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Altitude Training For Endurance Performance

May 12, 2015 at 1:00 pm
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The higher you go, the ‘thinner’ the air becomes. The reduction in air pressure leads to less air resistance, so athletes who sprint, jump and cycle often perform better at high altitude venues. For endurance events, this lack of air pressure becomes a significant issue, as it leads to less oxygen in the blood stream, which impact upon aerobic performance.

What is air pressure?

Air pressure is measured as mm Hg (millimetres of mercury), if you’ve got one of those weather things at home or in the garden, you’ll often see ‘mm Hg’ on the scale. Standard air pressure at sea level is 760 mm Hg, that’s how much resistance you have to overcome when you run or ride your bike. At an altitude of 1344m (the height of Ben Nevis) the air pressure is lower at 650 mm Hg. Cyclists who have completed the hour record (how far you can ride on a track in a single hour) have historically completed the challenge at altitude. More recently, the Olympic Velodrome manipulated the climate conditions inside the building in an attempt to reduce air resistance and increase the likelihood of world records. Air pressure can be simply described as the ‘air density’. If you’re trying to ride through dense air, it’s like riding through water. If the air is thin, you slice through with less resistance. Time trial cyclists will know the importance of weather conditions, they know instinctively that following a big storm, the air is just right for personal bests!

I thought it was harder to compete at altitude for endurance athletes?

Physiologically speaking, yes, it is harder for athletes to compete at altitude. This would certainly be the case for most endurance sports. The hour record is slightly different as the benefits in aerodynamics and reduced air pressure, can outweigh the physiological disadvantage of less oxygen reaching the muscles. For long distance runners, competing at altitude would not be beneficial in any way!

Why does less oxygen get to the muscles?

Air pressure flows from high to low, consider the following example: The pressure in your bike tyre is higher than the surrounding air pressure. When you press the valve the air will therefore flow OUT, from HIGH to LOW. The air will continue to leave your tyre until the pressure inside the tyre matches the pressure in the outside air, then it stops flowing. When you inflate your tyre, your bike pump compresses the air by pushing down the handle. This leads to high pressure inside the pump (higher than the pressure inside the tyre), so the air flows into the tyre, from HIGH to LOW.

How does it work for humans?

When your lungs expand, the air pressure inside them drops lower than the outside air pressure. By opening your mouth, you allow the air to flow inwards (from HIGH to LOW). When you compress your lungs, this squashes the air inside them, raising the pressure so it’s higher than outside air pressure. The air therefore flows out of your mouth. We said earlier that air pressure is lower at altitude. When you expand your lungs and open your mouth to let air in, you presume that the pressure in the outside air in higher than it is in your lungs (so air will flow from HIGH to LOW into your lungs). What happens if the outside air pressure is also low? You open your mouth, the air pressure in your lungs is low and the outside air pressure is also low… air flows nowhere! Much of the talk about altitude generally refers to the ‘lack of oxygen’ when in fact the real reason that oxygen supply to the muscles is reduced, is the lack of air pressure.

What happens when you train at altitude?

The reduction of oxygen in the blood stimulates the release of erythropoietin (EPO) and this results in an increase in haemoglobin and red blood cells. This is the body’s way to deal with the lack of oxygen in the blood stream. Endurance athletes will often spend periods of time at altitude to boost their red blood cell levels, in the hope that when they return to sea level, their performances will be improved. One of the most significant issues relating to training at altitude is the inability to maintain both volume and intensity of normal training. In simple terms, you can’t train hard when you’re at altitude. To resolve this problem, athletes will follow a ‘HILO’ approach, which means they live HI and then train LOW. They will live at high altitude and then drop down to sea level when they need to train, so their workouts are not affected. The biggest problem relating to the HILO approach is the geographical limitations. Firstly, athletes must travel to a part of the world where they can sleep at altitudes of 2200-2500m. Secondly, they must then deal with the practicalities of training at ‘sea level’. This may require living and sleeping at a ski resort, whilst driving to lower altitudes to carry out training sessions.

There is an easier way

This geographical problem has largely been removed by the access to hypoxic or hypobaric chambers, thereby allowing athletes to remain at home in many cases whilst still benefiting from the HILO approach. Hypoxic chambers transform a normal room or building into a hypoxic environment. Athletes are now able to purchase a simple tent, which can be erected over their bed and with the use of a simple device, they can replicate altitudes of 2200-2500m whilst they sleep. Some training facilities have gone further and established training houses with dormitories where athletes are continually residing in hypoxic conditions to match 2200-2500m.

What’s the difference between hypoxic and hypobaric?

The word hypobaric, means ‘low pressure’. We mentioned earlier that air pressure drops when you are at altitude. The simple tent structures that you place over your bed, as used by the Brownlees and other elite athletes are not hypobaric. The air pressure in those tents is the same as general sea level, instead, they reduce the amount of oxygen in the air (swap it for nitrogen). They are therefore ‘hypoxic’ (low oxygen) but not ‘hypobaric’ (low air pressure). Hypoxic devices are much more easily available and have the same desired effect, i.e. generating red blood cells.

Applying Hypoxic Training

There are 3 ways of using hypoxia. The first is to sleep or live for longer periods of time in a hypoxic environment. This may be as simple as erecting a tent over your bed and sleeping 8-10 hours inside. The most common recommended altitude is 2000-2500m, this is moderate altitude.

The second option is termed IHT (Intermittent Hypoxic Therapy). This is based upon short exposure (60-90 min per day or less), at significantly higher relative altitudes (6000m+). This option is generally done passively, sitting in a chair whilst holding a mask over your face and breathing hypoxic air. In simple terms, this is a ‘much harder hit for a shorter period of time’.

