Look, we're going to be blunt right up front; you don't see too many yoked marathon runners, and there is a reason for that. The nature of the beast and physical demands of an endurance event are extremely calorie reliant, placing enourmous demands on the muscles and energy systems required for such a prolonged period of exercise. Essentially, long periods of exercise require large amounts of energy, which are obtained from body fat. When these fat stores are depleted, the muscles are broken down for energy, making it hard to maintain mass.
On the other end of the spectrum you have muscle-bound lifters that dominate social media, relying on explosive power to build the muscle required for shorter bursts of work. They're big, they lift big, and they eat big, however their efforts are limited in duration, allowing for mass to be cultivated.
Unfortunately for endurance athletes, it's just how the world works... or is it?
Confusion arises when you analyse a new breed of athlete on the rise, the multi-sport athlete. Not content with success in one domain, these athletes are seemingly smashing expected physiological reactions to training.
Take the sport of CrossFit as an example, where athletes are expected complete heavy Olympic lifts, and back it up with efforts such as a 42km on the ski erg. Heavy lifting with literal marathon efforts, completed by weapons that only come in one size; jacked.
Likewise, adventure and ultra-athlete Ross Edgley, who is currently circumnavigating the UK by water... yes, he's swimming around the entire isle, and he is not a small lad by any means.
So how can you balance the demands of training for an endurance event, without sacrificing both functional and aesthetic muscle mass? We turned to a man with not only the intellectual know-how to back it up, but one who is a physical testament to his word, Melbourne-based Critical Care Nurse and PT at Train Station Fitness, Chris Nayna.
Currently preparing for a crack at the Medibank Melbourne Marathon Festival, Nayna is living proof you can have it all... if you approach your training and nutrition correctly.
MH: How can men train for endurance events, such as a marathon, in the gym with supplementary exercises?
CN: A supplementary exercise like strength training can be advantageous for marathon runners. It’s not only beneficial from an injury prevention perspective, but it can also make you a stronger, faster and more efficient runner. Focusing on compound (multi-joint) exercises that are more specific to running like hip, glute, calves and corset dominant work is a good starting point. Squats, deadlifts, walking lunges and planks are some examples of these. With stronger muscles, tendons and joints you will be more resilient to the demands of endurance running.
In your opinion, is it possible to be fit and strong or is there a trade off when training for either outcome?
Well, it depends how you define fit. Take CrossFit athletes for example, they are trained across multiple components of fitness, e.g. strength, power, speed, endurance, coordination etc. In my opinion, being proficient across multiple domains can be challenging because of this ‘trade-off’. Physiologically speaking, when you train a fitness component specifically (e.g. strength, agility, speed, power etc), your body will adapt accordingly.
For example, endurance runners adapt very differently to power lifters in response to their training stimulus. This example demonstrates there is a trade-off depending on which training component is prioritised. This stresses the importance of training specificity (training that’s relevant to your sport or goal) so your physical adaptations favour your goals or sports performance, not hinder them.
Can an athlete achieve muscle hypertrophy (growth) whilst simultaneously preparing for an endurance event? If so, how is this achieved?
It is possible, however training specifically for an endurance event, like a marathon, doesn’t favour muscle hypertrophy (growth of muscle cell size). Therefore, the athlete would need to undertake some form of hypertrophy favouring resistance training simultaneously whilst consuming adequate amounts of calories (and protein). Muscle hypertrophy training is typically 4-8 exercises with a moderate to heavy load, 3-5 sets, 8-12 reps with 1-2minutes rest between sets. If muscle hypertrophy is the goal and focus, it would be wise to seek professional assistance with programming to get the right balance between hypertrophy and endurance training.
What would a day on a plate look like for you?
Nutrition for me changes depending on my goals. Once I have established a goal, I plan my daily meals to correspond with my calorie/macronutrient requirements, and repeat daily. Automating this process eliminates variables, minimises the guess work and saves time and effort. Currently I’m happy with my body composition, so I’m aiming for maintenance calories (approximately 3000-3200 calories and aiming for 200g of protein a day).
Currently my average day looks like this:
Meal 1: Coffee with milk.
Meal 2: Eggs, sauerkraut, beetroot, almonds, bacon, avocado.
Meal 3: Protein shake or bar.
Meal 4: Pre workout meal- Meat, vegetables, sauerkraut, beetroot and carbs.
Meal 5: Post workout meal- Meat, vegetables, sauerkraut, beetroot and carbs.
Meal 6: Super protein shake (blend, protein powder, cinnamon, turmeric, spinach and LSA mix)
Meal 7: Greek yogurt, blueberries and peanut butter.
Similarly, what would a week of training splits look like for you, specifically when you were preparing for an endurance event?
My training remains resistance focused as I am running the ASICS 10km distance.
Monday: Bodyweight Pull
Tuesday: Hypertrophy Legs
Wednesday: Bodyweight Push
Thursday: Hypertrophy Pull
Friday: Run + Mobility
Saturday: Hypertrophy Push
Sunday: Run + Mobility
For more from Christopher Nayna, check out some of his other work here.