Burning fat – but how?

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The ideal fat burning pace does not mean that you burn the most fat at that speed. Myths and facts about fat burning.

It is easier than you think: With slow trainings the economy of the fat metabolism is trained, with intensive and fast units most calories and therefore the most fat is burned in absolute terms. There are two different forms of training with two different objectives.

No weight loss without a negative energy balance

Let’s start with weight loss. If you want to reduce fat, you have to work on your energy balance. What you put into your body also has to go out again, otherwise the fat pads will swell out of the trousers. Unused calories are stored by the body as fat. The energy balance is therefore the decisive criterion for losing weight. Only when input (calories consumed with the diet) minus output (calories burned) is negative, i.e. the energy consumption is greater than the energy intake, only then do we lose weight.

One can increase the output with increased exercise or decrease the input with a cleverly planned diet. There are two starting points when it comes to contributing to weight loss through sports. Either you can try to burn as many calories as possible in a short time. The motto here is: Whoever wants to burn as many calories as possible also has to put in their maximum effort. Or one increases the duration of sports and adjusts the intensity to become able to sustain a pace for as long as possible, which is possible only with a middle intensity. Here, not predominantly the carbohydrates are needed for the energy supply, but – by means of oxygen – also fat is used.

In percentage terms, the less intense the physical activity, the more fat you burn. Therefore, this intensity level is often referred to as the “fat burning zone”. However, this only applies as a percentage, because due to the low total energy turnover, the absolute amount of burned fat in the fat burning area is still lower than when you are doing intensive trainings.

Fat metabolism for more economy

The training mode in the low “fat burning zone” has another special meaning in endurance sports. The burning of carbohydrates (= glycogen burning, sugar burning) provides about twice as much energy per time as the burning of fat, but the fats burn for much longer and are practically available without limit in the body. The glycogen reserves are only sufficient for a strain of about 90 minutes.

A regular training in the moderate fat metabolism zone is therefore the essential foundation the other trainings can be built on. In addition, less intensive training sessions require less regeneration time and can be repeated more often.

By accessing the fat metabolism, our body improves the more economical of the two main metabolic processes in endurance sports. This can protect the glycogen reserves, which are only available in limited quantities. With the fat metabolism, one can run for hours to days – with the glycogen metabolism in the best case one to two hours without refilling carbohydrates. The better the fat metabolism is trained, the more it helps to preserve the carbohydrates from the start and to maintain the desired speed longer at the end. And the less you will fall into that dreaded “bonk” from one moment to the next.

What are the benefits of metabolic training?

The training of fat metabolism makes sense not only for (marathon) runners, but for all endurance athletes who perform during long trainings. Cyclists and triathletes also explicitly train their fat metabolism during the preparation for the upcoming season. The longer the strain during competition, the more important it becomes. Fat metabolism training improves long-term endurance. The organism forms more blood in order to transport oxygen more efficiently, the number of energy power stations of the muscles (mitochondria) increases, so that the cells can gain energy even better. By adapting the organism, the body can process training strains more quickly. And last but not least, in addition to the muscles and blood, the cartilage surfaces, tendons and ligaments also develop, so that the training can be better coped with and is better protected against overloading.

When does metabolic training start?

The fat metabolism is demanded at almost all intensities. But only when the duration of the strain is long and the intensity is chosen to be low we can actually speak of a classic fat metabolism training. Long units from 60 up to 180 minutes (depending on your goals) should be planned once a week in running. In combination with other extensive endurance runs, this builds the necessary foundation. The extensive units are supplemented by intensive training in a ratio of 1:3. Every third extensive unit is followed by intensive training.

If you want to be successful, you should invest in fat metabolism training all year round. The positive thing about this is that these training sessions are not very intensive and are only challenging due to their long duration. In order to break through the monotony somewhat, it is recommended to do the long round with training colleagues or to do a new round every now and then.

Examples of fat metabolism trainings

  • Long jog: Long slow run up to 3 hours if the goal is to do a marathon. Otherwise you can also do “only” 80 minutes up to 2 hours. Motto: The slower, the better!
  • Long run: Long, brisk run (90% of the marathon speed) up to 3 hours or a maximum of 38 kilometers in the specific preparation for a marathon. In the case of shorter distances up to 2 hours or a maximum of 28 kilometers.
  • Cross-training: Long strains in one or more alternative sports with low intensity. Example: 3 hours cycling or 5 hours hiking. Ideally, a short running workout of 30-45 minutes is added at the end to enable the transfer to the target discipline (running).

The two metabolic systems fat metabolism and carbohydrate metabolism are always both involved in endurance strains, but not to the same extent. During intensive exercise, carbohydrate metabolism is primarily used; with increasing training duration and a lower pulse rate, fat metabolism makes up the largest proportion of the energy supply. Training in the ideal fat burning area does not mean burning a maximum of calories (more calories are burned during intensive training than during loose training) but improving the economy of the fat metabolism with low intensities so that it can also participate in the energy supply during more intensive training.