There is a third option, to consider as both of the above do not involve exercise. You could exercise on a treadmill or indoor bike, whilst wearing a mask and breathing hypoxic air. If you are exercising, rather than sitting still, then the recommended altitude would be similar to option 1 (2000-2500m).
I’m feeling a bit light headed after all this talk of altitude, so we’ll stop here for now. Next week, we’ll look at what out there on the market and how it can be used to enhance your general performance. How can you apply altitude training in your everyday life and what’s the potential benefits to performance?

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

Until then, stay low and fast

Marc Laithwaite

Beat The Heat This Summer (part 2)

May 5, 2015 at 10:13 am
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Exercise in the heat can place a lot of strain upon your body, if you’re used to cooler climates. For this reason, many elite athletes will spend time acclimatising to the higher temperature. Acclimatisation can require up to 14 days, so what if you’re an amateur athlete traveling abroad for an endurance event, who can’t afford to travel 3 weeks before the event?

This is part 2 of our ‘exercise in the heat’ blog series. Last week we explained why exercise in the heat is such a problem (you can read by clicking the coaching articles link at the top of the page and then scrolling down through past blogs). In this week’s blog, I’ll explain how you can acclimatise before you travel and highlight the key physiological changes that take place, as a consequence of acclimatisation.

It’s a bit cold up North, so acclimatising might be difficult!!

Okay, if you live in the North of the UK and you’re traveling abroad to race, then you might be struggling to understand how you can possibly acclimatise. I use the term ‘North of UK’ as we all know that in the South of the UK, the temperature rarely drops below 18c. I’ve never traveled further South than Birmingham, but I hear they wear shorts and flip-flops pretty much year round.

In simple terms, to acclimatise before traveling, you need to make yourself hot and encourage sweating when you train. There are really easy ways to do this:

  1. Wear extra clothing
  2. Run on a treadmill or cycle indoors and turn up the heat
  3. Spend time in a sauna or steam room on a daily basis

I’d recommend you start doing this from 2 weeks out, but you need to do it consistently. Ideally it should be on a daily basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the above methods can help acclimatise you before travelling to warmer climates.

General guidelines:

  1. If you’re exercising outdoors, wearing extra clothing will lead to a higher sweat rate, so make sure you hydrate during the session. The same can be said for indoor running or cycling, make sure you are hydrating throughout.
  2. You should expect it to affect performance to some extent. If you use a power meter when cycling or you run at specific speeds on the treadmill, you should expect your power of speed to be a little lower than normal. If you’re temperature is higher, attempting to maintain the same intensity as usual could result in you being exhausted by the finish of the session!
  3. Try to progress the sessions in terms of exposure and intensity. For example, if you ride indoors, gradually turn up the temperature over a 7 day period and gradually build up the volume and intensity of the session. Don’t simply crank up the heat on day 1 and ride the full session as you’d expect to in cooler temperatures.
  4. The same rule applies for the sauna and steam room. Start with 10-15 minutes and gradually build your time to 30-45 minutes. Take a drink into the sauna or steam room with you to ensure you are hydrating adequately.

What are the physiological changes that take place?

There are a couple of key changes that take place when you are forced to sweat at a high rate:

The first is an expansion of plasma volume, this refers to an increase in the amount of blood plasma. Last week we explained that blood is made up of plasma (the fluid part) and cells. As you sweat, you lose plasma, which then thickens the blood. Part of the acclimatisation process in as increase in plasma, which means your blood is thinner. By increasing your plasma volume, this also means that you have more blood in general. The amount of cells doesn’t change, but the fluid component is increased, thereby increasing the overall blood volume. This is handy when your blood has to supply both muscles and skin, as discussed last week.

The second key change is a reduction in salt loss. Early in the acclimatisation process, your sweat contains a high amount of sodium. As the acclimatisation process progresses, your body retains sodium by reducing the amount lost in sweat. In simple terms, your sweat becomes less salty. If you’re acclimatising over a 2 week period, lick your skin every day and see if you can taste the change. It’s not socially acceptable to lick someone else’s skin.

As stated earlier, for these 2 changes to occur, you simply need to encourage a high sweat rate when training. The more you sweat, the more these changes will occur. Be sensible, reduce the intensity of the training session and gradually build up heat exposure over the 2 week period.

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

Until then, stay cool.

Marc Laithwaite

Scott Kinabalu Supertrac Review, by Guy Illingworth

April 30, 2015 at 8:30 am
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Guy Illingworth is an ultra trail runner from Parbold, Lancashire, who is attempting the Bob Graham this summer. He was looking for a pair of shoes which had ‘trail cushioning’ but ‘fell grip’. We said “Guy… I think we have something for you to try”. This is how he got on during a revent fell running trip to the lakes:

It was time to invest in another (or as my wife says ‘yet another’) pair of trail shoes for some of the longer events I am committed to this year.

For shorter events or Fell based events I swear by Inov8 X Talons or Roclite, but find the cushioning (or lack of) too much for events such as the Lakeland 50. For the last two years I have run the 50 in Hoka’s and they have been fine on relatively dry, firm trails. I used them on last years CCC and they were fine until the heavens opened and the trail turned into a mud kinabalubath. It was then less a case of running and more a case of skating/skiing and was more frightening than being a Newcastle fan on Derby day (I am of the red and white persuasion). I do have a pair of Salomon S Lab 3 SG and they have been great but I wanted something more cushioned.

My wife and a few pals swear by Inov8 Race Ultra 290, so last week I popped down to TES with Ultra 290’s as the intended purchase. Just before I committed and handed over my hard earned cash, Marc said ‘try the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac, they are well cushioned and have a great grip’. I have to admit, I thought ‘Scott… they make bikes and these shoes look like road shoes’, but nothing ventured and all that, so I tried them on. Very comfy and the grip did look far more aggressive than the Race Ultra. I have to say that I have been surprised that the Race Ultra tread isn’t more like a Roclite or X Talon, but hey what do I know?

