31st March 2016
Preparing for an event starts the moment you create your periodised program for the year (see Table 1). First you need your event dates. Next decide how many days and for how long you can train. Factor in rides with friends, when your health club spin class or running club is and also holidays, these can be viewed as UNLOADING phases so train hard beforehand.
Once you know your event schedule you can plan your training and nutrition program. This is particularly important for the 50+ athlete as a periodised program can help offset age-related losses in performance as well as enable the design of an efficient program which factors in recovery and rest days, tapering strategies and the time constraints imposed by the demands of work and family.
Looking at my own MACROCYCLE above it appears that my EVENT PREPARATION (EP) starts in January with AEROBIC TESTING. In fact my EP started in November 2015 with a MUSCULOSKELETAL ASSESSMENT (MA). The results of the MA determined my TRANSITION PHASE program and addressed tight and weak musculature and issues with movement dysfunction.
Following my transition phase program, with some ‘UNLOADING’ over Christmas, my OFF-SEASON phase kicked off in January with an AEROBIC ASSESSMENT and 9 weeks of improving my aerobic base. Calorie intake should be matched with output in order to maintain weight and muscle mass.
The 3 training program variables that are manipulated over the various phases are:
FREQUENCY – training sessions per week;
VOLUME – duration of the training sessions;
INTENSITY – the difficulty of the training sessions e.g. percentage of VO2 max.
As the first event approaches these variables are finely tuned. Various reviews of the literature suggest a 2 week taper period with a reduction in volume, a reduction in frequency but a maintenance of intensity is the optimum method for most athletes.
Tables 4 & 5 are both taken from the PRE-SEASON MESOCYCLE however Table 5 demonstrates a progressive, non-linear TAPER. ‘a progressive non-linear reduction in the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physical and psychological stress of daily training and optimise sports performance’ (Mujika 2000). Table 5 shows a reduction in VOLUME (sessions do not last as long and consequently overall weekly training time is reduced), a reduction in FREQUENCY (there are less sessions per week) but a maintenance of INTENSITY. Training sessions still include hard intervals at a high percentage of VO2 max or at high levels of resistance. The purpose of the taper is to deliver the athlete in as optimal a state of readiness as possible. The taper is more about recovery than performance gain however a well-planned taper can deliver performance improvements of around 3-5%. In summary a good tapering strategy should:
- Minimize fatigue without compromising fitness
- Maintain training intensity
- Reduce training volume by 60-90%
- Maintain training frequency at >80%
- Reflect individual ability and training status with a duration between 4-28 days
- Use a progressive, non-linear design.
Because the training during this tapering period is high-intensity the primary substrate, during each session, will be carbohydrate. However, when compared to the preceding weeks during the PRE-SEASON training phase, total calorie expenditure will be decreased due to the reduced training volume. The 50+ athlete’s nutritional strategy must reflect this. Overall calorie intake will be reduced however the contribution from carbohydrate to the total energy intake will be increased.
If you are like many of my friends who are over 50 and who ride with me at various Human Race Sportives or who run with me at various Human Race Winter Runs then the easiest way to reduce calorie intake and increase the contribution made by carbohydrate to total energy intake is to reduce alcohol intake. Not only will this reduce energy intake but recovery from training will be enhanced, perception of effort will be reduced, mood will be improved and quality of sleep will be improved. Having said that I am very much looking forward to sampling some of the local produce when I visit Scarborough for the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire.
Ideally your nutrition practice is based on a personalised plan. If you are planning on completing your event within 4 hours then you will need at east 240g of CHO with you either as gels, snacks or liquid or a combination of all 3. An SIS gel will give you 20g CHO and the SIS gel portfolio includes regular gels, nitrate gels and caffeine gels. I would go with 2 normal gels, 2 nitrate, and 2 caffeine providing me with 120g CHO. The remaining 120g CHO I would make up with a home-made sweet breakfast burrito and a variety of portable savoury and sweet rice balls. I highly recommend going with at least 2 bidons containing a carb free electrolyte mix or, if you are targeting a particular event for a PB, then take 4 and don’t stop at the feed stations, switch your real food for a carb/electrolyte mix in your bidon to account for any extra weight. Either way you need to decide your event day strategy a few days out in order to arrange your supplements and/or to make your portables.
