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The Top 10 - The Biggest Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make

and how to avoid them


BY BRIAN FRANK, with help from STEVE BORN

This is where it all started. Over 30 years ago, I wrote this using David Letterman’s “top 10” as my inspiration. This content has been re-purposed and expanded in the huge Guide to Success, then simplified and condensed in the 5 Secrets to Success. So, take a stroll down memory lane and see how many you’ve experienced in the past. However, we don’t just tell you what can go wrong; each of the ten topics also provides the appropriate corrective action. Follow our “Less is Best” protocols and you’ll be able to Fuel Right and Feel Great, no matter what you do.

Mistake #1: Excess Hydration

When it comes to hydration, you can neither overload nor undersupply your body without compromising athletic performance and incurring detrimental results. If you don’t drink enough, you’ll suffer from unpleasant and performance-ruining dehydration. Drink too much, however, and you’ll not only end up with impaired athletic performance, you may even be flirting with potentially life-threatening water intoxication.

RECOMMENDATION: A fluid intake of 16-26 ounces (473-769 ml) per hour.

Depending on conditions and body weight, 16-18 ounces (473 – 532 ml) per hour may be quite acceptable. A larger athlete in hot temperatures might need up to 28 ounces (828 ml) hourly. Our position, however, is that the risk of dilutional hyponatremia increases substantially when an athlete repeatedly consumes more than 30 fluid ounces (878 ml) per hour.

Mistake #2: Simple Sugar Consumption

Fructose, sucrose, glucose, and other simple sugars (mono- and disaccharides) are poor carbohydrate sources for fueling your body during exercise. Simple sugar-based drinks or gels have to be mixed and consumed at very dilute and calorically weak concentrations in order to be digested with any efficiency. A simple sugar-based product used at an acceptably mixed concentration cannot provide adequate calories to sustain energy production, and the energy it supplies is very short-lived and fluctuates wildly. Any way you look at it, fuels containing simple sugars are inefficient and therefore not recommended during prolonged exercise.

RECOMMENDATION: Complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars.

To get the proper amount of easily digested calories, rely on fuels that use complex carbohydrates (maltodextrin only, with no added simple sugar as their carbohydrate source. Hammer Gel and HEED are ideal for workouts and races up to three hours, sometimes slightly longer under certain circumstances. For longer workouts and races, select Perpetuem or Sustained Energy as your primary fuel choice.

Mistake #3: Improper Amounts of Calories

Athletes who try to replace “calories out” with an equal or near-equal amount of “calories in” will suffer unpleasant digestive maladies, with the inevitable poorer-than-expected outcome, and possibly the dreaded DNF (“Did Not Finish”). Body fat and glycogen stores easily fill the gap between energy output and fuel intake, so it’s detrimental overkill to attempt calorie-for-calorie replacement.

RECOMMENDATION: 120-180 calories per hour is typically sufficient for the most athletes. A good starting point is 1 calorie per pound of body weight, adjusting slightly if needed.

Lighter weight may need even less than 120 calories per hour, while heavier athletes (>190 lbs.) may need slightly more on occasion, the key word being “may.”

Mistake #4: Inconsistent Electrolyte Supplementation

Consistent electrolyte supplementation is just as important as calories and fluids during exercise. Just as your car’s engine requires sufficient oil to keep its many parts running smoothly, your body requires electrolytic minerals to maintain the optimal performance of many important functions, such as smooth and efficient muscle contraction. Athletes who neglect this important component of fueling will impair their performance, and will usually incur painful and debilitating cramping and spasms, a sure way to ruin a workout or race.

RECOMMENDATION: Replenish electrolytes with impeccably balanced, highly effective Endurolytes products. Endurolytes, Endurolytes Extreme, Endurolytes Extreme Powder, and Endurolytes Fizz are an inexpensive, easy-to-dose, and easy-to-consume way to get your necessary electrolytic mineral needs met with great balance and precision. Use one of the Endurolytes products consistently during workouts and races to fulfill this crucial fueling need.

Mistake #5: No Protein During Prolonged Exercise

When exercise extends beyond about two hours, your body begins to utilize some protein to fulfill its energy requirements, as you begin to derive glucose from amino acids. This metabolic process helps to satisfy 5-15% of your energy needs. If you fail to include protein in your fuel, your body has only one other choice: your own muscle! Called “muscle cannibalization,” this process devastates performance through muscle deterioration and increased fatigue-causing ammonia accumulation, and also negatively affects the immune system and recovery.

RECOMMENDATION: Fuel with one of Hammer Nutrition’s healthy, gluten-free complex carbohydrate + protein fuels for longer training sessions and races.

Using Perpetuem or Sustained Energy as your primary fuel during workouts and races longer than two to three hours will satisfy energy requirements from a precise ratio of complex carbohydrates and soy protein, the latter of which helps protect against excess muscle breakdown. You stay healthier, reduce soreness, and decrease recovery time. Note: Whey protein is not recommended for use during exercise due to possible contribution to muscle fatigue during initial digestion.

Mistake #6: Too Much Solid Food During Exercise

Solid food, for the most part, cannot match the precision or nutrient density of the best liquid fuels. In addition, too much solid food consumption will divert blood from working muscles for the digestive process. This, along with the amount of digestive enzymes, fluids, and time required in breaking down the constituents of solid food, can cause bloating, nausea, and/or lethargy.

RECOMMENDATION: Use solid foods very sparingly, treating them more as a luxury than necessity, and with Hammer Nutrition’s liquid fuels for rapid, sustained energy and easy digestion.