They felt good and after a chat and a coffee I decided to give them a bash, duly left a few quid lighter and set off for a weekend in the Lakes, promising to give some honest feedback.

Saturday was planned as a reccie of BG Leg 1, so off I went in my new shoes. To say they were tested is an understatement. The weather was interesting, the rain turning to sleet then snow and finally warm sunshine. If you don’t know Leg 1 the terrain is very mixed, from the road out of Keswick, the motorway of a path up Skiddaw, the steep grass off the side of Skiddaw and the rocks and scree of Halls Fell. The shoes responded to everything, great on the road, gripped like mad on the grass (a bit sketchy on wet rock, but no more than anything else) and solid on scree. From out of the box they were incredibly comfortable and did everything they were asked to do. I gave them another bash on Sunday up Blencathra and down Doddick Fell with the same mixture of comfort and grip.

From my experience last weekend, if you are looking for a shoe with cushioning and great grip, they should be high on your shortlist.

Beat The Heat This Summer (Part 1)

April 28, 2015 at 11:12 am
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Following on from our 7 part nutrition epic, this week we’re starting a series of articles titled ‘environmental physiology’. We’re going to open with a 2 part series relating to exercise in the heat (I say 2 parts, but who knows what could happen by next week). Following that, we’ll take a look at altitude training and potential benefits.

Too Hot? Call The Police & Fireman…

Exercise in the heat can place a lot of strain upon your body, if you’re used to cooler climates. For this reason, many elite athletes will spend time acclimatising to the higher temperature. Acclimatisation can require up to 14 days, so what if you’re an amateur athlete travelling abroad for an endurance event, who can’t afford to travel 3 weeks before the event? Well this blog is quite timely for me, as I’m off to Lanzarote in less than 4 weeks for the Ironman triathlon and potentially, it could be very hot. There’s probably quite a few people reading this blog who are traveling abroad this year to take part in triathlon or running events in hot places. The purpose of this blog is to explain simple ways, which you can acclimate your body beforehand and explain the physiological changes, which take place to improve your performance.

Too hot? You Make A Dragon Want To Retire Man…

In a nutshell, when you exercise in hot climates, your core temperature rises and your performance suffers. If your core temperature rises too much, it could potentially be lethal, so your brain is pretty quick to try and stop that happening, by persuading you to stop!

How do we reduce core temperature?

There 2 main ways, the first is ‘convection’ and the second is ‘sweat evaporation’.


Think about a car radiator, it’s positioned right at the front of the car as that’s where the wind hits it when you’re driving. Heat is generated in the engine, this in turn heats the water which is then pumped to the radiator. The wind hits the radiator, cools the water and the cool water goes back into the engine to pick up more heat. This cycle continues, to keep removing heat from the engine, which is why it’s important to keep the fluid topped up or your car will overheat! The human body works the same way, heat is generated in the engine and your blood then picks up the heat. The blood is pumped to the coolest part of the body (the skin), where the wind hits it and cools the blood. It then returns back into the engine to pick up more heat and the cycle continues.

If the wind is blowing against your skin whilst you exercise, convection may well be enough to keep you cool and maintain a normal body temperature. It’s easier to do this when cycling, compared to running, as your speed is generally higher, so the wind chill is greater. Runners will notice that treadmill running leads to more sweating than running outside as the air temperature is generally warmer, but also you’re not moving, so there’s no air flow past the skin and therefore no wind chill or convection. The same can be said about indoor cycling or using a turbo trainer, especially if you don’t have a fan blowing.

Let’s use the treadmill running or turbo cycling scenarios as an example. If there’s no air flow past your skin to cool the blood, then in effect, you pump hot blood to the skin surface, it doesn’t get cooled, so the hot blood goes back into the engine / core. That’s a sure fire way to overheat. This is the same as leaving your car engine running on a hot day, whilst stuck in a traffic jam. If you’re not moving, there’s no wind hitting the radiator, so convection cooling can’t happen.


Sweating is based on ‘evaporation’. Water from your body cells makes it’s way to the skin and as the hot blood arrives, the heat is passed from the blood into the water droplets (leaving the blood cool). The heated water on your skin, evaporates into the air like water from a boiling pan and takes the heat with it. If you’re running on a treadmill and there’s no convection, you need another method of getting rid of heat, so the sweating and evaporation will kick in.

It’s important to recognise that ‘evaporation’ removes the heat, so any sweat on your skin, clothing or floor, serves no purpose other than to lead to dehydration.

Convection and sweating don’t compliment each other too well

If you’re racing in hot weather, convection isn’t enough so you’ll also sweat to keep your temperature down. As you sweat, you lose fluid from your body and this leads to a drop in blood plasma (plasma is the fluid/water component of blood). The problem is that you need a lot of blood for convection to work well. When you’re exercising, blood is pumped to the exercising muscles and what’s left is pumped to the vital organs. So what happens when you then need to pump extra blood to the skin to cool down? Do you reduce blood flow to the muscles and vital organs? It sounds like a great idea to keep you cool, but where is this extra blood coming from? As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re now sweating and the amount of blood you have is dropping. So not only do you have to supply muscles, organs and the skin, you’ve got less and less blood available as sweating continues.

Blood is made up of plasma (fluid) and cells (red/white/platelets). When you sweat, you lose plasma, but not cells. This means that the total amount of blood is reduced and it also gets thicker (same number of cells but less fluid).

What does this mean in terms of performance?

As you’ve probably guessed already, this isn’t good for performance. Heart rate is generally higher for any level of exercise. This is due to the fact that you’re trying to pump blood to all areas of your body and your total blood volume is dropping. Your cardiovascular system is therefore working overtime, trying to match the demand with a struggling supply. Due to fluid and salt losses, your body becomes dehydrated and cells cannot function correctly. We’ve mentioned previously that salt is required for transporting fluid throughout the body and as high amount of salt can be lost in sweating, this mechanism is impaired.

