Top tips for endurance athletes - how to keep your body working effectively

By Dr Catherine Spencer-Smith, consultant physician in sport and exercise medicine, at The Wellington Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

Sport and exercise are an essential part of keeping your body healthy and your mind clear. The benefits of exercise are crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and everyone should ensure that they are active several times a week. Those who enjoy competitive endurance sports such as triathlons and marathons should be taking extra measures to look after their bodies, as repetitive training can tax muscles, soft tissues, joints, and even hormonal systems.

Increase your calorie intake

Endurance athletes are naturally particular about their diet, to ensure they get their fuelling right for performance. If you’re participating in endurance training, it’s hugely important to make sure that you’re consuming the appropriate number of calories for the level of exercise you’re doing. To give some perspective, a on a 5k run you may burn up to 300 calories.

Consuming too little calories can lead to Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S). RED-S is the combination of overtraining and under-fuelling that can put the athlete into an energy deficit. This negative balance can cause detrimental effects on bone health, menstrual function (in women), metabolic rate, immune function, cardiovascular health, and psychological health. If prolonged, bone density is lowered, and the dreaded stress fractures occur.

Stress fractures, hairline bone fractures, may take weeks or even months to heal and the treatment often involves temporarily stopping sport, and sometimes off-loading onto crutches. This is news that most athletes will not want to hear, so it is important to look after your body to avoid this. Beware trying to push on with pain, as ignored stress fractures can lead to more complex problems and even surgery and a failure to return to sport.

Build your strength

There are many preventive measures an endurance athlete can take to avoid injuries. It’s important to mix up your exercise and do some strength training as well as cardio to protect yourself. Weight training helps muscles, tendons and ligaments to acclimatise to load and reduce fatigue whilst racing. Along with Pilates, it can be a great way to address any strength asymmetries or movement imbalances.

Find the right pair of trainers

There is a lot of mystique surrounding trainers, but it’s essential to have a comfortable pair that’s suitable for your biomechanics and the kinds of training you’ll be doing.

How often to replace trainers?

As a rule of thumb, you should be replacing your trainers every 400 miles after the first wear. The midsole in trainers tends to break down after that distance, and even if the trainers look and feel new-ish, they may no longer be giving you the correct support. Elderly trainers can increase impact forces and can increase your risk of stress fractures and soft-tissue overuse problems.

Health screen

Athletes who are pushing their bodies through rigorous training to achieve their fitness goals must take extra measures to keep themselves healthy including regular health screens. It is important to listen to your body and provide yourself with the correct energy intake. If you start to feel more aches and pains and specifically a pain in one area whilst training, you should see a consultant to check there isn’t an underlying problem.


To book an appointment with Dr Catherine Spencer-Smith at The Wellington Hospital call 0207 483 5148

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