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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 ‘di*ks’. 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 aricle useful, it would help us a great deal for you to share on social media

Saturday open water at 3 Sisters starts tomorrow, April 11th and Wedneday evenings will start in May. 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

Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing (part 4)

March 31, 2015 at 9:01 am
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So last week we discussed carbohydrate absorption and the role of insulin, this week, we are going to look at how to take foods on board whilst competing, to avoid stomach problems and maximise performance.

I’m having issues getting energy, what’s the solution?

Your stomach and gut acts a little like a sieve. If you pour water into it, the water passes straight through without any problems. If you pour a milkshake into the same sieve, it will pass through, but will take a little more time and will slowly drip. If you throw solid food into a sieve, it stays exactly where it is. The only way to pass solid food through a sieve would be to mix it up with water and make a thin enough solution, which could then start to drip through.

The solution which enters your stomach, is therefore very important in terms of performance. During endurance events, we eat and drink to get energy, but if the food sits in your stomach, then you aren’t actually getting any energy into your bloodstream. Not only are you receiving less energy, you are also likely to get some kind of stomach problems.

Isotonic is just the tonic

Isotonic refers to a solution which is a similar concentration to fluids in the body. Solutions of 7% are generally referred to as isotonic, this means that 7g of carbohydrate in 100ml of water is isotonic. You can count grams and millilitres as the same thing, so the calculation is simple, 100ml / 7g = 7%.

Drinks bottles generally come in 2 different sizes, 500ml and 750ml so based on the 100ml / 7g rule, the calculations would be as follows:

500ml water + 35g carbohydrate = Isotonic

750ml water + 52.5g carbohydrate = Isotonic

Some solutions are less concentrated than isotonic fluids. For example, water has no carbohydrate in it and no calories, this is classed as hypotonic (hypo = low / less than). Solutions which are more concentrated than isotonic fluids, are classed as hypertonic (hyper = high / more than). An example of a hypertonic solution would be a smoothie.

That’s fine for drinks but what about solid food?

Many athletes choose to eat solid food during their event. As stated above, anything which is above 7% solution is hypertonic. Therefore, all energy bars and solid food is hypertonic. This means that if you wish to absorb solid food effectively, you must add sufficient water to make a 7% solution. For example, a standard energy bar is approximately 50-60g in total weight. We said earlier that 7g in 100ml of fluid would be a 7% solution, so that means you would have to drink 7-800ml of water with each energy bar to make at isotonic solution (56g is 7% of 800ml). In ultra running events, there’s often solid food such as sandwiches at feed stations, so get into the habit of estimating the portion size, e.g. what does 60g of cheese sandwich look like! Eating sandwiches, pasta and cake can very quickly result in a large mass of food gathering in your stomach. As for gels, they work the same way. A single gel contains 20-30g of carbohydrate (you need to read the packet). A gel with 21g would require 300ml to make a 7% solution.

Why is solution an issue?

Taking energy bars, gels and other solid food provides energy, but you have to take a lot of fluid to create an isotonic solution in your stomach. If you fail to take sufficient fluid you will have a thick ‘hypertonic’ solution in your stomach which may not digest and may well lead to stomach problems.

Don’t forget the 60g per hour rule

As we’ve said in previous blogs, it’s unlikely that you can absorb more than 60g per hour of carbohydrate so eating too much food can have a negative impact upon digestion. Eating too much may lead to food gathering in the stomach and leading to feelings of bloating or sickness. The carbohydrate ‘maltodextrin’ seems particularly prone to doing this and all carbohydrate drinks and gels tend to consist of maltodextrin (pretty much every energy drink on the market is the same, it’s flavoured maltodextrin).

It’s known that when you get an accumulation of carbohydrate in the stomach, due to excess food intake, the body is forced to dilute the solution. The strong solution sitting in the stomach starts to draw water other parts of the the body, into the stomach, to dilute the solution and aid digestion and absorption. This action of drawing fluid into the stomach is termed ‘osmosis’.

It’s important to remember that if you do take too much energy, coupled with a lack of fluid, not only are you likely to get stomach issues, the energy will also fail to reach your blood stream and exercising muscles where it is needed. In simple terms, more food may provide you with less energy.

Practical advice:

  1. You need to stick to the 60g limit for carbohydrate intake
  2. A solution of 7% is not always attainable, aim for 10% as a minimum start point for intake:

60g energy powder + 600ml water per hour
60g energy bar + 600ml water per hour
60g of gels (2-3) + 600ml water per hour

  1. You can mix the above, e.g. 30g carbohydrate powder and 30g gels every hour, plus 600ml of water.
  2. Think about what’s the easiest to calculate and what the easiest to obtain during the event. Knowing how much energy is in drinks which are handed up at aid stations or adding your own powder on the go is not really feasible so gels and bars are often simpler to use and to quantify. In truth, you really have no idea what’s being handed up in the drinks bottles, so water is always the safe option.
  3. Feeding is easier when cycling compared to running, so if you’re doing Ironman triathlon, the bike feeding is critical to set you up for the run. If you’re running an ultra, the slower pace can help, but little and often applies.
  4. Little and frequent works best for digestion. A gel every 20-30 minutes or half a bar every 30 minutes is better than a full bar every hour. You still need to drink the correct amount of water to account for solution.
  5. Drinking water only with bars and gels has the benefits of ‘freshening your mouth’. Energy drinks, gels and bars can leave you with a constant sticky taste.