Something of great importance, which is less frequently discussed, is the change in substrate utilisation. Whilst the exact mechanism is still under question, it’s pretty clear that you use more carbohydrates and therefore empty your glycogen stores more quickly when exercising in the heat. The simple explanation is that that there’s a lack of ‘spare blood’ going to the muscles, due to the fact it’s going to the skin for cooling. Fat metabolism requires more oxygen than carbohydrate metabolism so there’s a switch from fat to carbohydrate. This may also be explained by a switch from ‘slow twitch’ to ‘fast twitch’ fibres, which use less oxygen.

All in all, this isn’t looking too good. We’ve got an ever-decreasing blood volume, which is being pulled in several different directions. We’ve got decreasing salt levels and an onset of dehydration. We’ve got a heart rate which is significantly higher than it should be for the intensity we’re exercising at and to cap it all off, we’re running out of carbohydrates at a faster rate than normal.

Don’t worry help is at hand. Next week we’ll discuss how acclimatisation helps you to deal with the issues and explain the physiological changes responsible.

Until then, stay cool.

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

Marc Laithwaite

Which is the best triathlon wetsuit?

April 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm
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There are many different brands on the market, claiming that their wetsuit is quicker than any other, but what’s the truth about finding the best triathlon wetsuit? The first thing to take into account is that the fastest wetsuit for you is the one which fits you the best. Different manufacturers have different fittings, which means that a size medium will vary between manufacturers. The variation doesn’t just refer to size, it refers to the specific fit, such as narrow waist and broader shoulders or vice-versa. The bottom line is that you should try on your wetsuit before you buy and you should also have an experienced fitter give you advice. It’s common for triathletes to buy wetsuits which are too big for them, due to the tight fit required for optimal swimming.

Starter suits £140-160

Zone3 Advance 139.49

A great starter suit for a great price. Predominantly 4mm with 3mm and 2mm panels in the chest and shoulders to enhance flexibility and arm movement. The fit is not as giving as the Aquasphere Pursuit which can be positive or negative depending upon your body shape. It is a more ‘tailored’ and ‘slimmer’ fit on the waist and torso which suits slimmer body types. Overall, if you’re the right shape, this is a great fitting and great performing suit. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

Aqua Sphere Pursuit 149.99

Another great starter suit, for a great price. The suit is predominantly 4mm neoprene throughout so it gives good all-round buoyancy. It has stretch panels built into this suit which makes it a more generous fit for larger athletes, but if you have a relatively slim waist, it can be a little loose fitting with a tendency to pool water in the lower back. Overall, great quality for the price, but not the slimmest fit. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

TYR Hurricane C1 £159.99

Yet another great starter suit at a great price. There are 5mm panels in the TYR Hurricane C1 which give great buoyancy for those who need it. The advanced range of motion design ensures flexibility in the shoulders and TYR have added quick release ankle and wrist cuffs for speedy transition. This suit also comes in ladies version.

Zoot Men’s Z Force 1.0 £159.99

A top-end starter suit, which gives a great performance. The suit is predominantly 5mm neoprene so gives slightly more buoyancy than the other suits in this category. In terms of fit, similar to the zone 3 it is a tailored fit which has a snug feel, essential for performance. Considering it’s in the starter suits section, it certainly has the look and feel of a top-end suit. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

Performance suits £190-260

Zone3 Vision £193.50

Zone3 Vision is most definitely a performance suit, but it sits at a price only marginally above the start suits. Based on those facts, it’s definitely worth a look! As with the Zone 3 Advance, it’s a great suit in terms of it’s tailored fit, but there’s a few tweeks in the neoprene thickness. The body and legs are 5mm for the extra buoyancy, but the shoulders and arms drop as low as 1.5mm to boost flexibility and movement. Need buoyancy and flexibility? Then try the Zone 3 Vision. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

Z3ROD Atlante £225.00

Z3ROD Atlante looks the business and it performs pretty well in the water also! The body is 5mm coupled with 3mm in the legs. for greater shoulder flexibility is has a unique single wrist to wrist panel with 1.5mm at the shoulders. This gives the suit a very flexible feel and allows efficient arm movement. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

2XU A:1 £229.99

The 2XU A:1 is a great wetsuit for performance swimming. The fit is similar to Zone 3 and if anything, even more tailored. The 2XU suits include their roll bar system, which sounds like a gizmo, but seems to work very well. Your body position is held relatively firm in the water to enhance streamlining, this is supported by the 5mm body panels. The shoulders are super flexible at 1.5mm making this a great all round suit. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

Zone3 Aspire £259.99

The Zone 3 Aspire has the same great Zone 3 tailored fit, with some James Bond technical advancements. The body panels and the thighs are 5mm and the shoulders are super flexible due to the neoprene quality. It has catch panels on the forearm and the fast transition cuffs for a speedy T1. This suit also comes in a ladies version.

TYR Hurricane C2 £259.99

Designed to provide buoyancy and minimise drag, this suit is packed with features. There are 5mm buoyancy panels in the TYR Hurricane C2 which give a balanced body position. The advanced range of motion design ensures flexibility in the shoulders and TYR have added quick release ankle and wrist cuffs for speedy transition. The speed wrap paneling throughout this suit gives it a real 2nd skin feel. This suit also comes in ladies version.

Ironman Training Days

April 21, 2015 at 3:07 pm
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Our annual Ironman training days will once again take place from 3 Sisters Waterski Lake.

The dates will be Sunday June 14th and Sunday July 5th,  COST IS £10 PER DAY

The format will be as previous years, meet 06:30am for 07:00am swim start at 3 Sisters Waterski, close to junction 25 M6. We will swim the full 3.8k on a marked course, this will be a mass start time trial.

