over her career (r = −.838; p = .018). The range of body composition during the competition period was 46.0–48.0 kg BW and a So8 range was 42.0–55.9 mm. There were also significant positive correlations between slower 1,500-m race times and increasing So8 (r = .437; p < .01), estimated fat mass (r = .445; p < .01), and BW (r = .511; p < .0001). The athlete only had two career injuries. This case study demonstrates a body composition periodization approach that allowed for targeted peak yearly performances, which improved throughout her career, while maximizing training adaptation and long-term athlete health through optimal energy availability.
Laboratory-based studies demonstrate that fueling (carbohydrate; CHO) and fluid strategies can enhance training adaptations and race-day performance in endurance athletes. Thus, the aim of this case study was to characterize several periodized training and nutrition approaches leading to individualized race-day fluid and fueling plans for 3 elite male marathoners. The athletes kept detailed training logs on training volume, pace, and subjective ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) for each training session over 16 wk before race day. Training impulse/load calculations (TRIMP; min × RPE = load [arbitrary units; AU]) and 2 central nutritional techniques were implemented: periodic low-CHO-availability training and individualized CHO- and fluidintake assessments. Athletes averaged ~13 training sessions per week for a total average training volume of 182 km/wk and peak volume of 231 km/wk. Weekly TRIMP peaked at 4,437 AU (Wk 9), with a low of 1,887 AU (Wk 16) and an average of 3,082 ± 646 AU. Of the 606 total training sessions, ~74%, 11%, and 15% were completed at an intensity in Zone 1 (very easy to somewhat hard), Zone 2 (at lactate threshold) and Zone 3 (very hard to maximal), respectively. There were 2.5 ± 2.3 low-CHO-availability training bouts per week. On race day athletes consumed 61 ± 15 g CHO in 604 ± 156 ml/hr (10.1% ± 0.3% CHO solution) in the following format: ~15 g CHO in ~150 ml every ~15 min of racing. Their resultant marathon times were 2:11:23, 2:12:39 (both personal bests), and 2:16:17 (a marathon debut). Taken together, these periodized training and nutrition approaches were successfully applied to elite marathoners in training and competition.
Matt Jensen, Trent Stellingwerff, and Marc Klimstra
The purpose was to determine the effect of carbohydrate (CHO) mouth rinse on maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) and neuromuscular output in a fatigued state. It was hypothesized that CHO mouth rinse would potentiate torque output in a fatigued state. In a double-blind, cross-over design, 12 competitive male athletes (9 rowers, 1 cyclist, 1 runner and 1 volleyball player) initially performed 3 × 5 s MVC isometric knee extensions followed by a 50% MVC contraction until volitional exhaustion, with quadriceps muscle activity measured via electromyography (EMG). Immediately after, either an 8% CHO maltodextrin (WASH), or noncaloric artificial sweetener (PLA) was mouth rinsed for 10sec, before 3 × 5 s final MVCs. Fatigue caused a significant decline in post fatigue MVC trial 1 for 3 s average torque (p = .03) and peak torque (p = .02) for PLA. This fatigue related decline in torque was not noticed for WASH, with a 2.5% and 3.5% less attenuation in peak and average torque, respectively in post fatigue MVC1 compared with PLA. The effect size for MVC trial 1 between WASH/PLA was seen to be small positive (ES = 0.22; 55% likelihood of positive). Overall for EMG RMS, there were no significant differences between PLA and WASH among all muscles. EMG median frequency showed comparable results between conditions with significant reductions due to fatigue. Taken together, this evidence suggests that the attenuation of torque post fatigue was less for CHO mouth rinse than a placebo. Even though the gains were marginal, these discoveries may play an important role in sport performance, as small performance effects can have significant outcomes in real-world competitions.
Iñigo Mujika, Trent Stellingwerff, and Kevin Tipton
The adaptive response to training is determined by the combination of the intensity, volume, and frequency of the training. Various periodized approaches to training are used by aquatic sports athletes to achieve performance peaks. Nutritional support to optimize training adaptations should take periodization into consideration; that is, nutrition should also be periodized to optimally support training and facilitate adaptations. Moreover, other aspects of training (e.g., overload training, tapering and detraining) should be considered when making nutrition recommendations for aquatic athletes. There is evidence, albeit not in aquatic sports, that restricting carbohydrate availability may enhance some training adaptations. More research needs to be performed, particularly in aquatic sports, to determine the optimal strategy for periodizing carbohydrate intake to optimize adaptations. Protein nutrition is an important consideration for optimal training adaptations. Factors other than the total amount of daily protein intake should be considered. For instance, the type of protein, timing and pattern of protein intake and the amount of protein ingested at any one time influence the metabolic response to protein ingestion. Body mass and composition are important for aquatic sport athletes in relation to power-to-mass and for aesthetic reasons. Protein may be particularly important for athletes desiring to maintain muscle while losing body mass. Nutritional supplements, such as b-alanine and sodium bicarbonate, may have particular usefulness for aquatic athletes’ training adaptation.
