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Nutrition plan for long distance sport challenges. Part 1: The fable

The proverb " a competition is won in our head" is considered to be a cliché. I find it especially true for any sports competition, furthermore, in my opinion, this perpetual statement also applies to trainings and the whole process of preparation as well.

In most cases, we also need a bit of muscular work and the completion of trainings to reach the finish line successfully. If we regard the "in our head" factor as mental and intellectual fitness, and the efficiency of muscular work as physical, then we will immediately have the opportunity to combine the two:  to explore and understand the physiology of our muscles. If we cater for our muscles effectively during challenges, if we provide them with excellent quality fuel in sufficient quantities, efficient muscle activity, optimal performance, and a "non-delirious" finish to the race will be guaranteed beside the quick recovery after accomplishing the challenge.  A minimal knowledge of physiology and biochemistry is enough to avoid the frequently occurring phenomenon at endurance races when the contestants work against their muscles and muscular activity by attempting to supply their body with fuel ignoring the tenacious and insurmountable laws of physiology and biochemistry.

The background of physiological processes, for instance the biochemistry behind muscular activity, is extremely complex, sometimes terrifyingly complicated. If we regard studying as a way of enabling us to convert the acquired knowledge easily into seconds, minutes, furthermore - considering an ironman distance triathlon (3,8 km swimming, 180 km cycling, 42,2 km running) - hours, we might have bigger motivation to plunge into it.  The fact that a bit of studying is not as draining and struggle filled as, for example, a two-hour cross country or ten rounds of 1000 m run along the track with two-minute breaks is not negligible. Just a little encouragement: although physiological phenomena are awfully complex, conclusions drawn from the understanding of these processes and the responses to challenges are brilliantly simple. "Steps" based on the conclusions and responses really have an amazing effect on performance.

Refreshing stands for two literally inseparable but, considering biochemical purposes, still considerably different processes: the energy supply for muscles, and the management of the heat energy generated by muscular activity. While participants in bigger endurance races have the biggest, as I have observed almost paranoid, fear from energy supply, performance is affected more directly and brutally (I can certainly affirm that) by thermoregulatory malfunction which is - also a personal observation - the primary result of " crimes" against our body triggered by energy supply "paranoia".

More and more people are aware of the energy demand of a sports competition; pre-race discussions are packed with kilocalories, and you cannot count the various energy bars, gels, sports drinks, and other attractively designed products which replenish the energy our muscles have consumed. There are truly excellent products available on the market, therefore poor race fueling does not stand for the consumption of poor quality refreshments. It is more typical that outstanding products are used in a way which disregards the simple laws of physiology. In many cases energy bars, gels, or sports drinks, results of decades of scientific research, can easily be mixed into a concoction that makes reaching the finish line impossible.

My favourite story is the event which took place during the last ten kilometres of the 2008 Plus Budapest Marathon: The stealthy north wind forced five of us into a persistent line (see picture). The Slovak participant, who was in the leading position in the picture, received an energy gel from his assistant at Petőfi Bridge, and consumed it immediately. We did not run for the gold medal or ranks with prize money, but a race is a race, so the guy was a rival of mine. He was running in front of me therefore I could see what he was or was not doing, and I knew he had not drunk enough water. It was clear for me that we would not meet him in the final spurt. Inevitably, he dropped out at the Houses of Parliament, and I next saw him during the recovery run staggering over the finish line long-long minutes after all the members of our line had crossed that.

Had he read the users' manual on the package of the gel, he would not have messed up his energy supply and thermoregulatory system. The manual on the package indicated that 4 deciliters of water had to be consumed with the gel in order to have it diluted to isotonic density in the stomach (isotonic = having the same osmotic pressure as blood plasma) Whereas our poor friend concocted a "lethal" mixture there. The mistake became "fatal" because the dense stomach content did for the body's thermoregulation: water essential for sweating, which is crucial for heat dissipation, could not be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Besides, due to the heat and drying wind of early autumn, it would have been extremely difficult for his body to dissipate the heat generated by muscular work.

I think, that the description of the physiological background of the above fable answers all the challenges of the race refreshment process. The aim of our fellow contestant might have been to supply his muscles with the necessary energy, therefore he consumed that otherwise excellent product which contained a large amount of carbohydrates.

The race is yor businness, leave refreshment with Enduraid!

To be continued!

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