Once the swim is completed, drive to Total Fitness Wigan (5 minutes from lake) for breakfast (pay for your own coffee breakfast on the day). We will start the cycle ride from here and ride to Pennington Flash (5 miles away). We will then pick up the Ironman route and complete the link section from Pennington to the IMUK loop. After one full loop we will then return back to Total Fitness Wigan (85 miles total), showers will be available.

There will be 3-4 cycle groups of varying ability, each will be lead by a rider who knows the route. You will be reponsible for your own repairs, mechanicals, food and drink on the route, so come prepared.

You can see the swim course by CLICKING HERE

You can see the cycle route (85 miles) by CLICKING HERE

To get to 3 Sisters Waterski you need to be heading North Bound M6, come off junction 25: CLICK HERE

To get from 3 Sisters Waterski to Total Fitness CLICK HERE


Sunday June 14th CLICK HERE

Sunday July 5th CLICK HERE



Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing (part 7)

April 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm
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Hello endurance friends, we are now up to part 7 of a 7 part series on nutrition. Yep, we are finally there. Last week we introduced specific products used during endurance events and how they can fulfil your requirements in terms of nutrition intake.

There are 3 common sports products used during endurance racing:

  1. Drinks powders
  2. Gels
  3. Bars

Last week we discussed energy drinks and examined carbohydrate, sodium and caffeine content. This week, we’ll check out bars and gels.

What’s in them?

Unsurprisingly, gels tend to contain maltodextrin and glucose, similar to the drinks. In fact, gels are simply condensed energy drinks. They were originally designed to be carried on events where you could access only water, as a source of energy. The thickness of the gel will dictate how much energy they contain. Some gels are very thick and sticky and these contain more energy than the ones which are a thinner, more watery solution. This is based upon the simple principles we discussed a couple of weeks ago, relating to hypo, iso and hypertonic solutions.

As an example, a 41g power gel original contains approximately 27g of carbohydrate. Remember the 60g rule? That means 2 of these gels per hour would be pretty close to target intake. The remaining 14g of the gel is fluid (41g – 27g = 14g) so we can calculate the gel thickness as follows:

Total weight = 41g
Carbohydrate content = 27g
27/41 = 0.66, Therefore this gel is a 66% solution (27 is 66% of 41)

The purpose of that calculation is simply to highlight that gels are extremely ‘hypertonic’, remember that isotonic is a 7% solution. Being hypertonic is not a problem, the more hypertonic the more energy it provides, but it does mean that you need to take fluid with them.

In past blogs we stated that you should aim for no more than 10% solutions, so that means 270ml of water drank with 27g of carbohydrate will be correct, 270 / 27 = 10. It’s important to do the calculation based on the 27g of carbohydrate in the gel, not the 41g total weight of the gel. Technically if you drink 270ml the solution will actually be less that 10% as there’s already 14g of fluid in the gel as stated above. As a practical guide think about a 500ml drinks bottle generally used for cycling, it’s half of one of those with every power gel.

What about Isogels

There are ISOGELS on the market, SIS and High5 make popular versions. By adding more fluid to the gel and reducing the carbohydrate content they can reduce the thickness of the gel solution.

The first thing of note is that they contain less carbohydrate, so you’d need to take more of them every hour. They contain in the region of 22-24g of carbohydrate per gel, so that means you’d be taking almost 3 per hour to get your energy, rather than 2 power gels. That’s a lot of gels to carry if you’re racing long distances.

But ISOGELS are isotonic, so you don’t need water, right?

HIGH5 Isogel
Total weight = 66g
Carbohydrate content = 24g
24/66 = 0.36, Therefore this gel is a 36% solution (24 is 36% of 66)

SIS GO Isogel
Total weight = 66g
Carbohydrate content = 22g
22/66 = 0.33, Therefore this gel is a 33% solution (22 is 33% of 66)

So we said above and in previous blogs that isotonic solutions are 7%. The solutions for the ISOGELS above are 33% and 36%, this is not isotonic, it’s hypertonic. I may be missing something here, so I did phone High5 and ask. They couldn’t answer the question but stated that ‘they were more isotonic than other gels’. I’m not sure that is technically true, as none of them are anywhere near 7%. That’s a bit like me saying I’m tall and when questioned about by lack of height, I reply by stating ‘I’m more tall than Ste Hilton’. Whilst that may be true, it doesn’t make me tall…

Key points:

1. You DO need to drink water with ISO gels
2. If you don’t know Ste, that joke is completely lost

If there’s 24g of carbohydrate in a 66g gel, then you need to take 240ml of water for a 10% solution (240ml / 24g = 10%). However, there is already 42g of fluid in there (66g gel – 24g carbohydrate = 42g fluid). Based on this, 200ml would be sufficient, that’s still more than a third of a 500ml drinks bottle.

What about energy bars?

Bars are an alternative source of carbohydrate. They generally contains things like oats, rice, wheat etc with added sugar syrups such as glucose or fructose. In terms of ‘solutions’ a gel is solid food, so it needs mixing with a significant amount of water to digest and absorb effectively.

As an example, a powerbar energize bar (others are available!!) weighs in as follows:

Bar weight = 55g
Carbohydrate = 39g
Fat = 2g
Protein = 6g

In terms of carbohydrate content, you’d need 1.5 bars per hour to get your 60g intake. If you add up the content weight 39g + 2g + 6g = 47g. We stated that the bar weighed 55g, so there is some fluid in there also plus some other little bits to make the weight up to 55g. If you drank a full 500ml bottle of water with every bar, that would give you just less than 9% solution which is ideal (47/500 = 0.9). That means a full 750ml bottle and 1.5 powerbars per hour would be pretty much on target (remember all bars are different, these calculations are for powerbar energize).