What about the food content?

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that eating too much carbohydrate may also impact upon digestion and potential stomach problems. If you are prone to stomach issues, then gels with a higher fat content may well work best. There are some very scientific high fat gels on the market, mainly in the US, but if you Google for peanut butter flavour gels, that’s a simple option and you can easily get those in the UK. If you don’t like peanut butter flavour, there’s not much option!

The final step

Ok, so here’s your homework. Go and purchase gels or bars, which you intend to use for your event and take a look at the wrapper. What’s the total weight in grams of the product and what does the content add up to? Remember, a gel may have added water, so a 40g gel may contain 20g of carbohydrate. Don’t just use the actual product weight, you need to check the weight of the ingredients and use that as your gauge. Work out how many you will need and how often you will eat them. If your event uses specific products e.g. Ironman use Powerbar, it’s a lot easier to use these on the day and save yourself the hassle of carrying a lot of product.


That’s coming next week

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

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

Open Water Swimming… Light At The End Of The Tunnel

March 29, 2015 at 8:42 am
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During the many years I have spent training for triathlon, my experiences of swim training have been largely based upon the following:

I walk through the changing area’s and showers thinking one thing “I hope that space is free by the wall so I can swim up and down without interruption”. As I enter the pool area, I usually find that it’s already been taken by a lady doing breast stroke who is clearly intent on standing her ground and will kick out at anyone who encroaches within 5m of her space. Often I’ve arrived for an early morning opening or just prior to an adult only swim session. Presuming that my triathlon transition skills will get me through the changing area quicker than anyone else, I’m gutted to be beaten by the guy who presumably wore a velcro suit with trunks underneath and he’s already half a length up the pool..

Such experiences lead me to join a local swim session where I was guaranteed that dodging school kids and fighting for pool space will not be required. Here the lanes are ‘roped’ and we swim in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction as governed by the coach, thereby guaranteeing an unimpeded swim. Coupled with that, the coach also separates us by 5 seconds to ensure we ‘swim in our own clear water’. This is bliss, this is how swimming is meant to be, I focus on my stroke technique safe in the knowledge that I have my own lane and my own space. Everything in my swimming world is great, that’s until I participate in an open water mass start event and my swimming world is suddenly turned upside down..

Swimming is 90% technique and I’m consciously competent..

I started swimming at the age of 17 and learned front crawl swimming ‘widths’ before progressing to ‘lengths’. I had no formal tuition until I read more and joined a club. It’s said that there are 4 stages when learning a new skill and I recognise each of them, as follows:

1. Unconsciously incompetent – At first I was ‘crap’ and I didn’t even realise it..
2. Consciously incompetent – Having had it pointed out by a coach and having read some books,  I actually became aware that my technique was ‘crap’. That was a turning point, once I knew it, I could start to think about how to change it.
3. Consciously competent – After many years of practice I was able to swim pretty effectively,  but I still have to think about it at all times or it goes pear shaped..
4. Unconsciously competent – This occurs when someone is so good, they can swim with perfect technique without even thinking about it. I have no idea what this feels like..

Having swam for 20 years, I still find myself at stage 3 and don’t believe I will ever get past that point. When I swim, I have to think about it all the time if I want to do it right. Cycling and running are different, I can watch the scenery go by, have a chat and still manage to do it with pretty good form, but not swimming. this is one of the most frustrating things about swimming, I always have to concentrate and it’s always an effort for this reason. Only real elite swimmers reach stage 4 where they are able to swim with perfect form with no real conscious thought, if you are one of those swimmers, you need to know that not many people reading this blog like you..

So here’s the point, if you want to swim well, unless you are an ‘elite’ swimmer, you always have to think about your stroke technique, you have to focus on what you are doing at all times..

Tunnel vision is not just for Linford

Those who remember Linford Christie will recall that he was famous for his ‘tunnel vision’ stare down the track. Linford’s technique was to block out everything around him and focus purely on himself rather than his surroundings. Sports psychologists would class this as ‘internal focus’ as opposed to ‘external focus’, internal focus is thinking about you and what you’re doing, external focus is thinking about the things around you whether it be another competitor, the weather, the crowd or the scenery.

Swimming in a pool with lane ropes and 5 second gaps between swimmers gives you the perfect opportunity to focus internally. How does your hand enter the water, reach, extend, catch.. and so on? There are no distractions, just you, the water and your own piece of unimpeded space. Imagine what would happen if another swimmer crashed into you during that moment of internal focus.. would you continue to think about your stroke technique or would your focus perhaps change to the person responsible for this interruption??

