From cycling to running and soccer to swimming, aerobic exercise requires endurance so athletes can keep on truckin' without losing steam. But it may not be as easy as running longer, swimming farther or cycling a century. Learn about the traditional ways to strengthen stamina, along with sneaky ways to keep going stronger, longer.
Push It, Push It Real Good -- The Need-To-Know
Endurance allows people to work out at a certain intensity or for an extended amount of time (hello, marathon!). But we can't simply observe how hard we're breathing after a long run to measure stamina. VO2 max, the highest rate oxygen the body consumes during exercise, is the most popular measurement of aerobic capacity, although it's unclear if it's necessarily the most accurate. Another common clue is an athlete's lactate threshold, the intensity of exercise that corresponds to an abrupt increase in lactate. To improve lactate threshold, Greatist Expert Noam Tamir says tempo runs may do the trick. For some other hints, endurance athletes often have a high proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers, which efficiently use oxygen to produce more fuel.
When it comes to running, one of the most popular endurance activities, traditional training recommends the gradual adaption principle -- that is, slowly and steadily increasing mileage and speed. There are ways to do this safely to avoid injury, from running on soft surfaces, to getting enough sleepand drinking tons of water. Yet, sticking to the same ol' training plan may not build endurance all on its own, and dominating that final lap isn't thanks to any (long) walk in the park.
Surefire Stamina -- Your Action Plan
To help bump up that endurance a notch, try these tips. With some smart training and nutrition guidance, that Ironman may totally be within reach!
Rest up. To go long and hard, athletes need fresh muscles, says Greatist Expert John Mandrola: "Go hard on hard days; go easy on easy days; and never string hard days together without adequate rest." Feeling fresh can help anyone go the distance.
Eat right. When it comes to exercise nutrition, carbs are key, since the body uses glycogen for fuel when the goin' gets tough. Once glycogen runs out, the body turns to energy from other sources, like fatty acids. For extended cardio sessions, consume 30-60 grams of carbs every hour, depending on body weight. Studies have also found a mix of carbs and protein can enhance endurance performance and reduce muscle damage -- win! Keep in mind, the best mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein varies considerably amongst athletes, says Mandrola. Experiment, experiment, and experiment some more to find the right combination for you.
HIIT it up. It might sound crazy, but often less really is more. High intensity interval training -- quick bouts of intense exercise -- can help improve endurance in conjunction with traditional training. Need some ideas? Give a stadium run a try, or hit the track for some speed. Just remember to get plenty of recovery after these workouts -- they're intense!
Add some strength. When it comes to endurance training, variation is important. Resistance training can strengthen our bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles -- helping improve overall fitness and help with that final sprint to the finish. So mix up aerobic exercise with kettlebells, dumbbells and bodyweight exercises to help improve stamina.
Turn on the tunes. Could it be as easy as pumping up the volume? Listening to music has shown to boost endurance performance while walking, so it doesn't hurt to work out with a little Rihanna or Jay-Z. The mind-body connection is especially strong among endurance athletes, and any pick-me-up can really help when the going gets tough.
Work on what's weak. People often find their fitness niche and stick to it. Yet Mandrola advises to work on endurance, people should do mix it up: Marathoners should work on speed work, and flat-landers should stomp those hills. Getting to that personal best means working on what's most challenging.
Drink beet juice! Yup, it's science. A recent study found nitrate-rich beets may help increase stamina up to 16 percent by reducing oxygen intake in athletes. (It remains unclear if other nitrate-rich foods produce similar effects.) So consider drinking some beet juice along with that bowl of pasta the night before race-day. You never know. Just remember that beet juice can be high in sugar, so use in moderation.
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