Salt intake

We discussed sweating and hydration last week, which included salt intake. As a recap, salt and sodium are 2 different things. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. You need to know this as some products give ‘salt’ content and others give ‘sodium’ content. Remember also from last week we said that you are likely to sweat up to 1g of sodium per hour (1000mg). There’s multiple thoughts on salt replacement, regarding how much and whether you need it. I’m not going to go into depth on the matter because this is meant to be a simple and easy to read blog. If it’s warm and you sweat a fair bit, aim for 500-1000mg SODIUM per hour. If you take a bit too much, you’ll just sweat it out anyhow so don’t overly panic.

Let’s presume that you are aiming to take all of your energy by using sports gels or bars. So remember, our targets are 60g of carbohydrate per hour and 500-1000mg of sodium per hour, presuming its warm and you sweat. Here are some options:

SIS GO Isotonic Gel

Includes 22 grams of carbohydrate
Sodium = negligible

High5 Isogel

Includes 24 grams of carbohydrate
Sodium = negligible


Includes 27g of carbohydrate
Sodium = 205mg
2-3 Powergels per hour would give you 410-615mg of sodium, we stated that 500mg was a starting target.

Powerbar Energize

Includes 39g of carbohydrate
Sodium = 192mg
1.5 Powerbar Energize per hour as suggested above, would give you 288mg of sodium, half of that provided by intake of 2-3 Powerbar gels per hour. They really don’t make this easy!!

Some key points:

  1. The amount of carbohydrate in gels and bars varies widely
  2. You need to drink water with all gels and bars for correct absorption
  3. Isotonic gels don’t exist (unless I’ve missed something)
  4. Sodium content varies widely in bars and gels and is often not included

I hope that basic overview helps you to practically apply what you’ve learned over recent weeks, feel free to call into the store and we can talk you through it before your big day.

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

Marc Laithwaite

Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing part 6

April 15, 2015 at 5:58 pm
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Hello endurance friends, we are now up to part 6 of a 4 part series on nutrition. Yep, I can’t figure that one out either and put it down to bad planning or too much to say. So this week, having discussed carbohydrate, fluid and salt intake, I thought we would focus a little more on application. We’ll take a look at the specific products used during endurance events and whether they can fulfil your requirements in terms of nutrition intake.

There are 3 common sports products used during endurance racing:

  1. Drinks powders
  2. Gels
  3. Bars

Aside from the ‘big 3’ there is also a selection of jelly shots or chews, in addition to traditional favourites such as jelly babies, malt loaf, flapjack and bananas. For the purpose of this blog, we’re going to focus on the big 3 and examine what they provide and what’s the difference between them?

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks generally come in powder form and you mix with water to create a solution. In past blogs we’ve discussed the isotonic issue and how it impacts upon digestion. Based upon that, a 10% solution or less is ideal (7% is isotonic). To create a 10% solution, mix 60g of powder in 600ml of water.

What’s in the powder?

Almost all energy powders are maltodextrin, this is a ‘glucose polymer’ and made up of between 3-17 pieces of glucose in a chain. It is very rapidly absorbed (almost as quickly as pure glucose) and therefore gives a rapid sugar spike and insulin response (good if you need it during racing, but not good if you don’t need it, such as steady training or just using during the day as part of your diet). All energy drinks tend to be based on maltodextrin, but they often have small amounts of glucose and fructose.


We discussed sweating and hydration last week, which included salt intake. You can go back and read in full if you wish, but as a recap, salt and sodium are 2 different things. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. You need to know this as some products give ‘salt’ content and others give ‘sodium’ content. Remember also from last week we said that you are likely to sweat up to 1g of sodium per hour (1000mg). There’s multiple thoughts on salt replacement, regarding how much and whether you need it. I’m not going to go into depth on the matter because this is meant to be a simple and easy to read blog. If it’s warm and you sweat a fair bit, aim for 500-1000mg SODIUM per hour. If you take a bit too much, you’ll just sweat it out anyhow so don’t overly panic.

Let’s presume that you are aiming to take all of your energy by using sports drinks. So remember, our targets are 60g of carbohydrate per hour and 500-1000mg of sodium per hour, presuming its warm and you sweat. Here are some options:

SIS GO Electrolyte 60 grams of powder

Includes 55 grams of carbohydrate, primarily maltodextrin

360mg sodium


Powerbar Iso Active 60 grams of powder

53 grams of carbohydrate, primarily maltodextrin

756mg sodium


H5 Energy Source 60 grams of powder

57g of carbohydrate, includes maltodextrin, but 33% fructose

312mg sodium


H5 Energy Source Xtrem 60 grams of powder

57g of carbohydrate 33% fructose

306mg sodium

Approx. 175mg caffeine


Some key points:

  1. We said your target is 60g of carbohydrate, not 60g of powder, but as you can see above, 95% of the powder which goes into your bottle, is actual carbohydrate.
  1. The sodium levels vary quite widely, you can see that Powerbar Iso Active has considerably more than others (756mg) and is the only one to fall within the 500-100mg range.
  1. H5 Energy Source is the only one which uses fructose in large quantities. They use a 2:1 formula (66% maltodextrin and 33% fructose). The reason for this is that the 60g per hour rule is based on the fact that only 60g of GLUCOSE can be absorbed per hour (maltodextrin is a glucose chain). However, that doesn’t account for fructose, which is absorbed in a different manner. So basically, if you take 90g of powder per hour, that contains 60g glucose (the maximum amount of glucose you can absorb) and 30g fructose which is absorbed separately. You can use this drink to take on more carbohydrate per hour than the normal guidelines.
  1. H5 Extrem also has caffeine, approx 175mg per 60g powder. To put that into perspective a pro-plus tablet has 50mg and a filter coffee has between 50-100mg per cup. People think caffeine is a ‘pick up’ or ‘kick’, when in fact it’s real purpose is a pain killer. Caffeine can mask your effort if taken in significant quantities, it changes your perception by acting on the nervous system to make things feel easier.

What about electrolyte tablets?

