Do you know what your breaking point is? Even if you are not racing Ironman or ultramarathon distance at this stage, you might have run in races or even in training where you feel that you have smashed yourself beyond belief. So, what we’re talking about is running yourself into total exhaustion and not being able to take another step. It’s not recommended you doing such things daily, but to be able to understand how we get to that point is very interesting as both a coach and an athlete.
As athletes, we all reach the same metabolic limit. This is defined as the greatest amount of exertion that athletes can withstand over time. It has been discovered that athletes can only burn calories at 2.5 times their resting metabolic rate (RMR) during physical activity that span long periods of time.
Researchers have discovered that when an athlete’s resting metabolic rate goes beyond 2.5 times, the body begins to break down and consume its own tissues to adjust for its caloric deficit. Even with proper race nutrition planning, your digestive tract’s ability to break down calories and this could be the reason for this limit. There’s a limit to how many calories our bellies can take in a given day.
It has been discovered that the digestive process — the body’s ability to process food and absorb calories and nutrients to power physical activities — is a limiting factor for endurance events. Surprisingly, endurance athletes’ maximal sustained energy expenditure was only slightly higher than the metabolic rates women experience during pregnancy. This shows that the same physiological restrictions that prevent Ironman triathletes from breaking world speed records may also limit other elements of life, such as the size of new-borns in the womb.
So, what we’re saying is that there is a physiological limit to what you can do as an athlete, as a human being, but that limitation can be mitigated by careful nutritional planning and the steady increase in calories in direct proportion to your physical activities. This fact is very important to all of you. We can avoid that limitation and potential breaking point in endurance by consistently working through your nutrition and physical activity.
CITATION: “Extreme Events Reveal an Alimentary Limit on Sustained Maximal Human Energy Expenditure,” Caitlin Thurber, Lara R. Dugas, Cara Ocobock, Bryce Carlson, John R. Speakman and Herman Pontzer. Science Advances, June 5, 2019. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw0341.
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