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Reaching the limit of human endurance

I’ve had enough, I need a break. How many times have we said that in our lives, and realistically at those moments how close were we to our absolute limit? Well we know that it is good advice to listen to our bodies; and when we feel like we have had enough then it could well be time for a break.

Now however scientists have shed light on one aspect of human endurance, and it’s not as extreme as you might think. A research paper published in Science Advances has revealed that when it comes to long term endurance, the maximum the body can cope with is 2.5 times its normal resting, or base, metabolic rate (BMR). For an average person that is as little as the equivalent of four thousand calories per day.

That’s not to say that individuals can’t rise above the 2.5 times limit for a period of time. For example marathon runners have been measured at 15.6 times their BMR. But run multiple marathons back to back and the measurements decrease. So when scientists looked at results from the ‘Race Across the USA’ which requires six marathons a week for some 140 days, by the end of the event runners were exhibiting scores which were far closer to the 2.5 limit than at the beginning of the event.

The team behind the report believe that the limit could be down to our digestive systems; they are simply not set up to process food in sufficient quantity over a long period of time. It is known that when we embark upon endurance events such as a marathon our bodies make up the shortfall in available energy by using up stored fat or even muscle mass. But over a longer period of time that spare capacity no longer exists, leaving our metabolic rate to fall back to one which matches our food processing capacity.

This study could have important implications not simply for those physiotherapists and nutritionists who work with endurance athletes as well as the athletes themselves. Any individual who is struggling to cope with a physical injury knows that the fact of the injury not only makes everyday tasks harder it also can prove to be extremely tiring. As a result recovery and nutrition are as important as mobility exercises when it comes to managing rehabilitation. This importance rises up a notch when it comes to treating those undergoing pregnancy as the study found that pregnant women can exhibit a level 2.2 times higher than their BMR, leaving very little spare in the kitty for managing any additional stress being placed on the body.

So when we feel as though we have had enough; that could be our body’s way of telling us that there is nothing left in the reserve cupboard and we need to take time to restock. And of course if we are pushing the limits on a regular basis there is every chance that that we may come up against our personal limit in a shorter and shorter period of time, particularly if we don’t get the required amount of recuperation time.

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