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Two-a-days have long been favored by high school and college football coaches to get their rosters in shape. Professional athletes in all sports use them as a standard feature of pre-season training.
Obviously, the skill level of amateur and professional athletes is vastly different, but their approaches to multiple-day workouts have much in common. For example, proper nutrition and hydration for two-a-days should always be a priority, both to boost performance and to prevent heat-related illness.
Initially, two-a-days became popular among old-guard high school coaches as a way to toughen up athletes by working them hard with limited water breaks. When that strategy began leading to deaths caused by dehydration and overexertion, it became less and less the norm.
Reducing the Risk of Heat-Related Illness
New research proving that fully hydrated athletes outperform others has led coaches to virtually eliminate the practice of limiting water intake. According to a joint position statement issued by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine, optimal nutrition and hydration not only enhance athletic performance but aid in recovery as well.
"The major concern with athletes that practice multiple times a day is heat-related illness and dehydration due to the high summer heat and humidity," said American Council on Exercise (ACE) senior consultant Dr. Natalie Digate Muth. "Athletes need to plan their two-a-days nutrition and hydration appropriately for optimal performance."
Embracing Smart Hydration and Nutrient Strategies
Smart hydration doesn't necessarily mean loading up on water. Although water is the best fluid replenisher for most individuals, sports drinks help replace electrolytes lost during high-intensity exercise, especially when it exceeds 45 to 60 minutes.
According to the ADA position statement, "Sports beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes may be consumed before, during and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration, provide fuel for muscles, and decrease risk of dehydration and hyponatremia."
Couple adequate hydration with smart nutrition to maximize the benefits of two-a-days.
"The positive effect of that type of training occurs when several different entities come together—the exercise itself, appropriate recovery time, and proper fuel and nutrients," said ACE exercise physiologist Dr. Mark P. Kelly. "Adequate fuel and nutrients means a combination of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) and [other] nutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals) to rebuild tissues and enzymes broken down during practice and enhance enzyme production to improve performance."
According to Muth, athletes should consume a high-carb snack (about 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight) within 30 minutes of exercise, and every two hours thereafter for four to six hours, to help replenish glycogen stores.
Getting Adequate Recovery
Finally, optimal two-a-days nutrition and hydration strategies should be bookended by adequate rest and recovery.
As a general rule, the harder the workout, the longer the rest or recovery should be. Professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend at least two hours between two-a-day practices in hot or humid weather to allow for sufficient recovery and rehydration among adolescents.
Recovery can also mean eating plenty of foods loaded with vitamins and minerals, and muscle therapy in the form of massage, myofascial release with a foam roller, or gentle static and dynamic stretching before and after sleep.
Athletes should never underestimate the power of sleep. Not only does it lower cortisol, which can inhibit testosterone release and production; it also helps with the secretion of growth hormone, another critical instrument in the anabolic rebuilding response in the body.