We hear the word thrown around often enough. “Man, I have no stamina”. “I’m working on my stamina”. “She’s got great stamina”. You get the drift. It’s used interchangeably too, with ‘strength’, ‘speed’, and most commonly, ‘endurance’. But what does the word really mean?

Let’s take a look.

According to Merriam Webster, there are two distinct interpretations of the term. The first is - ‘the bodily or mental capacity to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.’ While this is definitely a huge aspect of stamina, it’s not quite a complete definition - you’ll see why in the next section.

The second definition is ‘the moral or emotional strength to continue with a difficult process.’ While the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, we’ll be focusing on the first definition for this piece.

What is the difference between stamina and endurance?

To put it very simply, stamina refers to the total amount of time for which a muscle or muscle group can perform at maximum capacity, while endurance refers to the total time for which a muscle group can perform a particular action.In short, stamina is about maximizing output while endurance is about maximizing time.

What is good or bad stamina, and what are its benefits?

Individuals with good stamina are able to:

  • Focus on tasks for longer periods of time 
  • Undertake daily tasks and activities more efficiently (using less energy) - e.g. walking up stairs, jogging, cycling
  • Play sports without a dip in energy levels / with less chance of injury 

Conversely, poor stamina results in:

  • A general lack of focus / poor concentration levels
  • Feeling tired all the time 
  • Inability to continue long periods of physical activity 

Does genetics have anything to do with it?

While there isn’t much research on how genetics influences stamina per se, studies have shown that two gene variants, ACE I/D and ACTN3 R577X, have been consistently associated with endurance (ACEI/I) and power-related (ACTN3 R/R) performance, though neither can be considered predictive.

It’s possibly safe to assume that given an individual is in general good health, environmental factors and optimal training and diet have more of an influence on stamina than genes.

How does age affect stamina?

Aging leads to decreased muscle mass, especially post 40, and is associated with lower levels of stamina, endurance, and coordination. However, according to Harvard Medical School, the notion that one should exercise less once they’re older is simply a myth. On the contrary, it becomes increasingly essential to remain physically active as one ages.

Here are some tips to keep up your stamina as you age:

  • Include forms of exercise that help with balance and flexibility in your regimen - e.g. yoga, pilates, or tai chi
  • Do forms of aerobic exercise such as jogging, running, or swimming for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Stretch regularly to beat muscle tightening 
  • Include fish, leafy greens, and healthy fats such as nut butters in your diet
  • Finally, understand and acknowledge your unique circumstances. Get a baseline medical check up and consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen or diet. Don’t be in a rush to scale up your workouts and ensure you have the right gear for different kinds of workouts.

How does one increase stamina?

How to increase stamina? While the tips above are given in the context of stamina and aging, they can be followed by anyone at any age. The secret to increase stamina lies in improving your cardiorespiratory fitness. What is cardiorespiratory fitness - it denotes your body's ability to keep performing work or exercise for a longer duration.

In addition, here are a few more ways to get your blood pumping and boost your stamina:

Exercise consistently (focus on cardio)

Yep, there are no short-cuts. Some exercises to increase stamina are:

  • Isometric holds like wall sits, high plank holds, glute bridges, and overhead holds
  • Running or brisk walking, or climbing up and down the stairs
  • Dancing - yes, dancing your heart out is great cardio!
  • Weight training, high on both intensity and pace
  • High intensity interval training  (alternating between short periods of intense workout and short periods of rest)

Remember to keep your heart rate between 60%-90% of your maximum heart rate during all the cardio exercises.

Wondering how to increase stamina for running? - Read our blog on stamina & endurance to know more.

Stay hydrated

Being even mildly dehydrated can decrease your stamina while you workout. It’s important to drink water before, during, and after exercise. The exact amount will depend on the kind of workout you’re doing, amount of fluid loss, and your physiology, but a common recommendation is: 7 to 20 ounces of fluid 2 to 3 hours before exercise and another 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before starting their workout. Then, during exercise, 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes. And, finally, 30 minutes following exercise, 8 last ounces.

Eat right

Include a balanced combination of (the right) carbs and protein in your diet. Bananas are an excellent source of vitamin B6 and potassium, and provide high amounts of energy. Protein sources such as eggs and chicken too are essential to boosting stamina. The former contains leucine, a type of amino acid that improves energy production in the body. Chicken is a lean protein that promotes muscle building  and also contains high levels of iron.

Conversely, there are some foods you should avoid, especially pre-workout, which can impact your stamina negatively - this includes dairy and fried foods.

Summing Up

Especially when embarking on one’s fitness journey, it’s important to learn the differences between and the meanings of terms that are often thrown around loosely. Stamina and endurance are both essential parts of being an athlete - and of general wellbeing - and building both requires distinct yet complementary approaches. And learning the difference is the first step!

Aug 10, 2022

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