Lately, my personal training company has been doing a lot of work with triathletes and marathon runners. To most of us (myself included), these people represent the pinnacle of dedication in physical fitness. As someone who is obviously passionate about working out, it boggles even me to think about running for three or more hours straight or - beyond that - the Iron Man athletes who run, swim and bike non stop for over 12 hours! The dedication, sacrifice and time spent that these athletes give to their endeavor is all encompassing.
What I have found quite interesting, though, is one of the overwhelming goals that many of these amazing athletes have is actually changing their body composition and "looking like" a stereotypical "athlete." I was talking with someone the other day who just completed an Iron Man - perhaps the pinnacle of endurance athletics - and she was describing her surprise, and frustration, that while she is undoubtedly an unrivaled athlete - she could not see her abs!
At first, it may seem puzzling as to how someone with such athletic prowess can not have the muscular and toned body type he or she desires but once you look at the concept a little closer, it actually isn't that surprising. Long distance, long duration cardiovascular activity is fueled by carbohydrates. Once the body's storage of carbohydrates is depleted, the next step is that muscle is actually broken down and turned into glucose (a type of carbohydrate). So, imagine running, biking and swimming for 14 hours straight. After a certain point in time, muscle is inevitably going to be broken down and that is going to compromise getting that lean, toned and defined body.
Obviously not all of us aspire to be marathon runners with six packs, so how does this apply to the average person? As I've said in a few articles before, focus less on the amount of time spent doing cardio and more on fast paced, efficient weight training combined with short duration, high intensity cardio - and of course, make sure your diet supports your goals!
Ironically, sometimes it requires doing a lot less to look like an athlete that does a lot more.