To play their best, ultimate athletes need a solid aerobic foundation, fueled by a smart diet.
March 20, 2018 by Bert Abbott in Opinion with 0 comments
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Ultimate players spend so much time in our track workouts thinking about the hard moments late in a point, when you have to make that tenth hard sprint and you want to have enough left in the tank to make it happen. We run repeats of sprints to build our sprint endurance and push our ability to deal with lactate accumulation.
If there’s no aerobic foundation to pull from, though, your efforts are built on a shaky foundation that might not take you all the way through a tournament. Ideally, you have sprint endurance endurance, meaning you can make repeated hard sprints throughout the whole tournament.
If you or your players find that they’re great in the long points on day one, but can’t handle them on day two or three, then it’s worth focusing training on building the aerobic base and taking a look at everyday nutrition planning.
Know Your Body’s Energy Systems
There are essentially four different energy systems we use in our bodies. The first is fat burning, the aerobic system we should primarily use to power our cells at rest and during low-intensity activities. This is where we should be between points, at halftime, and when we’re walking up and down the sideline. Some people will be fat burning for part of the points they play.
The next system is still aerobic, but carbohydrate-burning. We use this while we’re doing moderate efforts like running a little too fast to be able to talk easily.
After that, we switch into two anaerobic systems that we use for hard efforts when we’re making a cut or loading up to jump to our peak.
The longer we can stay in the fat-burning zone and the more quickly we can return there after a hard effort, the better off we’ll be in the later games of the tournament. We only have so much carbohydrate reserve to use (stored as glycogen in the liver). However, we have a massive reserve of fat in our bodies, and we can get more energy from each gram of fat than each gram of carbohydrate. It’s nearly impossible to replenish those calories during a tournament, so preferentially using our fat stores anytime we can helps you make it through the last rounds of the weekend still ready to compete.
Through low-intensity exercise and appropriate recovery paces during interval training, you can drive your fat-burning aerobic system to preferentially power your muscles. At a cellular level, this builds more and bigger mitochondria over time that can handle increasing energy needs.
It often takes 3-5 minutes for your metabolic systems to fully recover after hard efforts and switch back to fat burning mode, which means most folks spend large portions of their practices outside this zone. In order to get enough low-intensity exercise, players will need to supplement their workouts and practices with recovery jogs—and I choose the word “jog” for a reason. Going slow enough that you can hold a conversation is usually good enough to keep you in the right range.
Before practices get into full swing is a great time to start this work, since players have more time on their plates to stimulate the aerobic system and build a base they can maintain throughout the season. If you have questions about how to structure you or your team’s running workouts, RenFitness offers team consults and complete running programming packages, including virtual coaching sessions for folks who don’t live in the Seattle area.
Get The Right Fuel For Your Performance
There are only so many hours in our day to squeeze in practices, track workouts, strength training, and the soft tissue work to unwind the tissue adhesions that come from all of the above. We all are going to eat food in the spaces between, however, and that’s a valuable place to examine so you can fuel to optimize performance and feel better late in tournaments.
Everyday nutrition is the foundation on which we build our metabolic systems. Eating each day with an intention to power your body on the right fuel means you can use that fuel to power your play. It’s all well and good to build an aerobic foundation through training, but your body will burn and build muscle with whatever you’re giving it; if it’s imbalanced between carbs and fats, or you’re getting insufficient protein or overall calories, then you won’t get the maximum benefit from the work you’re doing.
I’m running Metabolic Efficiency Testing with some folks (including ultimate legend Deb Schiebe, née Cussen) at RealRehab PT, a physical therapy clinic in Seattle, WA. The idea of this test is to see what energy system a person uses at different exercise intensities by measuring oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expiration. The ratio between these two can be used to determine whether a person is burning fats, carbs, or is anaerobic.
If a person can burn high proportions of fats at higher intensities of exercise or sustain fat metabolism for long periods of work, they’re considered “metabolically efficient”. If they can switch between fuel sources quickly to meet the demands of different intensities of exercise and recover from hard bouts effectively, they’re considered “metabolically flexible”.
As a team, we’re working on developing a protocol to specifically test ultimate players’ metabolic efficiency and flexibility. This is an exciting step in the development of data-driven practices for ultimate.
The biggest driver for whether or not a person is burning fat or carbs at a low intensity is their everyday diet. This has a huge impact on the performance of endurance athletes who run marathons, ultra-marathons, or triathlons. Endurance athletes dial in their nutrition plans every day and especially on race day to optimize their performance. This planning makes a big difference on whether someone makes it through their race, if they bonk, or worse – fall to gastrointestinal distress.
If we consider the demands of a tournament weekend, ultimate asks us to sprint and have the endurance of a long distance runner. Nutrition planning is a huge opportunity to make some subtle shifts that can have a massive impact on performance.
Looking for more fitness knowledge and training guidance to fuel your game? See what RenFitness has to offer through their virtual gym.