Become a fat BURNING endurance machine

This article takes about 10 minutes to read, enjoy!

This article is for the ones of you who enjoy training in the mountains, love endurance and prefer moving uphill then flat!

Being able to move faster, for longer, in steeper terrain without the legs burning is the dream of every mountain endurance athlete. That dream can quickly become a reality with some understanding of training principles and basic exercise physiology… lets get started!

CRASH COURSE on muscle metabolism:
When you start exercising sugar/carbohydrate burns first, fat is harder to access, you have to go through each energy system before you reach fat, the last one to be recruited. It can take 10 minutes for some, an hour for others and never for most!

Order we go through the energy system when we start exercising:
ATP-CP / blood glucose & muscle glycogen / glycogen & free fatty acids

Carbohydrate + fat = energy

Fat is stored far from muscles, carbohydrate is stored in the muscles as muscle glycogen, in the blood as blood glucose, and delivered to organs, e.g. importantly to the brain as brain glucose.

You will notice when you start exercising, the first few minutes your breathing is higher so is the heart rate, after a few minutes all settles… you are going from ATP-CP to the glycogen process, which is more intense with less oxygen available, when you get into the aerobic system, more oxygen is circulating, breathing regularizes. One of the reason we warm-up!

Fat is inexhaustible, we have endless reserve even in the very lean endurance athletes.
Sugar runs out quickly and we can only store so little at a time.
To burn sugar you need fat and vice versa.

Carbohydrates and fats are the main fuel we use during endurance training. The length and intensity of the training session, the fuel/energy available, and your fitness level are the main factors that will influence how much of each of the energy source will be used.

To go longer and further while maintaining steady energy and desired pace while using fat as the main fuel.

A few things you need to know about fat burning enzymes:
We are not born with fat burning enzymes, we have to build them, but how? Need a good base of endurance fitness, a history with quality months of consistent training. The enzymes take around six to eight weeks to build, it’s called fat adaptation, your training needs to be based on endurance and over distance training.

Fat burning enzymes are fragile they will go on strike if you exercise too hard, or too often, and if you are inconsistent with your training. The more consistent and smarter you are with your training the more efficient your enzymes will become: you will be able to exercise at higher intensity for longer and  predominantly use fat as the main fuel.

If you are inconsistent with your training from day to day, week to week, or stop exercising for a few weeks, enzymes gets destroyed, they have big egos; you don’t use them, they disappear!

For mountain endurance athletes the training needs to be specific to the terrain, climbing! It’s not by doing 3 workouts in the valley and one at higher elevation you will become a fat burning mountain endurance machine! You need to put the distance in, workouts around 2-3 hours, with easy to moderate intensity. But still have shorter workouts, averaging 60 minutes to fine tune speed, strength & power.

When an athlete becomes efficient at using fat, since sugar reserved are limited for everyone, it can be saved for the steeper/challenging terrain, and/or for last portion of a very long workout and during competition. You will notice the talented elite mountain athletes can maintain a fast pace for a long period of time, they are the formula 1 of fat burning engines!

When intensity is short and high, sugar is the main fuel and minimal oxygen is required, the anaerobic system kicks in when the aerobic metabolism can no longer meet the ATP demand of the muscles. That drop in ATP production is prompted by the accumulation of hydrogen ions along with lactate in the blood.
Burning sensation in the legs and feeling an intense drop in energy. The only option is to slow down, if not, severe fatigue will take over for the rest of the workout and it will take longer to recovery from the session, and with a chance of some leg soreness the next day! Training regularly this way predispose overuse injuries, which is common with endurance athlete.

Mountain endurance athletes are most limited in their endurance ability to deal with this type of fatigue.

The fitter and more efficient an athlete is at using fat, he/she will be able to train at higher intensity, for longer and further while maintaining this physiological paradise! Your legs will feel stronger for longer since you have more blood and oxygen available to the working muscles. The by-product of fatigue is diminished and shows up more in extreme situations.

