If you are training for your next marathon, Ironman or ultra-marathon and are worried about the breakdown of muscle tissue then you should continue reading this. It will give you a rundown on what happens to your muscles during endurance exercise and how you can avoid the breakdown of those precious muscles while training.
While you are training for that upcoming endurance event you are obviously trying to increase stamina. This can, in turn, result in muscle mass loss. This is due to a number of reasons. One being that endurance exercise can breakdown carbohydrates and fats quickly. Your body then begins to breakdown its own muscles for an energy source.
Training to prevent muscle loss
Many people may think that training for your particular event means just doing that particular exercise and slowly increasing your distance as you become fitter. This works if you are looking at developing stamina and cardiovascular fitness. However, this may result in a decreases to not only muscle size but also strength and power. To maintain muscle mass while endurance training it is ideal to complete a weight or resistance program as well.
It is important to look at the type of event you are competing in and what you are trying to achieve. Muscle bulk is generally heavier and requires more oxygen and blood flow, but will also provide more power in the vital moments of a race and could be the difference between first and second place. So an elite athlete may want more muscle than their competitors and will train accordingly. However, for most recreational endurance athletes 1-3 resistance training sessions per week is enough to prevent muscle loss.
Nutrition to prevent muscle loss
Recent studies have found that ingesting protein before and/or during endurance exercise can prevent the muscle protein breakdown. This can also stimulate muscle protein synthesis and enhance skeletal muscles response to resistance training. Protein is both a trigger for activating muscle building pathways, as well as the main component muscle is made with. To ensure that muscle synthesis matches or exceeds breakdown, at least 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight should be eaten daily.
When supplementing with protein it is important to do so within specific time frames. Having either a whole food source or protein supplement within the first 3 hours after exercises is the best time to achieve optimal results.
Whey protein is popular for pre and post-workout supplementation because it’s high in branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are most effective for preventing muscle breakdown as well as promoting muscle growth and recovery after exercise.