H5 Zero Tabs 4g tablet

260mg sodium

Power Bar 4g tablet

250mg sodium

Some key points:

The electrolyte tablets don’t contain any energy, they are purely flavoured salt replacement. If you’re drinking a bottle every hour in warm weather and sweating, then you probably need to double them in the bottle. If you’re using energy gels and bars to get your ‘energy’ during your event, you could use the electrolyte tablets to reach your sodium target. You can generally always get water during a race, so add 2 tabs to each bottle and drinks throughout the hour in addition to taking your gels and or bars.

I hope that basic overview of drinks helps you to practically apply what you’ve learned over recent weeks, feel free to call into the store and we can talk you through it before your big day.

Next week we’ll look at energy bars and gels, which one’s to choose to best suit your needs, that’s part 7, honestly the end is in sight.

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media.

Marc Laithwaite


Why open water training is often useless

April 10, 2015 at 8:55 am
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I’ve blogged recently about the issues with people transferring from pool to open water. Many people are successful in the pool, but simply fail to make the switch and as a result, perform badly in triathlon and open water swimming events. It’s not due to a change in sport or fitness, you’re still swimming and you still have all those metres of training to support you, it’s primarily due to the change in environment. If you didn’t read last week’s blog you can do so by CLICKING HERE

Here’s some of the common problems that people encounter when they swim open water:

1. They can’t see where they are going, no tiles or lane ropes to follow
2. They can’t put their face in the water as they don’t like cold and darkness. They continually swim with their heads out of the water – so much for balance and body position!!
4. They hate other people being around them and crashing into them – completely puts them off swimming
5. They hate choppy water and swimming in what feels like a washing machine – especially after swimming is a pool with anti-wave lane ropes
6. They dislike the restrictiveness of a wetsuit and they feel like they can’t breathe
7. They are so distracted by all the other people they forget to breathe and coupled with the above, start hyper-ventilating and panic
8. The resistance of the neoprene causes their shoulders and arms to fatigue quickly resulting in awful stroke technique

*In 2014, spectators watched competitors competing in the Ironman UK being coaxed into the water, in a state of panic. Some of them didn’t get further than 20m from the bank and had to return. I’m sure these swimmers had managed at least to swim the distance in a swimming pool and this emphasises the key point: Open water swimming is not about being a better swimmer, it’s about being able to swim to the best of your current ability and deliver that performance in the open water environment.

How do most people train in open water?

The initial thing to state is that most open water swim sessions lack focus. The format is generally to get into the water, swim steady for a lap of a lake or course, stop, decide whether to do another lap, then set off and do the same thing. This is generally done alone or in a small group which doesn’t replicate events. Unfortunately, this lack of focus and lack of ‘specificity’ will fail to adequately prepare you for open water competition.

How should you train in open water?

1. There should be some similarity to pool training. The sessions should be structured and they should have an objective rater than a leisurely and relaxing dip (It’s important to point out that there’s nothing wrong with going for a gentle open water swim for the purposes of enjoyment, but this article is specifically addressing how to train for events).
2. The resistance of a wetsuit generates fatigue more quickly than pool swimming. The only way to change this is to condition yourself to hard swimming in a wetsuit. Avoid the leisurely plod, complete repeated hard efforts at race pace as you would in the pool.
3. You need to swim in a group. During past open water swim sessions I have been part of, I’ve faced complaints from people due to the fact that there are 30-40 people doing the session together which leaves little space. This is a fraction of the number you will face in an open water triathlon or swim event, you need to be comfortable swimming in and amongst others.
4. Look for the rough and choppy water. The drafting effect in a group is much greater, but the water is choppy and rough. Many people most away from others to find calmer water as this is more comfortable. You need to practice and become comfortable in these circumstances as they are event specific.
5. learn how to focus on yourself and not others. In open water, we spend far too much time worrying about others around us and therfore lose focus on ourselves. We forget everything we know about stroke technique and perform badly as a consequence. Read last week’s blog linked above to understand further.

*There is much talk of kicking, punching, pulling and being swum over during open water events. From my experience it’s not as common as novices seem to think and the people who hit, kick and grab do so because they are the most scared. They bump into another body and their frightened instinct is to grab out for safety on your leg or arm, so kicking back is not the answer. I’ve been grabbed a few times and have stopped and looked at the perpetrator, only to see ‘rabbit in the headlights’ style fear in their eyes. I have occasionally met people who say they thrive on hitting people. Their focus in open water is to clatter anyone near them and turn the swim into a fist fight. These people are technically known as ‘idiots’. They usually say such words to hide their own fear of open water and if they actually spent time thinking about their technique and pacing, rather than clattering other people, they’d probably swim 5 minutes quicker!!

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal for you to share on social media

Saturday and Wednesday open water at 3 Sisters, Wigan starts April. You can join us by CLICKING HERE and registering for free.

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing (part 5)

April 6, 2015 at 10:30 am
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Your body needs fluids for various functions. Body cells and tissues are filled with fluid, the nervous system requires fluid and the fluid component of your blood (known as plasma) is also affected by your drinking habits. Exercise leads to a loss of body fluids via sweating and breathing and this loss of fluid can eventually lead to what is commonly termed dehydration.

What happens when we drink?

When you put fluids into your stomach, they pass through the stomach wall into your blood vessels and effectively become plasma. As your blood stream can pretty much reach any part of your body, any tissue or any cell, this fluid can be transferred from the blood stream into the tissues or cells.

How does fluid actually pass from one place to another?

To get the fluid from your stomach into your blood stream or from your blood stream into tissue cells requires a process termed ‘osmosis’. Salt acts like a magnet drawing fluid towards it and the concentration of salt in your blood and tissues determines the shift of fluid around your body. When you take a drink of water it reaches your stomach and waits to pass through the wall into your blood stream. Your blood is saltier than the water in your stomach and due to the higher level of salt in the blood, the water is drawn from the stomach, through the wall and into the blood. This water effectively becomes blood plasma and travels around your body. If it finds muscle tissue, which has a higher salt concentration, the ‘magnetic’ pull of the salt within the muscle will draw the fluid from the blood into the muscle.

