Wednesday, 25 July 2012 00:00

Endurance Research Symposium

Endurance_Research_SymposiumAfter a long weekend supporting Pete at the National 24 hour, it was back in the car to visit the folks at the University of Kent as they presented the Endurance Research Symposium to mark the formation of the endurance research group at the university. It was also a chance for Professors Louis Passfield and Sam Marcora to present their inaugural lectures, long overdue it has to be said as it's been several years in both cases since they were granted tenure!

After considerably less sleep over the previous few days than I'm accustomed to, the prospect of concentrating for the whole day was not one I relished. This was compounded by the sudden heat wave that led to a rather hot and stuffy venue, albeit a rather grand one! (see pic). I'm not generally a fan of extensive note taking at these events, instead preferring to give the presentation my full attention and write up the day afterwards. With heavy eyelids, I wrote down a lot more on this occasion to avoid missing anything. Here are a selection of 'soundbites' on what proved a fairly diverse range of topics relating to the latest endurance research.

It's easy to get fixated on 'the aggregation of marginal gains' but sometimes this eclipses the most important aspect in endurance performance - consistent hard work over a prolonged period of time. Professor Passfield is in the position of having extensive data on elite cyclists - pooling lab data with the EIS, Louis was able to show a 17% improvement in 'Rider H' over a 17 year period. Along a similar theme, Andy Galbraith analysed training data from a group of runners and found that 40% of the improvement in 'critical speed' was explained simply by distance run.

Take home message: train a lot over an extended period of time to get good!

Nutrition and immune function saw some attention from Dr Glen Davison, with a simple two stage process to maintaining immune function outlined. First avoid dietary defficiency in the major macro nutrients (no evidence of benefit from consuming extra, except in the case of carbohydrate). Beyond that, there is evidence of a benefit for a few 'advanced supplements'; bovine colostrum, probiotics, echinacea, beta-glucans and quercetin coming in for special mention.

Professor Frank Marino also paid a visit from down under and presented new data that undermines the classic dogma that dehydration negatively impacts endurance performance, exhibiting as yet unpublished data that dehydration of up to 4% has no negative impact on 5km TT perfromance in the absence of heat stress. For sports that place a premium on weight saving (e.g. running, cycling uphill) that suggests that dehydration may actually confer a performance advantage. This says nothing about the impact of dehydration on recovery, or subsequent adaptation or any other of the multitude of questions that this raises but it does force a rethink on so much of the practise we have taken for granted.

There was so much more over the course of the day but these are some of the nuggets that have a more practical application. The final point on dehydration leads on to a final observation from Dr Stuart Mills as we left - so much of what we have assumed to be true and so many of the explanations that sports science has offered in the last few decades are now being questioned. As I type this the GB men's pursuit squad have just clinched gold in another WR time and Jamie Staff is explaining the process of questioning every tiny detail in the quest for perfection. Both observations serve as a reminder that sports science is a process of systematic questioning rather than a means to provide absolute answers.

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