This blog post by Andreas Gonseth was provided by Fit for Life. Fit for Life is the Swiss magazine for fitness, running and endurance sports.

Our new running.COACH ambassador Paula Radcliffe

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Former top runner and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe is our new running.COACH Ambassador. We are happy to have her incorporate her knowledge and training philosophy into our training plan.

Since 2005, Paula Radcliffe has been holding the world record for the marathon distance (2:15:25 hours), which the Englishwoman ran at the London Marathon. She won this marathon as well as the New York Marathon three times.

During her 23-year career, she ran very successfully at various distances (5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, marathon). We are delighted that all those years of training and competition experience are going into the running.COACH training plan and that we can let you benefit from it.

In the interview with running.COACH she already gives us an insight.

Last year, Eliud Kipchoge broke the men’s world record at the Berlin Marathon and raised it to a seemingly unattainable level like you did 15 years ago. How far will this men’s world record go?

I think it was already a big step forward from Kipchoge. Maybe since Monza, we saw the possibility that he was going to really advance the world record a long way. Now he did that, so I think he’s a little bit ahead of the others for the moment. So that record may last a little while. If anyone can get closer to 2 hours for the moment, it’s him. So I think the breaking 2 hours will still take some time. This record will stand for a while.

While we’re talking about records: How many more years will your record last?

I don’t know – already, I’m grateful that it stood for this long. The longer I keep it,  the more proud I become of it and also the luckier I am that I was able to be set on that day because everything came together. Because for the marathon you need to have good conditions, a good shape, the weather needs to be good, everything needs to be right on that day. It was a good day in London. I’m grateful that I was able to get that. But also the longer I keep it, the longer I like keeping it.

What has running given you personally over all those years?

It has given me so much. From fun, pleasure, and enjoyment to the personal sense of fulfillment. Learning more about my body and psyche. Becoming a stronger person. Meeting so many interesting people and traveling to such amazing places. Learning the value of teamwork and preparation and perseverance. How to overcome setbacks. Being a healthier person and gaining a good perspective on life.

In 2015, you ended your successful career. What would you do differently if you could turn back the clock (e.g. in training, recovery, nutrition, competition/career planning)?

I’m a big believer in “no regrets” – you give everything the best shot and you’re proud of the things that work out and the things that didn’t work out you kind of learn something from and you accept them. So obviously, I would’ve liked to not get injured before the Olympic Games in Athen and Bejing. But I think for most of the others I was lucky. It worked out more often than it didn’t.

How did your body react after ending your career?

I think for me I am lucky since, as a distance runner, we retire from competition but don’t have to retire from running. So I miss competing but also value the fact that I had a long career and enjoy being able to just get out and run still for pleasure. So my body copes very well because when I want to run I do and if my body is tired I don’t need to push it anymore. I was able to be very patient in building back up after my foot surgery and really listen to my body.

Has your attitude toward running changed since then?

Running was always my enjoyment and stress release but now it can be more so. I can really use the run for whatever I want to get out of it mentally as well as physically now, whereas before there was also a training purpose to the run. Now, I can run hard to clear my head and feel good if I feel like it, or I can just run easy and enjoy the scenery or company and use the run as thinking time or problem-solving time!

 

What does a typical Paula Radcliffe training week look like today? How much/how often do you still run?

I mostly run every day now and generally for about an hour. I very rarely start my watch though and I don’t really have a plan for the run when I start. I run how I feel and include impromptu tempo runs, fartleks or hill sessions if I feel like it. I often also just decide on the actual route during the run depending on where I feel like going.
What is your favourite training? 

It was the long run, it was very important and I liked it. I also loved the fartlek and hill training and somehow track sessions when I was in shape. So I watched out that these trainings are included in the running.COACH as well.

What are your training principles? Can they also be used by hobby athletes?

Yes, it’s mostly to enjoy running. That’s the biggest thing. To enjoy running and to have fun. But also to work on your strengths as well as on your weaknesses. We have to work on our weaknesses but we also have to recognize where we are strong and change the training and racing to suit where we are strong. And then it’s also important to have a plan and stick to it.

Can you give us some tips for the last preparation before a race?

Especially for a marathon or longer distance race, it’s really important to make some training runs or strides in the shoes and in the kit you’re going to wear on the race day. That’s really important. By then, the last main preparations are done so the last bit is to feel good to recover from the hard work. I think it’s more easy runs with some fast strides and some refueling, stretching, massages. And of course, good sleep during the race week because often people don’t sleep well during the night before. So you need to stock up before. And eat well!

Is there a secret tip you can give us? A training, nutrition or recovery tip, for example?