Here lies the problem with open water swimming.. there are far too many external factors for you to focus on, whether that be the person crashing into you, the waves of water, the mouthful you just swallowed or simply the whole adrenaline powered excitement and surroundings stimulating all your senses. If you’re thinking about the external stuff, you can’t be focused internally and thinking about your stroke. Unless you’ve reached step 4 of the learning process, that’s really going to cost you..

It’s what’s inside that counts..

Internal focus is very simple, you just have to think about yourself and not everything else that’s going on. As a simple example, let’s discuss the steps you can take when lining up for a mass open water start:

1. You need to focus internally so pick something specific to focus on

The easiest thing is to pick a common fault with your stroke as these always get worse under pressure. I pick 2 at the most and my favorites are exhaling fully under water (I find this really helps as exhaling carbon dioxide helps prevent gasping for air and also helps prevent panic attacks) and the other one is a smooth, flowing stroke without pause. My key thoughts at the start are exhale and let it flow..

2. BE AWARE of the switch to external focus, if it happens, calmly note it and then return to internal focus

Only 20m into the swim some dude is very close and going off course across me, I’m aware of him, I’m already a bit irritated and my anxiety is starting to rise. Already I’ve lost focus on my 2 key points which were exhale and let it flow, instead I’m thinking about this guy. At this point I recognise the switch, note that he’s there, relax and return to focus internally.

Maintaining internal focus is very difficult in certain circumstances. Even with 20 years of experience the scenario above can easily lead to the voice in my head saying:

“where is this guy going? He can’t even swim straight.. move over!! move over!! His arm is going to make contact with me if he gets any closer.. maybe I should push him back on course, shall I sprint to get ahead of him or drop back to go behind him??”

As already outlined, I’m at stage 3 of the learning process and rest assured, whilst the voice continues in my head, I’m not exhaling and my stroke is not flowing.. ultimately my performance is suffering. It’s really difficult to master internal focus and during an open water event it is inevitable that you will shift from internal to external several times (including every single knock and bump). As noted previously, this is something of particular importance for those who suffer panic attacks or fail to enjoy open water swimming due to the density of swimmers. Next time you’re in the lake, try the techniques. Simply being aware of your focus is a big step in the right direction and ultimately if you learn to control it, you can use it with great effect to enhance your performances..

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

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing (part 3)

March 24, 2015 at 7:45 am
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So last week we showed you how to calculate the amount of carbohydrate used during cycling and running, in order for you to produce a structured plan for race nutrition. This week, we begin the process of looking at what and when to eat on race day and the first step, is to explain the basic physiology.


Carbohydrates or ‘sugars’ are a prime source of fuel when exercising and unfortunately, as explain in previous blog posts, they are relatively limited. The term for stored carbohydrate is ‘glycogen’ and we store glycogen in the muscles (to use for movement) and in the liver (to supply sugar to the brain and maintain blood sugar levels)

There are different types of carbohydrates, but ultimately, they are all broken down to glucose as this is what we use as our prime fuel. When you eat or drink carbohydrate, it first goes into your stomach. We can’t absorb carbohydrates through the stomach wall, so they progress from there into the intestines and are absorbed through the intestine wall

The rate of absorption

The carbohydrates you eat are broken into glucose and pass through the intestine wall into the blood stream. Remember that in recent blogs, we’ve stated that the limit for this seems to be around 60g per hour of glucose. Depending upon the type of carbohydrate and how it is consumed (drink or solid food), the time taken for the carbohydrate to be broken down and absorbed will vary.

Many of you will have heard of the ‘Glycemic Index’. This scale was designed with diabetics in mind and it dictates how quickly foods are broken down and absorbed through the intestine wall. To measure the GI of a food is relatively simple (but complex at the same time). The process is to give someone a specific food, then take blood samples at regular intervals for the next hour to see how rapidly the blood sugar (glucose) levels rise.

The ‘GI’ scale runs from 1-100. Foods with a low score will take longer to reach the blood and give a more consistent supply (slow drip feed). Foods which enters the blood stream quickly, will give a more immediate spike in the blood sugar levels. Pure glucose has a score of 100 as that will lead to a rise in blood glucose more quickly than anything else.

The role of insulin

The reason why the GI scale is so important for diabetics, is the ‘insulin response’. A rise in blood glucose will lead to a rise in blood insulin, which is the hormone responsible for removing glucose from the blood and pushing it into the liver and the muscles.

Your daily diet should be made up of foods low on the GI scale. It you eat foods which are high on the GI scale throughout the day, this results in repeated sugar spikes and subsequent insulin spikes. Over time, your insulin will become less effective (overuse can lead to it becoming less sensitive to glucose). The reduced sensitivity can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes (insulin doesn’t work correctly). You may think, as an athlete, you are not susceptible to type 2 diabetes, but you’d be wrong. It is critical for you that your insulin works correctly, so you should be doing everything in your powers to ensure it does.

