What Do Marathon Runners and McArdle’s Disease Have in Common?

I was doing some casual research online about energy metabolism, as I’m experimenting right now with my diet, etc. I read in a Wikipedia article about glycogen this description of glycogen debt:

Due to the body’s inability to hold more than around 2,000 kcal of glycogen,long-distance athletes such as marathon runners, cross-country skiers, and cyclists go into glycogen debt, where almost all of the athlete’s glycogen stores are depleted after long periods of exertion without enough energy consumption. This phenomenon is referred to as “hitting the wall” or “bonking”. In marathon runners it normally happens around the 20 mile (32 km) point of a marathon, where around 100 kcal are spent per mile,[citation needed] depending on the size of the runner and the race course. However, it can be delayed by a carbohydrate loading before the task.

When experiencing glycogen debt, athletes often experience extreme fatigue to the point that it is difficult to move.

Does that sound familiar?  “Extreme fatigue to the point that it is difficult to move?”  Marathon runners who deplete their muscles’ stores of glycogen get to enjoy a little taste of the ‘ol McArdle’s Disease.  Because the muscle cells encounter that “energy bottleneck”, i.e., there is no more glucose to create ATP to drive muscle motion, their muscles simply stop responding.

What’s the Significance?

This is noteworthy because an another affirmation that, no matter how healthy, fit and capable of normal exercise people may think you are, if you have McArdle’s Disease there are in fact limitations on what you are capable of, limitations that are beyond your control.  It is important for people with McArdle’s to remember this, because years of coping with undiagnosed symptoms often lead people to simply believe they’re out of shape.

5 thoughts on “What Do Marathon Runners and McArdle’s Disease Have in Common?

  1. donna

    I am 59 and my daughter is 35, and both of us experience the runner;s high when riding our bikes hard. And we both have some kind of muscle problem going on, lots of muscle pain, cramping, and muscle pain that has no reasonable explanation like working too hard, an over stretched muscle, no injury. I started in my early 20’s, and my daughter in her early to mid teens, she also had no prior injuries either. Without telling each other until this evening we both feared something like Lou Gerhig’s, but it’s not because we both would be dead! Just the simple act of catching a chill and shivering for a few minutes is enough to cause my muscles to burn with pain, and ache and cramp for three or four days, does any of this sound familiar?

    1. Site Administrator Post author

      Hi Donna, it sounds like something’s up, though it doesn’t strike me as similar to my symptoms. There is a pretty active community on the McArdle’s Facebook Group so if you haven’t already done so feel free to check them out. Chances are someone there may be able to point you towards some good research.

  2. robert

    I don’t know what to think, but when I was young, I had incredible stamina. Now, I hit the wall, especially when it’s hot or I get heated
    from exercise.
    I have both low acid-maltase and a glycogen phosphorylase problem.

  3. Tammy

    “Hitting the wall” I have felt as a runner and is exactly how I feel alot of times when I am not running. Especially when it is 100 plus or extremely cold outside. Since I have been diagnosed with MCArdles I have learned that lots of protein and SIMPLE carbs have really helped reduce this feeling. Even when I race a 6 mile run if I protein up and add a little simple carb…. I have enough energy to run and function the rest of the day well…not great. But good enough.

    1. Carrie

      Tammy.. Im a 27 year old with McArdles.. I do Zumba classes, play netaball, run (slowly), do curcuit training classes and teach pilates. I agree with everything you are saying, also I believe small goals, slowly and listen to your body.. Excersizing and eating smart (protiens and simple carbs) makes life soo much better when living with McArdles


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