I think a lot about running. I think about my running, of course. But I also follow what's going on at the professional level, I track how my UCLA Bruins cross country and track teams are doing, I float over to Dyestat now and again, I read running books, I make running lenses, I read running and fitness articles in the news and science magazines, and I contemplate a lot of random stuff through the context of running, like whether or not elite level distance runners make inherently better politicians? (Answer: Probably not, but their fame likely helps them get elected.)
However, in all my life I can honestly say I never asked the following question: why do muscles get fatigued?
Terrible. Simply terrible. Rhetorical question: What is distance running but the continual training of your muscles to withstand exertion at greater and greater levels without fatiguing? (Rhetorical answer: That is distance running.) Doesn't it stand to reason that understanding exactly why muscles fatigue could help your training?
Of course it does. That's why I'm glad I stumbled across this article in the NY Times today. It appears that other people were led to ask the question I never considered, and they had the wherewithal to answer it.
Here's what they found: muscles tire because as they try to respond to the demands of physical exertion, the brain secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine--fight or flight hormones--into the blood supply to boost the muscle's performance. However continuous secretion of these hormones over time overstimulates tiny channels in the muscles, which begin to leak calcium. That calcium weakens the muscle contractions.
Apparently you can eat your Wheaties, just not with milk! I'm just kidding. But stick to oatmeal just in case.
Even more amazingly, they've already developed a drug that blocks those calcium leaks in lab mice, allowing the mice to exercise 10% to 20% longer. And they want to start testing on humans soon.
Besides the obvious doping possibilities, which are no doubt worrisome, I find myself wondering what people who have "halted" the fatigue process will experience as a result. Like pain, fatigue would seem to be a natural defense mechanism against dangerous overexertion. But if you turn off the body's ability to self-regulate, what kind of unintended consequences will we experience?
I also wonder if there are foods that naturally help to slow down this leaky calcium problem. This will be an interesting topic to follow. If you find more information, please let me know.