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Do you remember how you felt when you just started running, swimming, or cycling for the first time? As soon as the beginner’s enthusiasm wears off, you probably start wondering how to increase stamina and improve your athletic performance. Things begin to be difficult and you want to step up your game.
At the end of the day, that’s what any sports activity is all about – challenging yourself and improving your physical and mental health. So, let’s start with the basics:
Athletic stamina is the ability to endure maximal physical strain for prolonged periods of time. You need good cardiovascular and respiratory health, and a strong musculoskeletal system. In addition to physical endurance, stamina also includes being able to find the mental strength necessary for athletic performance.
Physical exertion comes with fatigue which is difficult to ignore. Even if the muscles, bones, heart, and lungs do their part, if your mindset is not up to the task, you will not be able to maintain good stamina.
Your stamina has everything to do with your fitness levels and it is necessary for good athletic performance. Do you think your stamina is good? Could you improve your stamina? How do you even measure that?
The University of Virginia, School of Medicine suggests that one of the best ways to measure cardiovascular fitness and aerobic exercise is to measure VO2 max.
VO2 max stands for maximal oxygen consumption. It shows how much oxygen you can use during your maximal exercise level. The more oxygen you use, the higher and better your VO2 max is. In other words – the higher VO2 max means better stamina.
VO2 max is measured by an athletic performance assessment. A subject exercises on a treadmill or a stationary bike with a face mask. The facemask measures the gas of the air they inhale and exhale. In addition, their heart rate is measured. The subject then exercises at the highest intensity level they can endure for as long as they can – until exhaustion.
These two terms sound very much the same, don’t they? So, what is the difference between stamina and endurance? It greatly depends on who you ask.
If you ask Debbie Luna from InspireUs, she says that when comparing stamina vs endurance, it’s all about the intensity levels of the physical activity.
According to her, endurance is the quality needed for marathons, while stamina is the quality you need for sprints. In other words, you need the endurance to sustain prolonged periods of physical activity. The better the endurance, the longer you are able to sustain that physical activity.
You need the stamina to endure the maximum intensity level of such physical activity.
On the other hand, Krix Luther says that stamina is all about physical activity, while endurance refers to other aspects, as well, such as mental, emotional, and cardiovascular endurance. According to him, stamina is simply muscular endurance.
On the topic of stamina vs endurance, Karrina Howe says that: “Stamina relates to the amount of time a given muscle or group of muscles can perform at maximum capacity. For example, being able to perform a heavy deadlift for several repetitions. Endurance, on the other hand, is the number of times any given group of muscles can perform a certain action or exercise. That is, performing deadlifts at a lighter weight for more repetitions over a longer period of time.”
That being said, it is safe to say that one of the answers to how to increase your stamina is – increase your endurance.
This brings us back to:
Let’s elaborate on these, one by one:
There are many ways to increase stamina. It requires some lifestyle changes, but they are not above and beyond the usual changes a person makes when trying to improve athletic performance.
So, how to increase stamina by food?
According to Vitale and Getzin, there is a lot of debate concerning what is the best food for stamina. Nutritional requirements for endurance athletes do not exactly match those of other athletes that don’t have to work on their stamina to this extreme. There are differences in dietary regimens of basketball players and those of ultramarathon runners.
Below are the conclusions from the Nutrition and Supplement Update for the Endurance Athlete: Review and Recommendations and Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recovery.
Sports scientists, nutritionists, dietitians, and others go deep into details when exploring all nutrients and their effect on stamina boosting nutrition. However, it is often more than good enough to monitor some of the major nutrients.
Vitale and Getzin gathered the data from the institutions such as Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada. This is the recommended amount of carbs depending on the exercise level.
|Exercise level||Hours of exercise per day||Grams of carbohydrates (CHO) per body weight per day|
|Moderate||1 h/day||5-7 g/kg/day|
|Moderate to high intensity||1–3 h/day||6–10 g/kg/day|
|Ultra endurance||4–6 h/day||8–12 g/kg/day|
You must have heard of carbo loading for marathon. That’s when runners attempt to increase their stamina and endurance by using carbs as fuel. Burning carbs creates more ATP per volume of oxygen (O2) than fat. On the other hand, it also causes liver and muscle exhaustion faster, so you have to be careful with it.
