Pre-season Endurance Training - Part I: Physiological Benefits

Pre-season is that time of the year where in most athletes what I believe face the- grill. There are monotonous, steady workouts with the prime purpose on improving distance performance or endurance skills. For swimmers especially, all I think they remember is the black T Line that stretches across the pool as they swim 4-8 Km per session. This is usually free style with peeks of IM and longer sets that never seem to end.

This article is split in to two important parts- clearly because you cannot improve really anything without your fuel. As this one shall highlight the physiological benefits of these couple of months of endurance training, the next one that shall follow soon enough will talk about the nutrition requirements to support this training.

As most of you whine about these workouts, take a pause, and look at the 4 most striking physiological benefits of endurance training!

  1. Capillarization: When endurance training increases especially in swimmers doing a total of 12-15Km per day in two sessions triggers the requirement to have an increased blood supply to the working muscles. This is fulfilled by the formation of new smaller blood vessels (capillaries) via a process called as arteriogenesis. These capillaries not just increase in number, but also in diameter. They therefore help transport more oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cell resulting in better energy efficiency.
  2. Mitochondria: These are the powerhouse of the cell. All of the aerobic energy production (the energy production in the presence of oxygen) occurs only and only in the mitochondria of the cell. Endurance training has been known to increase the mitochondria number. Clearly – more mitochondria shall account for more energy production.
  3. Aerobic Enzymes: For the fuel to be broken down and then further provide energy, it needs to undergo several breakdown processes. All of these processes require a set of enzymes. Luckily endurance training increases these aerobic enzymes thereby resulting in efficient functioning of these pathways for better energy availability.
  4. Lactate Clearance: One of the striking issues many sprint swimmers as well as swimmers those who perform 15Km and above swims races face- is the development of lactic acid or the burn as it is commonly known. Endurance training through all the above three benefits does two important things: 1. Reduces the production of lactic acid and 2. Improves the clearance of lactic acid. In this manner lactate never pools the muscle and there is therefore no burn.

All of the above benefits are a sign of improved aerobic capacity- the use of large muscle groups, in a dynamic fashion for intensities that are moderate to be sustained for longer durations along with improved efficiency of the heart, lungs and the circulation system.

So, when you start your Lactate threshold sets in the coming month- you are ready to buffer the burn!

All of this can be enhanced with the right nutrition practices!

Stay tuned for Part II.

Author: Mihira A R Khopkar

B.Sc. Dietetics, M.Sc. Sports Nutrition


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