The secondary issue relating to insulin, is the impact upon fat metabolism. It reduces the amount of circulating fat by encouraging storage in fat tissue. In terms of your daily diet and metabolism, this has significant consequences upon weight loss and fat use. Constant spikes in blood glucose and insulin will reduce the amount of fat you metabolise throughout the day.

Are we discussing daily diet in this blog or race day nutrition?

Okay, I am going off track a bit, but I think it’s important to understand the foundations. As an athlete, you need a constant and balanced supply of energy to complete your training sessions and to recover quickly. Therefore, you should be eating to encourage a more stable metabolism and that is derived from low to moderate GI foods, NOT high GI foods.

So how does this work during racing?

  1. If you are racing an endurance event, you really need to ensure that you have a steady supply of glucose, without disrupting fat metabolism. A large spike in glucose and insulin, could inhibit fat metabolism, which means you’ll be forced to use more glycogen and run out more quickly.
  1. There are times when you may well need a rapid rise in blood glucose. If you have an extreme low point in the race and find yourself sitting on the road side, you may need an ‘instant hit’. Under such circumstances, you need the quickest glucose spike possible to get you back on your feet. At times like this, who cares about insulin!!

Here’s the thing, if you do scenario number 1 correctly, then you shouldn’t experience scenario number 2. The other issue is that products that are sold to deal with scenario number 2 (high energy, quick acting gels) are being used for scenario number 1. If you are half way through a 12 hour event and your energy levels are feeling relatively good, should you take a product which gives you an instant spike in glucose and insulin? Remember, we are aiming for a ‘constant’ and ‘balanced’ blood glucose level, we are trying to avoid blood glucose ‘fluctuations’.

So this blog is not what I intended when I started typing and none of the original planned information has made the page. Needless to say, this 4 part ‘race nutrition’ series is not going to be 4 parts.

A critical point to take away is that over the years of giving advice, we’ve found that the daily diet can have a huge impact upon training and racing performance. In particular, cutting out high GI foods can lead to a dramatic change in metabolism and enhance your fat utilisation.

Your homework for this blog is to take a look at the glycemic index. You’ll find this very interesting and you’ll probably find that many of the foods you presumed to be ‘sugar spiking’ are not and vice versa.

What if I said that Coke had a score of 60, whilst mashed potato AND jacket spuds had a score of 90 (that means mashed potato and jacket spuds can give more of a sugar spike than Coke!!)

You’ll notice that there is also something called ‘glycemic load’. This takes the volume of food into account e.g. you can’t compare a full jacket spud with a teaspoon of glucose as the volume is very different. Don’t worry about that for now, it’ll over-complicate the matter!

Take a look for yourself, and see what’s low and high. There’s loads of them on the internet, Google glycemic index table. Next week we’ll look at the foods you eat during the event. How can you manipulate the use of drinks, bars and gels to maintain a steady blood glucose supply and avoid the fluctuations that we have discussed above. See… I told you there was a point to this blog.

Until then, stay healthy.

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

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

If you’d like a metabolic assessment, this is a service we offer for £60. We can calculate kcal usage, fat and carbohydrate contribution and overall economy for either cycling or running. Click the METABOLIC ASSESSMENT link on the left hand menu for more info and to book or email

If you’re taking part in Ironman this year and these blogs are helpful, I’ll be speaking Thursday 26th March at an Ironman Charity Evening In Chorley. It’s £10 per ticket, the presentation will be ‘achieve your Ironman bike PB’ all proceeds to children’s cancer charity. Go to:

Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing (part 2)

March 17, 2015 at 11:15 am
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So last week we finished by talking about how many calories you use during an event and how to make a quick calculation of fat and carbohydrate contributions. To recap, we said:

80/20: If you are struggling to ride 50 miles / run 15 miles even when fuelling yourself throughout, then apply the 80/20 rule. That means 80% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 20% is fat.

65/35: If you can ride 50 miles / run 15 miles comfortably using fuel, then apply the 65/35 rule. That means 65% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 20% is fat.

50/50: If you can ride 50 miles / run 15 miles comfortably without using any fuel whatsoever, then apply the 50/50 rule. That means 50% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 50% is fat.

Let’s give ourselves a simple scenario. Tom is 43, weighs 82 kg and is racing Ironman triathlon, he falls into the 65/35 category and his main objective is to complete the event without major disaster and to run as much of the marathon as possible. When Tom is riding at his Ironman pace, he is using 820 Kcal per hour, so the calculation works like this:

Fat contribution:  820 Kcal x 35% = 287 Kcal

Carbohydrate contribution: 820 Kcal x 65% = 533 Kcal

Step 1: Discard the Fat

The calories which come from fat do not need to be replaced, even the leanest athlete has ample fat stores for the longest endurance events. Step 1 is therefore to discard the Kcal from fat and focus on the carbohydrate contribution. Carbohydrates is the fuel which must be replaced!