Does not mean you hike for 5hrs, run for 3hrs and climb non-stop 1500m that you are efficient at using fat.

How can I train to change my metabolism to be more efficient at using fat?
First you have to evaluate your training regimen, how many days a week do you get out, for how long, the terrain, the sport, any variation in intensity and duration from day to day, any progression from week to week, any results from month to month?

The muscular and cardiovascular adaptations are tremendous when you start doing long, quality and regular over distance sessions. Walking uphill, stopping for 5 minutes to chat every 45 minutes, and training twice a week won’t do it. Anything under two hours, usually is not long enough to stimulate the particular enzymes.

Too much volume, too many hours in a week with not enough recovery won’t influence your metabolism in a positive way. It’s often a mistake endurance athlete do. It’s all in the quality of each workouts and balancing your training regimen; from short to long, and easy to intense sessions.

Lets look at the difference between endurance and over distance training:
ENDURANCE Training: up to 2 hours
This component is extremely important for developing and maintaining aerobic capacity, accomplished at low to moderate intensity with some tempo change for some sessions.

It accomplishes many things:
It increases your body’s ability to consume oxygen, increases the size and the number of mitochondria in muscle cells, increases the size and numbers of blood capillaries, and improves aerobic enzymes for carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Endurance exercise improves your body’s ability to deliver the goods to your muscles so that they adapt, grow stronger, and become better at prolonged effort. You become more efficient at using fat as a fuel.

OVER DISTANCE (OD) Training: over 2hrs
Here lies the heart of training for ultra mountain distances. The greatest percentage of the total training volume is reserved to over distance. OD does not mean overdoing it!
The difference between endurance and OD is the amount of time you spend training. For most OD workouts they usually exceeds 2-3 hours. Although the intensity is low at the beginning, it progresses throughout the session:

The volume becomes your intensity, one gains mental toughness from OD training!

The SECRET to OD training is in the physiological changes: Basically, there are two adaptations the body makes in response to OD training that you don’t get from endurance training:

Training the body to increase it’s efficiency for releasing and burning free fatty acids over long distances, as enzymatic and hormonal changes in the muscles cells, which make it easier for fat to be utilized as fuel during longer workouts.

Improvement in the body’s circulatory characteristics in the peripheral muscles; the muscles that do the work in long intense sessions will move waste products away and bring new blood, oxygen, and fuel to the working muscles, your legs will stay fresh for longer!

The body will be able to function at higher intensities for longer periods without the debilitating effects.

A solid aerobic base is very important before you start OD training. I recommend a minimum of 8-12 months of solid endurance with quality/speed and uphill training before getting into OD. All depends of your fitness level and how consistent you have been with your training regimen for your sport. OD training does not mean moving slow or walking, a certain pace and consistency is required to gain any benefits. Know your limitation, where you stand and build it up progressively. Both, endurance and OD have crucial role to being a well rounded mountain endurance athlete.

The importance of QUALITY VERTICAL TRAINING, positive & negative, for mountain endurance athletes:

Since the body faces the extra battle against the force of gravity, these workouts, shorter and more intense,  increase speed, strength, power, muscular endurance all at once. It recruits the specific muscles used for climbing; hamstrings, the gluteus and calf/lower leg muscles, and eccentric strength for the descents. Uphill training also increase leg oxygenation.

Quality vertical & over distance training are the two most overlooked and misunderstood aspect of mountain endurance training.

Get inspired, review your training regimen, remember it’s all about quality and consistency. If needed, seek guidance through a certified coach who has endurance training experience. A few factors can influence fat adaptation on top of quality training; nutrition, fueling & hydration and recovery, look for future articles!

You need to love your backyard since the mountains become your playground and some workouts will have to be done very early in the morning or in the
dark evenings.

It’s more about a lifestyle than training!

Get inspired!

Enjoy the snow, the vertical and your fitness,
Thanks for reading… Chloë

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