Use Hammer Gel, HEED, Sustained Energy, and/or Perpetuem as your primary fuel source during exercise. These provide precise amounts of specific nutrients and are designed for easy digestion, rapid nutrient utilization, and less chance of stomach distress. If solid food is desired during longer-duration workouts or races, use Perpetuem Solids or Hammer Bars.

Mistake #7: Using Something New In A Race Without Having Tested It In Training

The title is pretty self-explanatory; it’s one of THE cardinal rules for all athletes, yet you’d be amazed at how many break it. Are you guilty as well? Unless you’re absolutely desperate and willing to accept the consequences, do not try anything new in competition, be it equipment, fuel, or tactics. These all must be tested and refined in training.

RECOMMENDATION: Train with Hammer Nutrition fuels well in advance of your event.

Because all of the Hammer Nutrition fuels are complementary (they all work well alone or in combination), you have all the flexibility you need to ensure that you can tailor a fueling program for any length of race, regardless of the conditions. You’ll never have to guess or grab something off the aid station table in the hopes of trying to keep going for another hour.

Mistake #8: Sticking With Your Game Plan Even When It’s Not Working

Endurance athletes tend to be strong-willed and uncompromising. Most strive to have a “game plan” in place for their training program, and smart athletes also have a strategy for their supplements and fueling. However, what does fine in terms of fueling—your hourly intake of fluids, calories, and electrolytes—during training at a slower pace and lower overall energy output, might not be ideal during competition. Athletes who stubbornly maintain the same fuel intake hour after hour, even when it’s clearly not working, end up with poorer results, if they finish at all.

RECOMMENDATION: Have a race-day game plan but be flexible and listen to your body’s needs.

It’s a good practice to have a game plan that includes a fueling protocol that you have refined during training, but you need to be flexible. Evaluate and adjust accordingly as race pace and weather dictate. Have a game plan, but “write it in pencil, not in ink.”

Mistake #9: Inadequate Post-Workout Nutrition

Performance improvement depends on a program of exercise that stimulates muscular and cardiovascular adaptation followed by a recovery period in which the body rebuilds itself slightly more fit than before. Thus, the real gain of exercise occurs during recovery, but only in the presence of adequate rest and nutritional support. Athletes who fail to replenish carbohydrates and protein shortly after workouts will never obtain full value from their efforts.

RECOMMENDATION: As soon as possible after exercise—no more than 30 minutes after finishing your workout or race,--kick-start the recovery process with a serving of Recoverite or Vegan Recoverite.

Depending on a number of factors (such as body size and length/intensity of the workout), consume 30-90 grams of complex carbohydrates and 10-30 grams of protein (a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein) immediately after workouts. This is easily accomplished with Recoverite and Vegan Recoverite, the all-in-one, complex carbohydrate/glutamine-fortified whey protein isolate recovery drinks. Recommended supplements for providing cell-protecting antioxidant support and enhanced recovery are Premium Insurance Caps, Race Caps Supreme, Mito Caps, Super Antioxidant, AO Booster, and Xobaline.

Mistake #10: Improper Pre-Workout/Race Fueling

Far too often, athletes put themselves at a “metabolic disadvantage” during a workout or race by fueling improperly prior to it:

Overconsuming food the night before a race or workout in the hopes of “carbo loading” – It would be nice if you could maximize muscle glycogen stores the night before a race or tough workout; unfortunately, human physiology doesn’t work that way. Increasing and maximizing muscle glycogen stores takes many weeks of consistent training and post-workout fuel replenishment. Carbohydrates consumed in excess the night before will only be eliminated or stored as body fat (dead weight).

Overconsuming calories in your pre-workout/race meal – The goal of pre-exercise calorie consumption is to top off your liver glycogen, which has been slightly depleted during your sleep. You can’t add anything to muscle glycogen stores at this time so stuffing yourself is counterproductive, especially if you’ve got an early morning workout or race start.

Eating a pre-race meal at the wrong time – As a result of hard training and replenishing your body with necessary nutrients immediately after exercise, you’ve now built up a nice 60-90-minute reservoir of muscle glycogen, the first fuel your body will use when the race begins. A sure way to deplete hard-earned glycogen stores far too rapidly is to eat a meal (or an energy bar, gel, or sports drink) sooner than three hours prior to the start of the race.

RECOMMENDATION: Don’t go overboard with your food consumption the night before a workout or race. Adhere to these two simple rules:

  • Eat clean, which means high-quality carbs, protein, and fat. No refined sugar (skip dessert or eat fruit), and no alcohol.
  • Eat until you’re satisfied, but not more.

If you’re going to have a meal the morning of your race, eat an appropriate amount of calories (200-400 calories), and finish all calorie consumption at least three hours prior to the start of the race. If that’s not logistically feasible, have a small amount of easily digested complex fuel (e.g., a serving of Hammer Gel, a swig from your Perpetuem bottle, etc.) 5-10 minutes prior to the start. Either of these strategies will help top off liver glycogen stores without negatively affecting how your body burns its muscle glycogen.

1 comment

All of the information I get from Hammer is real, important, safe, effective. I have been doing endurance activities since 1966. I’ve learned these lessons slowly over the years. I now have it all at hand and up to date throughHammer. I’m reminded of the slogan on the wall of he best gym I belonged to, There Is No Easy Way. We have to put in the time. Do our training and live the disciplined life of an athlete. Thank you.

Brian Oldham

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