Step 2: Focus on the carbohydrate

For Tom, our calculated figure is 533 Kcal of carbohydrate per hour, so this is our target to replace during the ride. It’s often easier to work in grams as most foods are also measured in grams. Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 Kcal, so we calculate grams of carbohydrate as follows:

533 Kcal per hour / 4 = 133 grams per hour

Step 3: Apply the maximal intake rule

You may remember from the last couple of weeks, we discussed that the maximum amount of carbohydrate you can take during exercise is 60g per hour. Tom is using 133 grams per hour (just to clarify, that’s not excessive and is realistic). If the maximum Tom can take is 60g per hour, that means there’s 73 grams (133-60) that he’s losing and can’t be replaced every hour.

Step 4: Work out the race total

Tom’s bike time is estimated to be 6.5 hours. If he’s losing 73 grams of carbohydrate per hour which can’t be replaced, what does that add up to over the total bike ride? Well, the calculation is simple: 6.5 x 73 = 474.5 grams. That means that Tom will lose 474.5 grams of carbohydrate, which he can’t replace, by the end of the 6.5 hour bike ride.

Step 5: Work out your time to collapse

The big figure missing here is the actual amount you have got stored in your body, is losing 474.5 grams a big problem? The average human stores 400 grams of carbohydrate stored in the muscles,  and 100g is stored in the liver. There’s also approx 25g circulating in your blood at any given time. For the astute amongst you, the problem has already struck you squarely between the eyes. Tom, sadly, will not be running the majority of the Ironman marathon.

Does this happen in the real world?

Definitely, take a look at the photo below. This is some data for an Ironman athlete taken this week, male veteran, approx 68 kg with a long history of endurance competition. There’s 12 minutes of data on the screen, the first column shows the power output (watts) and the third column shows time in minutes. Prior to this the rider warmed up for 10 minutes at 100-120 watts. Now look at columns 11, 13 and 14 on the far right hand side, they show Kcal per hour, fat% and carbohydrate%. Consider that 120/150/170 watts is not high intensity, despite that and the previous warm up, you can see that the carbohydrate use is very high. Take into account that our athlete is only 68 kg and that Kcal per hour will be greater in larger athletes.




Would these fugures be similar for running?

Yes, pretty much. The Kcal usage is slightly higher when running at a similar intensity, but the fat usage tends to be a little higher also. I’d suggest that the fat usage is slightly higher as running requires less ‘fast twitch’ fibre contribution, cycling requires a cretain amount of ‘stregth’. Running intensity also tends to be a bit more consistent. Cycling can be hard on the uphill and then rest and freewheel on the downhill, but running is less so.

Should Tom withdraw his entry right now?

Hang on… we know that people can ride the full Ironman bike and then run the marathon. We also know that people run 100 miles, so there’s got to be a catch, these calculations can’t be correct. Will Tom be completely depleted of all carbohydrate even when taking in the recommended 60g every hour?

No, indeed he won’t and the calculations are not so clear cut as above. Your body is pretty clever so it will make some changes along the way to help you out. Throughout the event, your metabolism will switch, so it’s reasonable to suggest that by the time the bike has ended, 50-60% of Tom’s energy will come from fat, rather than the 35% contribution at the start point. That means he’ll only be using half the amount of carbohydrate every hour, compared to when he started.

That’s good right?

In some ways yes it is, it’s saving your carbohydrate stores by halving the amount used every hour. But you need to consider why this change occurs. Your body switches to use a larger amount of fat because it’s ‘RUNNING OUT OF CARBOHYDRATE’ so whilst every cloud does have a silver lining, let’s not look too positively on this change.

As most people struggle to metabolise fat, having to rely upon it will lead to a drop in pace and performance. If we continue our theme of ‘clouds and silver linings’, at least the slower pace means you will be using less Kcal per hour (slower pace = less energy required) so that also helps to reduce the amount of carbohydrate required.

Is anyone else getting concerned here or is it just me?

It’s ok, there is an answer. The 2 key areas for improvement are economy (Kcal per hour) and substrate ulilisation (fat or carbohydrate). If you are aerobically fit, you will be more economical than most people. In fact, for endurance performance, economy is perhaps the most important thing. We can define economy very simply as ‘how much energy do you need to ride or run at any given speed?’

If you take your unfit pub mates for a run, you may well trot along at 8 minutes per mile and hold a comfortable conversation. Your mate on the other hand, may be breathing like a bulldog in a hot car, blowing out of most parts of his body. He will be using far more energy, require far more oxygen and use far more calories. People are like cars, some can go a long way using only a small amount of fuel and some require a regular filling due to their poor economy.

The second thing to consider is substrate utilisation. This simply refers to the relative contributions of fat and carbohydrate towards your total energy need. We’ve discussed this above and in pretty much every blog in the last 6 weeks, so hopefully you’re already familiar with this concept. If more of your energy comes from fat, you’re less likely to run out of carbohydrate. The best athletes in the world require a small amount of energy (Kcal) to ride or run at race speed. If a large chunk of that energy requirement comes from fat, their total carbohydrate use is very small indeed.