Foods rich in carbohydrates include quinoa, oats, buckwheat, bananas, blueberries, sweet potatoes, oranges, and others.
Timing is also important for carb intake. According to Beck et all, in Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recovery:
Carbs pre-exercise: carbo loading for marathon and exercises that will last longer than 90 minutes serves to delay fatigue and improve performance. The best results are achieved when they are eaten hours prior to exercise. This way, muscle glycogen stores are increased and time to exhaustion is extended.
Carbs mid-exercise: You need carbs during longer events to prevent hypoglycemia and maintain carbohydrate oxidation. It is suggested to use 60g of single-type carbs (sports drinks, etc) for marathon runs that last 2-3 hours. More than 2.5 hours of high-intensity exercises like ironman triathlons require 90g of multiple transportable carbs.
There is also the so-called “train low, compete high” approach. Endurance athletes exercise in the carb depletion stage, training their bodies to use fat as fuel first and to use carbs as fuel more efficiently. This approach needs more thorough studies, as the results we have now are non-conclusive.
There have been many diets in recent years that favor proteins and fats over carbohydrates in daily nutrition. However, if you want to include “increase stamina food” in your daily diet, you need to find the sweet spot and nutrient balance that suits your body and your activity type.
Your food for stamina should include protein but not only because it helps achieve nitrogen balance. This is an outdated idea. Nitrogen balance is important for overall nutrient balance but does nothing to improve athletic performance or endurance.
This doesn’t mean that endurance and stamina athletes aren’t supposed to monitor their protein intake. The recommended amount of protein is between 1.2–2.0 g/kg/day. Those who want to increase their stamina and endurance should use less, while those who want to build up muscles should take more proteins in their diet.
However, with protein, the timing is crucial. Protein’s role in increasing stamina and endurance is reflected in its role in muscle protein synthesis (MPS). When you’re participating in high endurance training, you are risking a catabolic state and muscle mass breakdown. To replenish this loss with protein intake, it is recommended to get 0.25–0.3 g/kg of a quality protein within the first 120 minutes post-exercise.
This way, you will get all the essential amino acids that trigger protein synthesis in your muscles. For many athletes, pre-workout and post-workout protein intake are equally beneficial, but this is not the case for those who build stamina. Endurance is better achieved with careful post-workout protein intake.
Ideally, you will dose your proteins at 0.3 g/kg every 3-5 hours throughout the day to a total of 1.2–2.0 g/kg/day. This calculation includes the post-workout protein intake.
Your protein-rich diet should include eggs, meat, poultry, dairy products, nuts and seeds, legumes, and soy products (tofu and tempeh). However, you should always be careful about your protein choices, because some of them can come with a large portion of unhealthy fats. Especially if they are fried in oil or breaded.
Those looking to increase stamina, rather than lose weight or necessarily build muscles aren’t concerned too much about using fat as a fuel source for their activities. However, while using carbs as fuel for high-level endurance training is essential, balanced fat intake is equally important because fats are essential for your body’s ability to use vitamins and nutrients from your diet. Besides that, fats are necessary for a healthy nervous system, organ protection, and other vital body functions.
Those who are wondering how to increase stamina with food should have adequate fat intake. They can, however, limit that intake during their carbo loading phase.
Foods rich in healthy fats: olive oil, peanuts, avocado, fish, nuts, etc.
In his article, Supplements for Endurance Athletes, Kersick et al. elaborates on the use of the following supplements the stamina increase:
These types of beverages are usually used to increase performance. However, one of their properties is that they eliminate fatigue by hydration and carb replenishment. During prolonged exercise, electrolyte reserves are depleted and these types of beverages can help restore balance. Another important aspect is that they help with thermoregulation, essential for marathons and similar events.
One of the best benefits of caffeine for stamina in sports is the increased levels of fatty acids in the blood, which means that your body can use fat rather than depleting muscle glycogen. This can help you endure more without feeling fatigued.