Brian Hanley, Trent Stellingwerff, and Florentina J. Hettinga
Purpose: This was the first study to analyze high-resolution pacing data from multiple global championships, allowing for deeper and rigorous analysis of pacing and tactical profiles in elite-standard middle-distance racing. The aim of this study was to analyze successful and unsuccessful middle-distance pacing profiles and variability across qualifying rounds and finals. Methods: Finishing and 100-m-split speeds and season’s best times were collected for 265 men and 218 women competing in 800- and 1500-m races, with pace variability expressed using coefficient of variation. Results: In both events, successful athletes generally separated themselves from slower athletes in the final 200 m, not by speeding up but by avoiding slowing compared with competitors. This was despite different pacing profiles between events in the earlier part of the race preceding the end spurt. Approximately 10% of athletes ran season’s best times, showing a tactical approach to elite-standard middle-distance racing and possible fatigue across rounds. Men’s and women’s pacing profiles were remarkably similar within each event, but the previously undescribed seahorse-shaped profile in the 800-m (predominantly positive pacing) differed from the J-shaped negative pacing of the 1500-m. Pacing variability was high compared with world records, especially in the finals (coefficient of variation: 5.2–9.1%), showing that athletes need to be able to vary pace and cope with surges. Conclusions: The best athletes had the physiological capacity to vary pace and respond to surges through successive competition rounds. In competition-specific training, coaches should incorporate several sessions in which pace changes frequently and sometimes unexpectedly.
Trent Stellingwerff, Ingvill Måkestad Bovim, and Jamie Whitfield
Middle-distance runners utilize the full continuum of energy systems throughout training, and given the infinite competition tactical scenarios, this event group is highly complex from a performance intervention point of view. However, this complexity results in numerous potential periodized nutrition interventions to optimize middle-distance training adaptation and competition performance. Middle-distance race intensity is extreme, with 800- to 5,000-m races being at ∼95% to 130% of VO2max. Accordingly, elite middle-distance runners have primarily Type IIa/IIx fiber morphology and rely almost exclusively on carbohydrate (primarily muscle glycogen) metabolic pathways for producing adenosine triphosphate. Consequently, the principle nutritional interventions that should be emphasized are those that optimize muscle glycogen contents to support high glycolytic flux (resulting in very high lactate values, of >20 mmol/L in some athletes) with appropriate buffering capabilities, while optimizing power to weight ratios, all in a macro- and microperiodized manner. From youth to elite level, middle-distance athletes have arduous racing schedules (10–25 races/year), coupled with excessive global travel, which can take a physical and emotional toll. Accordingly, proactive and integrated nutrition planning can have a profound recovery effect over a long race season, as well as optimizing recovery during rounds of championship racing. Finally, with evidence-based implementation and an appropriate risk/reward assessment, several ergogenic aids may have an adaptive and/or performance-enhancing effect in the middle-distance athlete. Given that elite middle-distance athletes undertake ∼400 to 800 training sessions with 10–25 races/year, there are countless opportunities to implement various periodized acute and chronic nutrition-based interventions to optimize performance.
Jane A. Rutherford, Lawrence L. Spriet, and Trent Stellingwerff
This study examined whether acute taurine (T) ingestion before prolonged cycling would improve time-trial (TT) performance and alter whole-body fuel utilization compared with a control (CON) trial and a placebo (PL) trial in which participants were told they received taurine but did not. Eleven endurance-trained male cyclists (27.2 ± 1.5 yr, 74.3 ± 2.3 kg, 59.9 ± 2.3 ml · kg−1 · min−1; M ± SEM) completed 3 trials in a randomized, crossover, blinded design in which they consumed a noncaloric sweetened beverage with either 1.66 g of T or nothing added (CON, PL) 1 hr before exercise. Participants then cycled at 66.5% ± 1.9% VO2max for 90 min followed immediately by a TT (doing 5 kJ of work/kg body mass as fast as possible). Data on fluid administration, expired gas, heart rate, and ratings of perceived exertion were collected at 15-min intervals during the 90-min cycling ride, but there were no differences recorded between trials. There was no difference in TT performance between any of the 3 trials (1,500 ± 87 s). Average carbohydrate (T 2.73 ± 0.21, CON 2.88 ± 0.19, PL 2.89 ± 0.20 g/min) and fat (T 0.45 ± 0.05, CON 0.39 ± 0.04, PL 0.39 ± 0.05 g/min) oxidation rates were unaffected by T supplementation. T ingestion resulted in a 16% increase (5 g, ~84 kJ; p < .05) in total fat oxidation over the 90-min exercise period compared with CON and PL. The acute ingestion of 1.66 g of T before exercise did not enhance TT performance but did result in a small but significant increase in fat oxidation during submaximal cycling in endurance-trained cyclists.
Trent Stellingwerff, James P. Morton, and Louise M. Burke
Over the last decade, in support of training periodization, there has been an emergence around the concept of nutritional periodization. Within athletics (track and field), the science and art of periodization is a cornerstone concept with recent commentaries emphasizing the underappreciated complexity associated with predictable performance on demand. Nevertheless, with varying levels of evidence, sport and event specific sequencing of various training units and sessions (long [macrocycle; months], medium [mesocycle; weeks], and short [microcycle; days and within-day duration]) is a routine approach to training periodization. Indeed, implementation of strategic temporal nutrition interventions (macro, meso, and micro) can support and enhance training prescription and adaptation, as well as acute event specific performance. However, a general framework on how, why, and when nutritional periodization could be implemented has not yet been established. It is beyond the scope of this review to highlight every potential nutritional periodization application. Instead, this review will focus on a generalized framework, with specific examples of macro-, meso-, and microperiodization for the macronutrients of carbohydrates, and, by extension, fat. More specifically, the authors establish the evidence and rationale for situations of acute high carbohydrate availability, as well as the evidence for more chronic manipulation of carbohydrates coupled with training. The topic of periodized nutrition has made considerable gains over the last decade but is ripe for further scientific progress and field application.