The new Tom… we can rebuild him

By making changes to Tom’s training and diet, the new version arrives for the Ironman triathlon using only 700Kcal per hour and 55% is being provided by fat. A quick maths calculation reveals the following:

1. He’s using 315 Kcal of carbohydrate per hour on the bike, compared to the previous figure of 533

2. With his intake of 60 grams per hour (240 Kcal), he now only has a deficit of 75 Kcal per hour compared previously with 292 Kcal (73 grams)

3. As a consequence, Tom runs the whole marathon and Tom becomes a LEGEND…..

Do you want to become a legend? If so, do the calculations and work it out for yourself, then let’s go forwards from here.

Next week we’ll look at the 60g intake and answer the key question: drinks? gels? bars? malt loaf? flapjack or for the Wiganers amongst you… Pies?

Until then, stay healthy.

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

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

If you’d like a metabolic assessment, this is a service we offer for £60. We can calculate kcal usage, fat and carbohydrate contribution and overall economy for either cycling or running. Click the METABOLIC ASSESSMENT link on the left hand menu for more info and to book or email

If you’re taking part in Ironman this year and these blogs are helpful, I’ll be speaking Thursday 26th March at an Ironman Charity Evening In Chorley. It’s £10 per ticket, the presentation will be ‘achieve your Ironman bike PB’ all proceeds to children’s cancer charity. Go to:


The most important part of successful open water swimming is achieved before you even get in..

March 12, 2015 at 12:38 pm
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As open water coaches we are asked “what’s the most important thing regarding open water swimming” and the answer is simple. Firstly get a suit which fits you correctly, generally a right fitting suit feel too tight to most people and as a consequence they get one which is too big.. The second most important thing is putting it on correctly, if the suit isn’t worn correctly, you are massively increasing the resistance upon your shoulders which very quickly leads to fatigue. Follow these simple steps before each swim:

  1. Start at your ankles, step into the suit and pull the lower legs of your suit until the lower border of the legs are approximately 6 inches above your ankle bones (your knees should still be visible).
  2. Once you have the lower legs in then correct position pull the remainder of the legs up over your knees and then you thighs until the suit is up to your waist. At this point there should be no ‘saggy crotch’ and the neoprene should fit tightly against your nether regions.
  3. If you have a ‘saggy crotch’ then start again, if you don’t then you can continue
  4. Place your arms into the wetsuit so you are covering your lower arms only, do not allow the wetsuit to cover your upper arms and shoulders. The border of the wetsuit arms found at your wrist should be pulled up until they are 2 inches above your actual wrist or watch position.
  5. Once the wetsuit wrists are correct, pull the wetsuit sleeve to cover the remainder of your arms and shoulders, smooth out any wrinkles by moving them upwards towards your shoulders, DO NOT smooth out wrinkles by pushing them downwards towards your wrist, maintain the 2 inch gap between the wetsuit border and your actual wrist or watch.
  6. Ask you partner to zip up your suit (note that if you can zip it up yourself its probably too big). Be sure that the excess material at the neck is folded into the correct position so it does not rub your neck. Pull up the zip, there will be a piece of neoprene which fastens across the zip, ensure that the zip tether is above this before fastening to ensure that the zip will not come down if someone grabs it during the swim.
  7. Secure the end of the tether so it does not get in the way when swimming. the easiest thing is to tuck the end of the tether under your swim cap at the rear, this ensures that you always know where it is as you enter transition and can easily grab it to unzip your suit.

What are the most common errors when purchasing a wetsuit?

Generally the most common mistake are people buying wetsuits which are too big for them. A correct fitting wetsuit can feel a little oppressive at times and you may feel ‘vacuum packed’ into it. The fit must be snug and the flexibility of the neoprene will allow you to move. don’t make the common mistake that you ‘need some room’ for movement, it’ll fill with water and drag.

The second most common mistake is buying by brand. People have a pre-set idea that they want a 2XU or a Zone3 suit before they enter the shop. Each manufacturer has a slightly different fit and each person is different. it’s common for certain brands on certain people to be tight or baggy around the waist, shoulders and the neck area. The fastest wetsuit for you is the one which fits you the best, irrelevant of the brand. If you wanted a 2XU bu the Zone3 fits better, you should buy the Zone3, it’s simple logic.

Finally, you should be prepared for wetsuit damage. Modern wetsuits are made from very soft material to enhance flexibility. Catching it with your finger nails is enough to put a small tear in the outer fabric (won’t go all the way through). Prepare yourself for this, as your shiny new suit will accumulate small tears within a matter of weeks, all manufacturers are the same. It won’t affect the performance of the suit so don’t get too hung up on superficial marks and damage.