Carb loading can be undertaken in the final taper week. Recent research suggests there is no need to perform a carb reduction phase beforehand. Reducing carb intake prior to loading used to be common practice but there is no evidence to suggest any performance benefit and in fact it has shown to be detrimental to athlete wellbeing. In order for a carb loading phase to be effective it must be performed with a training taper. An effective taper plus a 4 day carb loading phase can increase muscle glycogen storage by up to 50% and can reduce time over a set distance by up to 3%, enough to comfortably beat a PB. During the carb loading phase reduce fibre intake in order to reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal distress. Usually I would recommend athletes source a majority of their dietary carbohydrate from vegetable and fruit sources however now is the time to get some pasta and wholegrain rice on the menu as well as toast, porridge and flapjacks.
You may choose to follow Professor Tim Noakes method of severely reducing carb intake to around 50-100g/day but the taper week is not the time to try this for the first time! By all means follow this plan if you want to just don’t dip in and out of it or have 2 days off a week or include any alcohol whatsoever. For more info on Noakes please visit http://www.thenoakesfoundation.org/about-us.
THE 50+ RACE STRATEGY
Let us assume in the TRANSITION phase that you had a musculoskeletal assessment and then followed a strength and conditioning program designed to restore your system to something approaching optimal alignment and function. You then had a VO2 Max test or similar aerobic assessment at the beginning of your OFF-SEASON phase and have built a sound and efficient aerobic engine based on your test results. You then put the icing on the cake by following a personalised interval training program constructed by an exercise physiologist based on the data provided by your own blood during a series of Lactate Profiling tests and finally, during the final 2 weeks tapered and carb loaded resulting in you being more ready than you have ever been, waiting at the timing gate in the shape of your life.
You feel good, that nagging hip pain has gone and you have lost 8lbs of fat whilst putting on 3 lbs of muscle in the last 3 months. Your seat is set up perfectly, your shoes are comfortable, you feel refreshed and energised and what do you do? Set off as if you have the Space Shuttle rockets attached to your bike, jet thrusters on your Asics or indeed wings on your swimming cap. You break all records for the first 10km/5km/200m then spend the next hour suffering like you have never suffered before, lungs busted, legs gone and unable even to whisper ‘bonked’ let alone ask for help as you reach a slow crawl whilst someone on a handmade Penny-farthing in a hair shirt races past you. What happened? Where did that amazingly fit 50 year old go? Why do you feel so horrible? You have must pace yourself!
I highly recommend racing a negative split. This is not rocket science but the 50+ musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system and digestive system will all benefit from a little longer in first and second gear before you ramp up the pace. The best Sportive I have completed so far included the slowest first 20km I had done for about 3 years. As I went on I got quicker and quicker and felt better and better producing a Gold Award time, the best over the Intermediate distance that day. I also remember completing a 30 minute warm-up before a rugby match for one of the Rosslyn Park social sides. I thought I would be too smashed for the match but played the game of my life and at the end I thought I could go again. The key is not to go too hard too fast. Stay within a certain heart rate zone, around Z2 as long as possible. In this zone you will using fat as the main substrate, you will be sparing your CHO supplies and at the same time you will be on top of your lactate production. It will also give your soft tissue a chance to warm-up and for blood to be diverted away from certain organs and toward the working muscles.
Chris Froome will be looking at his power meter and he is not bothered at all about who is doing what around him. If he goes too early he gets stuffed too. Knowing your Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS) will help. This is the hardest you can run/cycle whilst keeping your lactate levels from rising exponentially.
EVENT FORTNIGHT – TAKE HOME POINTS
- Start your 2 week training taper.
- Reduce VOLUME by 60-90%
- Reduce FREQUENCY by 20%
- Maintain INTENSITY
EVENT WEEK – TAKE HOME POINTS
- Continue to taper training
- Increase CHO intake but reduce overall calorie intake
- Go through your ride/run/tri checklist with at least 4 days to spare
- Get some good quality sleep
- Reduce alcohol intake
EVENT DAY – TAKE HOME POINTS
- Eat a good breakfast containing protein and carbohydrate but little fat/fibre.
- Sip a carb drink en route.
- Take in carbs from the first 15 minutes then small amounts often.
- Too many carbs too quickly = gastrointestinal distress.
- NEGATIVE SPLITS. Start easy then build up speed. Don’t go too hard too early.
Richard Brennan is managing director of Sport Science Consultants Ltd. He is a clinically trained Exercise Physiologist with a BSc. in Sport Science and an MSc. in Sport & Exercise Physiology. Click here to read his biography.