Optimal Performance Series for Endurance Athletes | Part 2

Nov 18, 2017Dairy Council® of Arizona, Optimal Performance Series

Part 2: Resistance Training

Damon McCune, ABD, MS, RDN, LD, Founder of Allied Performance, LLC, Co-Author of The Vertical Diet

For many, there exists some confusion surrounding how to best incorporate resistance training into an endurance training program. There are legitimate concerns for gaining muscle mass:  it’s heavy, it’s energy expensive, too much can reduce mobility, you don’t want to develop overuse injury from the additional training, and it’s not specific to endurance [1-8] … or is it?

There is definitely a bell curve in terms of how much muscle mass an endurance athlete carries and their performance output.  Muscle = Speed … to a point. Too much muscle can slow you down, not enough can prevent you from reaching your personal best time [1-14]. The bottom line is that there will be a “sweet-spot” level of muscle mass for every athlete that will need to be determined on an individual basis with help from a coaching. That optimal level will most likely not be achieved through cardiovascular style training alone, so resistance training is still a very important component of any endurance training strategy. But what does that look like?

How can you incorporate these training strategies for your goals?

  1. Incorporate at least 2 resistance training sessions per week focusing on major muscle groups.
  2. Perform 2-3 sets using a load that only allows you to complete 10-15 full-range repetitions per set.
  3. If possible, separate endurance and resistance training sessions. Prioritize endurance training first if unable to separate.
  4. Consult coaching staff to discuss what approach might be best for your individual situation.

In general terms, there is strong evidence to suggest that athletes should include at least 2 resistance training sessions per week focusing on major muscle groups [15-20]. Ideally, the minimal intensity would be greater than 40% 1 rep max (1RM) [20] and the maximum intensity would be no more than 75% of 1RM [8, 10, 11, 16, 19-22]. I’m not suggesting you rush out and attempt a 1RM to figure out your intensity. The risk for injury is too great so please don’t. In simpler terms, you should be working with enough resistance to perform at least 10, but cannot complete more than 20 repetitions. More does not always mean better, and for most athletes, keeping the repetition range between 10-15 works well. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for the major muscle groups at least twice a week and continue with your endurance training [16, 18, 20, 22-27]. Logistically, since the endurance training is the priority, I would suggest performing the resistance training after the endurance training if you are unable to split them apart. Everyone is different and there are many ways to split training. I recommend consulting your coaching staff to determine the best strategy for you.

Now that you’ve demolished your training, you need to replenish. Carbohydrates and quality protein are crucial for maximizing the efforts that you put in while training. Additionally, you will want sources that replenish the micronutrients that were lost in your sweat, including sodium, calcium, and iron among others. Consuming sufficient carbohydrates will replace glycogen and allow for the protein to do what it is intended to do which is repair tissue. That is why you often hear carbohydrates referred to as, “protein sparing”.

The data appears to support a range of 2:1 to 4:1; carbohydrate:protein ratios for post workout recovery [28-36]. That means if you consume 25 grams of high-quality protein, you would aim to consume between 50-100 grams of carbohydrates. Low-fat chocolate milk fits perfectly into this ratio by providing high-quality complete protein, simple carbohydrates, and electrolytes such as calcium and sodium to begin to replace what was lost during activity. If you are trying to maximize glycogen replenishment from carbohydrate, use simple carbohydrate and aim for .7 grams per pound of bodyweight in the first hour following activity and continue to eat 0.35-0.7 gram per pound each hour over the next three hours [34, 37-44].

If you prefer to eat, rather than drink, a meal following activity, that is completely fine. Lean, animal proteins from items such as beef are a nutrient-dense source of nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, and magnesium. White meats like chicken and turkey are great for protein, but you won’t be getting as many micronutrients. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat them, but it is important to include some quality sources of heme iron in the diet especially if you are an adult woman who is running a lot. The combination of hematuria along with menstruation can put women participating in impact activities at a higher risk for developing anemia.

Having muscular strength can enhance your endurance training performance if incorporated appropriately into training.  Although, just as we discussed in Part 1 of the series, there are many roads to the same destination so you will need to assess what strategy fits best for your needs and goals.


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Damon McCune, ABD, MS, RDN, LD

Founder of Allied Performance and Co-Author of The Vertical Diet, Damon McCune is a Ph.D. Candidate in Exercise Physiology and Registered Dietitian. Over the last 15 years, Damon has had extensive experience in program development for some of the top athletes in the world in collaboration with leading medical professionals and researchers. Recently, Damon has served in roles as the Director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Coordinator of Performance Nutrition for UNLV Athletics. Damon is also the former President of the Southern Nevada Dietetic Association. In his multifaceted roles, Damon has developed mechanisms to advance exercise science and nutrition education and broaden the reach of that information to optimize health and performance by incorporating simple, sensible, and sustainable training and nutritional techniques into a balanced lifestyle.

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