The recommendation is to add 3 or 4 measurements of protein to each measurement of carbs as a supplement. This can help minimize damage to the muscles, promote their recovery, and also improve performance.
Other authors also suggest that endurance athletes can benefit from supplements such as creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, and sodium phosphate in addition to proteins, amino acids, and other nutrients in the food for stamina that endurance athletes usually consume.
Red light therapy is an excellent addition to all of these forms of supplementation. When properly utilized, red light therapy increases stamina and supplementation in the following ways:
While this is highly individual, you should be careful not to lose more than 2% of your body weight in fluids during prolonged aerobic exercise. This means you need to stay hydrated during your running, cycling, or swimming. These are recommendations from the NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition.
Euhydration means that you have optimal levels of fluids and electrolytes in your body. You need to reach this state before your exercise. It is recommended to have at least 5-7ml of fluid per body weight 4 hours before exercise.
Athletes should not hyperhydrate with water before their activity. This can cause frequent urination which leads to dangerous drops in sodium levels in your body. It is best to maintain euhydration with lightly sweetened, cool, tasty liquids that contain sodium.
During exercise, it is essential to maintain your fluids and replenish them. Research has shown that using drinks that have protein and carbs are the best at fluid retention – Far superior to water alone or carb fueled drinks.
After exercise, to increase your stamina and maintain good form, you need to replenish your fluids. Avoid alcohol and caffeine and try to drink 600 to 720 ml for every pound you lose. Water is the best choice post-exercise.
Good exercises to increase stamina are those that help you build your muscles, but more importantly, increase your aerobic capacity. This means that you need to make sure you increase your lung capacity leading to cardiovascular efficiency. This will boost the ability of your muscles to utilize oxygen.
It is all about adapting your body so it can quickly deliver oxygen to your muscles and the ability of your muscles to utilize that oxygen. Additionally, your body needs fuel to turn into glucose. This is an overview, but how to be efficient about it?
Here are some of the principles you should follow to increase stamina for workout:
Don’t get too comfortable on your rest days. Consistency is essential if you want to increase stamina in the gym, for your marathon races, or any other type of activity that requires endurance and stamina. With consistency, your body will slowly start to adapt its mechanisms to support your activity levels. That is how to increase stamina as a runner – by running consistently.
Once your body adapts to a certain type of physical activity, it doesn’t react to it that much anymore. To keep your body growing and increasing in stamina, you need to vary your activities. This also goes for your lung capacity. One of the excellent ways to do this is to introduce high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your routine. These are quick bursts of between 30 seconds and three minutes of a higher intensity of the same activity.
Yes, it is about stamina and endurance, but it is also about intensity. To increase stamina, you need to have a steady workout program, but you also need to level up the intensity in order to grow.
This means that while you should always have at least one long training session where you give your best, you also need to have at least 3-4 average-level exercise sessions a week.
If you plan on running a marathon, you need to make sure your running technique is flawless. Otherwise, you are risking injury. Additionally, you won’t get the results you are hoping for because you will need to put in too much effort without being as efficient. Tips for increasing running stamina are similar to those for general stamina boost, but they have additional tips for running.
All of your exercise efforts are in vain unless your muscles don’t get enough recovery time. The same goes for stamina and endurance. During the recovery phase of your muscles, they are building new fibers and creating more muscle mass. If you interrupt that process, it will be counterproductive.
However, when trying to be efficient in your exercise efforts and you want to build stamina, resting may seem like wasting precious time. While you cannot skip resting, you can do your best to make it more efficient.
Red light therapy is efficient in helping your body eliminate the serum lactate your body releases when it’s trying to get you to rest. By eliminating it faster, you will be quicker to get back to exercising.
This is not the only way red light therapy helps you increase stamina. Besides muscle recovery and improved nutrient absorption, red light therapy also helps you prevent injuries, makes your exercise more efficient, and helps you relieve pain.
Discover more about how to pick a red light therapy device that can help you increase stamina.