While the general prescription of “eat well and exercise” is a great start for endurance athletes, research indicates there might be certain training methods and supplements that can give you an edge over the competition. This Week’s blog explores the potential benefits of probiotics, 80/20 training, and outdoor spaces to help you go the extra mile.

Can probiotics help endurance runners?

In some cases, yes. Endurance runners are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections than other people, especially if running in dry, irritating air. Taking a probiotic supplement is associated with fewer days off training due to infectious illness. Probiotics are also associated with decreasing symptoms of poor gut health in those who become uncomfortable on long runs or have IBS symptoms. However, for people with healthy guts and fewer sick days it might be best to skip them as there are no proven benefits to a probiotic supplement and even some possible adverse effects to gut inflammation.

What’s the ideal ratio of hard-to-easy workouts for endurance athletes?

Research shows the average runner trains about half the time at moderate intensity—but this may not be the most efficient way to make gains as an endurance athlete. Researchers noticed in the early 2000s that most elite endurance athletes train about 80% of the time at low intensity and 20% of the time at high intensity. In the past, some believed this “80/20 method” worked due to a higher overall training volume of elite athletes and thought it might be possible for anyone to train “less but harder” to make up for easy training days. However, research that controlled for the “train less but harder” hypothesis revealed that the best strategy was still to train at the “80% easy/20% hard” ratio for as much volume as possible without fatigue. This might be because the 80/20 method trains athletes to push through tedious and painful times—a big part of succeeding on race day.

Can training outdoors improve your race times?

While all endurance exercise is healthy for the body and mind, setting out into the great outdoors offers several special benefits. Research shows the mental health boost from endurance exercise is even greater outside, and blood pressure can be lowered by observing green images from nature. Studies of mentally exhausted students found that walking through a green area like a park can restore memory and focus. As for the exercise itself, it tends to be higher intensity but feels like it’s easier—so athletes might be more inclined to exercise longer. Finally, outdoor exercisers tend to work out more overall. So put on a backpack for a nature hike, cycle through a park, or hit the trail for an outdoor run to reap the greatest mental, emotional, and physical benefits.


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