Come in and see us:

The Endurance Store
Appley Lane North
Appley Bridge
01257 251217


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Race day nutrition, how to fuel for endurance racing (part 1)

March 9, 2015 at 1:26 pm
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In recent blogs, we’ve discussed the 2 main fuel sources for endurance exercise (fat and carbohydrate) and how you should optimise your body to burn fat, thereby allowing you to save precious carbohydrate stores. When it comes to race day then the game and the rules change completely. As a recap (you can check previous blogs for more details), when training you should:

1. Ride or run at the correct intensity or follow a specific protocol such as Maffetone
2. Avoid fluctuations in intensity, remember that average heart rate or power output are NOT the critical figures, it’s TIME IN ZONE that counts
3. Eat foods which are balanced with low GI carbohydrates and fats to encourage fat usage and avoid sugar spikes
4. Avoid gels and sugar products based on point 3 above

If you follow the above guidance, over a 12-16 week training period, you can teach your body to utilise a greater amount of fat as fuel and also to use less calories overall, making you more economical. The important thing to remember is that ‘training’ and ‘racing’ are 2 separate things and your fueling approach should reflect this.

What happens during the race?

Okay, let’s presume that you have trained correctly and maximised your fat burning potential and fuel economy. You reach the first event of the year and when riding or running at race pace you are using 700kcal per hour, 50% of which comes from carbohydrate and 50% of which comes from fat. You only need to worry about the carbohydrate loss as that’s the one which is critical, so let’s focus on the 350kcal of carbohydrate which equates to 88 grams of carbohydrate (4 kcal per gram).

The limitation of carbohydrate intake

Here’s the big problem, you can only absorb approximately 60g of carbohydrate per hour. Imagine that there are small boats, which ‘ferry’ carbohydrate across the intestine wall into your blood stream. Unfortunately you only have so many ‘ferry boats’ so no matter how much carbohydrate you throw in there, the amount which can be ferried is limited to a pretty standard 60g. For our example above, that means that you’re going to fall short. You’re using 88 grams per hour and you can only replace 60 grams per hour. That’s a 28 gram / 112 kcal per hour deficit.

So I can’t just eat more?

Unfortunately not. If you eat more, it’s unlikely to be digested and will simply sit in your stomach or intestines without providing energy. There are a lot of people who suffer from gastric problems during long distance events and this is generally caused by eating too much food which they are unable to digest. It’s really important that you understand, eating more food doesn’t mean you’ll have more energy and it may well mean that you’ll face stomach upsets. I stress this point knowing how obsessed Ironman athletes in particular become with regards to feeding on the bike.

A deficit of 112 Kcal per hour doesn’t sound too bad

No, it doesn’t. But that is based on the presumption that you are only using 700kcal per hour, bigger people and less efficient people may be using more. It’s also based on the assumption that 50% is coming from fat and that may not be the case at all, in fact, as much as 80-100% may be coming from carbohydrate. What makes this worse is that bigger people can’t necessarily take on board more fuel, the 60g limit still pretty much applies. It’s a gut issue, it’s not about how big your muscles are and how much you can store in there.

So the 3 things you might want to know are:

1. How many calories do I burn per hour?
2. How many of them come from fat and carbohydrate?
3. How much should I be taking in as a consequence?

As a start point, you can probably work out your calorie usage by using a heart rate monitor or power meter. Run or ride at race pace and it’ll do the calculation for you, although the power meter is a lot more accurate than the heart rate monitor, it’s still a start point. Warm up, then do an hour at your ‘race pace’ and work out the figures. It’s amazing how many people who consider their training and racing to be ‘serious’, still have no clue how many kcal they use when racing. How can you have any grasp of nutrition requirements without knowing this figure? Once you’ve calculated that figure, apply the following rule:

80/20: If you are struggling to ride 50 miles / run 15 miles even when fuelling yourself throughout, then apply the 80/20 rule. That means 80% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 20% is fat.

65/35: If you can ride 50 miles / run 15 miles comfortably using fuel, then apply the 65/35 rule. That means 65% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 20% is fat.

50/50: If you can ride 50 miles / run 15 miles comfortably without using any fuel whatsoever, then apply the 50/50 rule. That means 50% of your fuel is carbohydrate and 50% is fat.

Are those figures accurate?

Absolutely not, I just made them up. They are by no means 100% accurate but they will give you a good start point and will allow you to calculate an approximate figure. The running figures are less ‘straight forwards’ than the cycling, as the impact of running can really fatigue your legs, so you may find 15 miles difficult, even if your fat burning and fuel economy is good. for cycling, the impact is low, so it’s more likely governed by metabolism and fuel.

Ok, so what’s the next step?

Here’s what we’re going to do. Prior to next week you are going to do a 1 hour ride or run at your ‘race pace’ and then using your cycle power meter, GPS or heart rate monitor, calculate how many calories per hour you are using when exercising at that intensity. I feel this is a pretty important thing for you to understand if you are to race successfully. It’s easy with a power meter for cycling, it does the maths for you. Most heart rate monitors will use your age and weight to work out kcal per hour. There are some tools on the internet such as: which can help to give you a basic idea.

Go forwards my endurance friends and do the maths, next week, we will be looking at planning your intake.

Until then, stay healthy.

