Health consequences of Ultra-endurance events
Ultra-endurance events are long events defined as those lasting 6 hours or above. They may be much longer though, potentially lasting multiple weeks.
How Ultra-endurance affects the body
A) Water balance
Endurance exercise requires a large amount of food and drink. In using food for energy, our body loses water as sweat, which also needs to be replaced. If too much is drunk though, the bloods’ mineral levels can become depleted. A condition known as hyponatremia occurs when blood sodium drops, which consequently could prove fatal in a worse case scenario.
On the other hand, if insufficient volumes are drunk, other illness can occur. This suggests a careful balance is required, despite the inevitable large volumes needed by the body.
B) Energy intake
“Research has concluded that endurance and ultra-endurance athletes do not consume sufficient food and drinks”. This suggests competitors are lowering their body weight from event start to finish, which may lead to undesired health outcomes.
Research has found that obese individuals tend to have lower sympathetic nervous system activity. Coincidentally, this side of the nervous system is highly activated in endurance exercise. This suggests that those participating in such events, may not have the urge to eat as much as they need. Furthermore, this may explain the apparent lack of necessary energy consumed during such events.
C) Other health consequences
Whilst water balance and energy intake are often unhealthy during such events, it’s also interesting to look at the physiology of those who have finished.
A man who completed a 25 day endurance event, had a considerable number of negative health impacts. Fortunately though, some changes were short lived, and research says that regular endurance training can adapt the body to cope in certain ways.
That said, his ultra endurance challenge resulted in elevated intestinal nasties called intestinal endotoxins, his respiratory muscles fatiguing (making it harder to breath normally), his parasympathetic nervous system not working correctly, and his heart projecting blood less efficiently.
Whilst some level of exercise challenge is needed to improve health status, when taken to the extreme, the body may have certain undesirable outcomes. Those undertaking these challenges should train properly leading up, and where possible, test health measures likely to be negatively affected. This should ensure they stay as close to normal healthy ranges as possible following completion.
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