Whether it’s the 2.4KM run during your IPPT or a Sunday football match, to perform at your best, you’ll need stamina. For most men, stamina peaks at age 31 or 32. But in the next five years, your aerobic capacity declines. “The heart is a muscle just like any other, and as you age, you lose some strength,” says Dr Jordan Metzl, author of The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide for Parents. Also starting in your 30s, your body’s ability to extract oxygen from your blood diminishes. The good news: It’s never too late to make a fresh start.
TAKE A BREATHER
You don’t have to wear out the belt on the treadmill to boost your stamina. Just two minutes of breathing exercises five times a day can increase your lung capacity by 10 per cent in 12 weeks, research at La Salle University in the US found. Inhale through your nose for three seconds, squeeze down through your diaphragm for two, and then exhale forcefully for three.
Cutting carbs could reap cardio rewards, according to the European Journal of Applied Physiology. “Training with lower glycogen reserves forces muscle adaptation,” says Joe Beer, author of Need to Know? Triathlon. “Reducing your carb intake from 300g to 200g a day for two to three days before intense sessions makes your body 25 per cent more efficient at using fuel and oxygen. But make sure you re-stock on carbs after that.”
Do you cycle to work? Five minutes’ daily exposure to engine pollution can cut your lungs’ oxygen absorption by 7 per cent, according to the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Reverse the damage with a 30g portion of watercress in your sandwich four times a week. Research shows it’s rich in phytochemicals that stop pollutants from attaching to your lungs – and it goes nicely with egg mayo.
There’s no point pumping air into your furnace if the fire isn’t lit. “Upping your iron intake from 8mg to 12mg a day boosts your red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen by up to 25 per cent,” says Matt Punsheon, head of personal training at Fitness First (UK). Get your 12mg daily dose with 100g of kidney or liver, or 200g of canned sardines.
BEST OF THE REST
It’s not all hard work. “Just as muscle needs time to repair, so your aerobic system needs a day’s rest between high-intensity sessions in order for it to benefit,” says Beer. “Anything above 5/10 (light jog) intensity, and you’re back where you started.”
WEIGHT FOR IT
Just because you’re cardio-focused, don’t be a stranger to the weights room. “As well as conditioning your body to avoid injury and boosting power during aerobic work, high-rep, light weights sessions make your heart and cardio system work even harder,” says Beer. Use pyramid sets every other week: Halve your regular weight and double the reps, then repeat the halving/double sums until you can’t do it any more.
Squeeze out extra cardio capacity with regular toilet visits. Even mild constipation – 48 hours without hitting the porcelain – can decrease your blood’s oxygencarrying capacity, US physiologists at Purdue University report. Kick-start your day with a dose of fibre: Have oat porridge with nuts and fruits. Or if bar on your way. Oats give 11g of fibre with every 100g serving – more than a third of your RDA.
Pay attention to your form when you run. Focusing on posture while running can boost aerobic fitness gains by 8 per cent, according to French studies at the University of Lyon. Scientists there found pulling your shoulders back, pushing your chest out and fully relaxing your abs as you inhale pull in a full 20 per cent more air.
A little stress can boost performance. The UK’s University of Lancaster sports scientists found athletes reduced confidence levels and
fitness gains by 8 per cent when they consciously tried to calm their nerves. “You need to focus on your exercise to maximise the hormone balance needed for optimum performance,” says sports psychologist Jamie Edwards. “Use a mantra to keep your heart rate
up without feeling overwhelmed, such as ‘strong arms, strong head, strong legs.’”
Getting less than six hours’ shut-eye hits more than your mood. “Inadequate sleep spikes cortisol, which inhibits muscle oxygen intake by up to 15 per cent,” says personal trainer Scott Tudge. A warm bath one hour before bed halves the time it takes for you to nod off, Loughborough University researchers in the UK found. So when you oversleep, your muscles will have that 15 per cent oxygen boost to power your dash to the bus stop.
A 70:30 carbohydrate/protein combo two hours before training significantly raises your production of growth hormones, the Journal of Applied Physiology reports. But remember to still go low carb in the two to three days before cardio training. So, a good lunch means you get more from your workout. No troughing in the changing room, though: A UCLA study found working out with undigested food in
your gut inhibits growth hormone production by up to 54 per cent.
IN POD WE TRUST
The wrong choice of workout soundtrack could be a downer on your performance, say researchers from the University of Maryland in the US. They found that when exercisers were subjected to songs they didn’t like, their blood vessels constricted by 6 per cent in just 30 minutes, reducing overall aerobic capacity by over 10 per cent. On the flip side, those listening to their personal playlists saw blood vessels expand 26 per cent, bringing 34 per cent extra performance benefits.
THE SEX FACTOR
Not all your jogging needs to be vertical. Three 20-minute sex sessions a week raised VO2 max by up to 4 per cent in University of Bologna studies in Italy. But don’t skip the warm-up: Foreplay was key to raising heart rate sufficiently. (It’s the best workout plan we’ve come across.)
DITCH PLAN C
A bitter pill: High-strength vitamin C supplements can hamper fitness by stopping your body from combating the free radicals produced by aerobic workouts. A University of Valencia study in Spain found that athletes taking 1,000mg of vitamin C daily saw a 10.8 per cent increase in their bodies’ ability to use oxygen, compared to a 22 per cent jump in men who got their vitamins from food. “Limit yourself to low-dose multivitamins,” says Beer.
By the time you’re gasping, it could be too late. “You can lose 2 per cent of your body weight through perspiration in just 30 minutes, reducing aerobic performance by 5 per cent,” says Loughborough University sports nutritionist Susan Shirreffs. “Your blood volume decreases and becomes ‘stickier’, so it’s less able to move where it’s needed, causing oxygen deficits.” Aim for 1.5 litres of isotonic fluid before every 30 minutes of exercise, sipping constantly where possible.