In simple terms, when something is dehydrated, it becomes salty. By becoming salty it’s magnetic or ‘osmotic’ pull increases in power and it attracts water towards it. That’s how fluid shift and hydration works within the body, that’s ‘osmosis’.

So how much should I drink?

Most guides will recommend somewhere between 1 – 1.5 litres per hour depending upon individual sweat rates, but it is unlikely that this amount can actually be absorbed when you are exercising. As each litre of fluid weight 1kg in weight, it is possible to calculate (very roughly) fluid loss by taking weight before and after and this will give you an estimation of how much you need to drink. This is a relatively simple process, go and ride or run for a couple of hours at the same intensity as your upcoming event and wear the same clothing etc. Weigh yourself before you go out, weigh yourself when you get back and then note how much fluid you drank. For example:

Weight beforehand: 80kg
Weight afterwards: 78.4kg
Weight lost: 1.6kg
Drink taken: 500ml (500g/0.5kg) – add this on
Actual weight lost: 2.1kg

*You should also take into account urination, if you stop for a pee during the session, that should be added to the loss!

Drinking too much is worse that not drinking enough:

For many years marathon runners were encourage to drink at every aid station and the key phrase was often “don’t wait until you’re thirsty, it’s too late then!” Unfortunately a few of those people died as a consequence due to a condition known as ‘hyponatremia’, which is excessive dilution of body salts. There needs to be some common sense applied to hydration. Your body tells you when you need fluid by making you feel thirsty and then you should drink however much you’ve lost. Your body operates very much like a water tank with an overflow system. Once the tank is full, any further fluid will be dispensed with by a visit to the toilet! It’s correct to say that urinating frequently and especially if the urine is clear, is not a sign of optimal hydration, it’s a sign you’re drinking too much.

Hyponatremia can be explained in this simple manner:

Take 1 medium sized bucket and add a teaspoon of salt and a pint of water to create a salt solution. Add another pint of pure water to the same bucket and you have now diluted the salt solution (it’s a bit weaker). Add another pint of pure water to the same bucket and dilute the salt even further. Keep going until the salt solution is so weak you can hardly even taste the salt. We said earlier in this article that salt acts like a magnet and attracts water towards it:

‘When you take a drink of water it reaches your stomach and waits to pass through the wall into your blood stream. Your blood is saltier than the water in your stomach and due to the higher level of salt in the blood, the water is drawn from the stomach, through the wall and into the blood’

What if you added so much water to your body that the blood wasn’t salty at all, it was diluted so much that it lost all its pulling power?

Salt intake:

Salt intake is a big question for many athletes and the basic guidelines tend to be relatively poor. Some people sweat more than others and the weather conditions will obviously have a large bearing upon both sweat and salt loss, but let’s examine the basics. Each litre of sweat contains 2.5-3.5g of salt depending upon the individual and how well acclimatised you are to hot conditions. IMPORTANT: Salt and sodium are 2 completely different things and we are interested in SODIUM’ and not ‘SALT’. Salt is 2 parts sodium and 3 parts chloride, so 2.5g of salt = 1g sodium / 1.5g chloride.

As a simple example, a tea spoon of salt = 6 grams. The 6 grams is made up of 2.4g sodium and 3.6g chloride.

Let’s presume that you are going to sweat 1 litre every hour (you need to do the calculation from taking weight before and after) and you sweat 2.5g SALT each litre, that means you sweat 1g SODIUM every hour.

Ok, so you’re sweating 2.5g SALT and 1g SODIUM every hour, so a tea spoon of salt (6 grams as explained above) would be enough for somewhere between 2 – 2.5 hours. Most sports drinks don’t have that much salt / sodium in them, so unless you take this into account, it’s likely in a long distance endurance event, your sodium levels will drop. The body does adapt by reducing the loss of sodium (it’s thins your sweat by reducing salt/sodium), but in hot conditions, your sodium intake needs to be addressed.

Remember the isotonic issue:

We said in last week’s blog that fluid intake is important when you are eating food, to ensure that the solution in your stomach is not too concentrated. For this reason, you need to consider fluid and food intake together. If you calculate that you are sweating 1 litre per hour and your planned intake of carbohydrate is 60g per hour, then that ‘technically’ gives you a 6% solution (1000ml / 60g = 6%). The timing of you fluid should be influenced by food intake, for example, if you eat half an energy bar, take fluid with it to dilute the solution. If you missed last week’s blog (part 4) which discussed carbohydrate solutions, click the nutrition link on the left hand blog menu and you’ll find it there.

Practical application of hydration strategies:

  1. If you’re urinating frequently and it’s clear, you may be drinking too much.
  2. Bloated stomach is one of the first signs of hyponatremia, coupled with vomiting liquid. Headaches are also a common symptom.
  3. Use electrolyte tablets in hot weather, but understand that hyponatremia is generated by too much fluid, as opposed to not enough salt. You should also check your energy bars or gels as many of them have salts included.
  4. Use thirst and urine colour as indicators of hydration status. Very dark, infrequent urine is a sign of dehydration.
  5. Weigh yourself before and after exercise as a simple guide to fluid loss, each litre of water weight 1kg, each millilitre weighs 1g.
  6. Try to incorporate food or energy intake as part of your hydration strategy and consider solution strength (isotonic)
  7. If you suffer from bloated stomach due to hyponatremia, don’t take more water, take more salt
  8. People with hyponatremia often don’t urinate, don’t confuse this with dehydration

If you found this article useful, it would help us a great deal if you share on Facebook, Twitter and social media

Marc Laithwaite

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