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

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

If you’d like a metabolic assessment, this is a service we offer for £60. We can calculate kcal usage, fat and carbohydrate contribution and overall economy for either cycling or running. Click the METABOLIC ASSESSMENT link on the left hand menu for more info and to book or email

If you’re taking part in Ironman this year and these blogs are helpful, I’ll be speaking Thursday 26th March at an Ironman Charity Evening In Chorley. It’s £10 per ticket, the presentation will be ‘achieve your Ironman bike PB’ all proceeds to children’s cancer charity. Go to:


Swimmers, avoid the dreaded DEAD SPOT and swim faster

March 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm
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In last week’s blog post we discussed both stroke length / distance per stroke and stroke rate / strokes per minute. If you count the number of strokes you take each 25m length of the pool, this is termed stroke count and is a guide to stroke length / distance per stroke e.g. if you take 25 strokes per 25m length, you are traveling 1m per stroke… simple!!

Stroke rate is a little more difficult to measure as it’s not something simple you can count in your head. Stroke rate is how quickly you move your arms, generally measured as ‘strokes per minute’. It is ‘similar’ to cadence when running and cycling, except it refers to your arms rather than legs. I suggested the use of a tempo trainer to help gauge stroke rate. If you didn’t read last week’s blog, you might want to check that first by CLICKING HERE

So this is pretty simple, If I want to swim faster I just speed up my arms?

Unfortunately no, some people can easily speed up their stroke rate and other find it very difficult. The reason for this is that the ‘timing’ of your stroke will dictate how quickly you can move your arms. Timing refers to the sequence of your arm movement, in simple terms, what is one arm doing in comparison to the other at any given time. How do both arms interact? There is a whole spectrum of stroke timing but we commonly refer to 2 main types and categorise swimmers as either ‘catch up’ or ‘windmill’.

1. Windmill stroke is when the hands/arms are at opposite ends of the clock face. As one hand enters, the other is leaving the water (9/3 o’clock) or as one hand pulls under the body, the other recovers above the water (6/12 o’clock). It is very easy to increase stroke rate and swim quickly over short distances with a windmill stroke. Sprint swimmers tend to swim with a windmill stroke as this is the most effective.

2. Catch up stroke is named so, based upon the catch up drill. As your left arm enters and reaches out to full extension in the water, there is a pause (THE DEAD SPOT) before starting the catch/pull,  whilst the right arms recovers and almost catches up with the left hand. It is very difficult to increase stroke rate and swim quickly over short distances with a catch up stroke.

The catch up style stroke was made very popular by total immersion swimming and triathletes in particular favored this type of stroke timing. The benefits include a more streamlined shape in the water (longer position) and a more balanced position (the outreached arms acts as counterbalance to keep head down and legs up). It also favors a much slower stroke rate and longer gliding which is physically less exerting. The issue for triathlon and in particular open water swimming performance, is THE DEAD SPOT.

What is the dead spot?

Water is very dense and therefore difficult to move through efficiently. You can help to minimise resistance by improving your streamlined position in the water, but ultimately you need some kind of propulsion to keep you moving forwards. In simple terms, if your arms aren’t pulling, you won’t glide far before you stop. A windmill stroke provides continuous propulsion, as one hand stops pulling and leaves the water, the other has started pulling at the front end. This continuous ‘kayak paddling’ like action keeps the body moving forwards at all times, not allowing it to slow down and lose momentum. When swimming with a catch up style stroke, there is a ‘DEAD SPOT’ where neither arm is pulling and providing propulsion. As the right hand enters and extends to full reach, it then pauses whilst the left arm recovers above the water. Rather than continuous propulsion, the catch up style stroke works on the basis of pull, glide, pull, glide, pull, glide.. as opposed to pull, pull, pull, pull pull..

What’s the problem?

Ever swam in a pool when nobody else is in there? The water is flat and still and it feel fantastic to glide through the perfect water. When you’re joined by other swimmers thrashing up and down and the water is churned up like a washing machine, that gliding sensation seems to disappear pretty quickly. It’s the same when swimming open water, if it’s choppy and churned your gliding is reduced and you need to maintain a continuous forwards propulsion. Catch up style swimmers will suffer most in these conditions and some can almost come to a halt during the dead spot due to reduced gliding.

What’s the answer?

I said earlier that there’s a whole spectrum of stroke timing and we have discussed the two ends of that spectrum, you are likely to lie somewhere between the two. It’s important to know your stroke type and this is critical for future improvements. My simple advice is to avoid the dead spot at all costs when pool or open water swimming and to ensure your stroke rate is between 55-65 strokes per minute. Start with simple things, as your hand enters the water and extends forwards, move straight into the catch and pull, don’t allow it to pause and glide. Purchase a tempo trainer and calculate your current stroke rate. Use the trainer to increase your stroke rate during specific sessions and use it hold rhythm as you get tired, rather than  slowing your stroke rate.

If you found this blog post useful, please help us by sharing in on social media, Facebook and Twitter

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

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