I think the most important thing is that sometimes rest is an important training also. People forget and only think about running – training – running – training – running – training, but if your body is tired and your mind is tired, sometimes rest day is the best training.

What convinces you personally about the running.COACH online training schedule?

I think the flexible nature that adapts to every runner. The fact that it is planned by people who understand running, and what runners want to get out of their training. The experience of the team and the holistic planning of it all come together to help the individual runner get the best from themselves and their training and racing.

Performance diagnostics for runners

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Performance tests are not only for professional athletes. Even beginners and athletes with little free time often get important insights from taking them.

Author: Raphael Huber, MSc, Movement and Sports Science, MAS in Nutrition & Health, Medbase Winterthur WIN4

 

 

Where do I stand in my training? How well is my general fitness? How do I train most efficiently despite little free time? And what is the best way to achieve my goal, for example, the half marathon? Those who ask themselves questions like the ones above are candidates for performance diagnostics since it provides the most accurate answers.

Performance diagnostics comprises two categories: Endurance and strength diagnostics. The core element is a lactate level test. Most athletes do it on a treadmill or bicycle ergometer, rarely on a rowing ergometer or while swimming. Every three or five minutes, the speed or resistance is increased – until the athlete can no longer do it or no longer wants to continue.

Ideally, the performance level test measures three components

  • the fitness of the cardiovascular system
  • the subjective perception of stress
  • the metabolic state

The continuous measurement of the heart rate during the performance test shows how trained the heart is. At the same time, the athlete should indicate at the end of each performance level how resilient they still feel.

The “Borg Scale”, named after the Swedish physiologist Gunnar Borg, serves as a measure for the perceived exertion. Six as the lowest value of the scale corresponds to a very light strain, the highest of twenty is the effort at which the athlete reaches their limit which can’t be maintained for long.

The performance test is most meaningful if the lactate concentration in the blood is analyzed as well. Lactate (lactic acid) is produced as soon as the oxygen supply through respiration is no longer sufficient for energy production in the muscle. As a result, muscle cells increasingly switch from aerobic to anaerobic energy production, which is reflected in a sharp increase in the lactate concentration. To determine this, it is best to extract one drop of blood per performance level from the earlobe. Such a performance diagnosis takes about 1.5 hours (including training advice) and costs around 250 Swiss francs.

Individual training areas

The measured values – heart rate, subjective perception and lactate – can be used to determine when the runner is still training in the range of their basic endurance, when the aerobic (first lactate increase) and anaerobic threshold values are reached and when the athlete starts running in the interval range. This varies from person to person.

If, for example, the heart rate and lactate values are already high, but the perceived exertion is still in the middle range, this may indicate that the athlete tends to “bite their way through”. Those runners are mentally strong but often overtax their bodies.

Athletes who know their performance values, strengths and weaknesses can focus their training on what is important for their type of sport: Marathon runners, for example, need a good basic endurance, while 800-meter runners have to cope with high lactate values.

Good long-distance runners have low lactate values (about one millimole per liter of blood, mmol/l) in the test over several performance levels. This is partly due to the ability of their muscles to produce less lactate at a given level and partly due to the fact that their body can recycle the lactate more easily.

For good short-distance runners, on the other hand, lactate levels rise faster. However, their organism is able to continue to perform at its best despite high values of over ten mmol/l. In technical jargon, this is called “good stamina”.

Without knowledge of the individual thresholds one– in the truest sense of the word –  runs the risk of training incorrectly. This is all the more serious when the time budget is tight. If you train for a marathon alongside work, family, and commitments, it is essential to manage your time very well. Here, the performance test can help to make the training efficient and goal-oriented. The running.COACH training plan is adjusted to your individual threshold for you to train in the right training areas.

Test results and nutrition

The training plan also helps to coordinate nutrition. As long as the training is within the range of basic endurance, the body primarily uses fat reserves as a source of energy. At this stage, there is no need for an extra portion of pasta providing carbohydrates. In high-intensity training, on the other hand, the organism can hardly burn any more fat reserves. In this situation, a “low carb” diet makes it difficult to achieve the required performance.

A performance test makes sense also for amateurs and beginners

Knowing where one’s own thresholds are thus makes sense for several reasons – not only for competitive athletes but also for amateurs and especially beginners. They in particular often make the mistake of expecting too much of themselves according to the motto “Only hard training is good training”. If this happens too often, the “basis” is neglected, and the risk of injury also increases.

The right training is one that is adapted to the individual organism. And this can best be determined by the performance test.

RULE OF THUMB

A rule of thumb can help to determine the performance areas:

  • Basic endurance 1: The athlete can still talk normally without getting out of breath
  • Basic endurance 2: Only short sentences are possible
  • Threshold range: “Yes/No” only
  • Interval range: Speaking is no longer possible