"Train Low - Compete High" is a play on words, but actually refers to sports nutrition.
Bente Pedersen has done research on single-leg exercise showing that endurance performance benefits from some training sessions in a glycogen-depleted state. In her work Pederson had subjects exercise one leg once daily and the other leg twice every other day. The total amount of training was equal for both legs, but the leg that was trained twice every other day was forced to train in a glycogen-depleted state in that afternoon workout. After several weeks of this, subjects engaged in an endurance test with both legs. Pedersen found that the leg trained twice every other day increased its endurance 90 percent more than the other leg.
Why is this the case? The link might be in a "cytokine" called interleukin-6 (Il-6) - part of the immune system. Pederson is also reasearching this immune factor which is released by skeletal muscle when training as a potential mediator of the health benefits of exercise. These benefits range from increased fat burning, to greater resistance to muscle damage, to improved cognitive function. By "mediator" we mean there is a direct link - exercise causes Il-6 to be released, and it tells the body to adapt.
Interestingly, Pedersen's research has shown that supplementation with drinks containing carbohydrate inhibits the release of Il-6 - so they may also inhibit the training effect.
In practical terms, she said, athletes should do some workouts within a few hours of their previous workout, so that there's not enough time to replenish muscle glycogen stores between workouts. They should also leave their sports drinks at home for some workouts - that is, intentionally under-fuel their muscles during training.
Nonetheless, there is not enough understanding to suggest that an athlete should train glycogen depleted all the time. Evidence suggests that replenished athletes can handle higher training loads (although this may actually mean they NEED more training - see below). Athletes can also train with more intensity when fully replenished. This is probably important and could be somewhat like the "live high train low" concept where it has been shown that the increased training intensity is important enough to return to sea level for training.
Stephen Seiler produced a commentary about this topic. In it he comments that this line of research has led him to question "is part of the reason that modern elite athletes 'need' so much training volume that they eat so well?" In short, all our great nutrition may act counter to the normal training signals our body produces - thus resulting in a need for greater training volumes to produce the same effect.
He points to training systems, periodization and the use of long slow intensity training as having eveloved quite separate from science - and that they may well have an evolutionary explanation.
"Meanwhile, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some famous athletes (like Indurain in his day) train intentionally with low carbohydrate availability in preparation for competitions, where they eat lots of carbohydrate. I contend that these behaviours by athletes are Darwinistic in the sense that they represent a selection process towards some optimum achieved over years of trial and error in the elite athlete population."
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