While supplements are not as important as training, diet and recovery, they can make drastic improvement in your performance when combined with these other key elements. This article will briefly discuss supplements which may benefit you as a cyclist. It is not vital to take, with the possible exception of a multivitamin, but intelligent supplementation can lead to dramatic improvements in your performances and recovery in training and races.
Multivitamins & Minerals
The only supplement that is a must have for everyone. Often overlooked because of a lack of flashy advertising campaigns and just outright boring nature, 'multis' should be the first supplement you buy. What do I mean multi's are boring? Well, they will never improve you performance 100% like some supplements promise, in fact they probably won't improve your performance at all.
So why would you bother taking them then? More than anything multi's are an insurance policy. Almost all body functions, especially those that are important to energy production and recovery require adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals. Without the required levels of these micronutrients the body will not function properly and your performance will be effect negatively.
Hard training athletes have a greater need for vitamins and minerals than 'regular people' as they lose a large amount through exercise and sweat. So rather than improving your performance by taking a multi, not taking one could actually hinder your performance. For less than 10 cents per day, who can afford to take the risk?
Popular brands include:
Basically the closet thing to a second must have supplement, fish oils provide numerous benefits covering general health and performance. Fish oil supplementation is mainly used for its EPA and DHA contents. Typically 1 gram of fish oil provides a combine 300mg of these fatty acids.
Consuming fish oils have numerous benefits ranging from heart health and improved cholesterol levels to enhancing body composition. Supplementing with fish oil will not only improve your performance but the health benefits it provides make it an almost 'must have'. 6 grams per day would be a good dosage, however if you are endomorphic in nature you could bump this up to 10g+.
As suggested in part 1, you need to consume a serving of protein immediately after a ride to help with recovery. Whey protein is probably the best kind of protein to consume at this time. It is fast absorbing, has a high bioavailability and a great amino acid profile to ensure maximum recovery.
Whey Protein is also much quicker and easier to down as a protein shake than it is to prepare a meal immediately after a ride. Whey protein is a much more cost effective source of protein than others such as meat. Optimum, Higher Power, and Dymatize all make quality protein powders that are more that suitable for this purpose. Most riders will only need one serving, maybe two depending on their bodyweight and the previously mentioned brands sell up to 80 servings for well less than $30.
Caffeine is a legal supplement that has been shown time and time again to improve performance for athletes in both the strength/power and endurance fields. Cycling is an endurance based sport. Caffeine's applications will almost solely be to do with aerobic performance as opposed to its strength and fat mobilization properties.
Caffeine has been shown to increase the time it takes for an athlete to reach exhaustion, and also the perceived rate of exhaustion, meaning you can ride longer and feel better doing so. While there is a lot of evidence championing caffeine's cause, it must be noted that there are several studies which suggest it has no real benefit, and in some cases no specific benefits to cyclists.
Anecdotal evidence and usage of caffeine seems to differ from those opinions. Pro cyclists regularly drink coffee, caffeinated drinks or take caffeine supplements to boost performance. So this is one supplementation where personal experimentation would be greatly beneficial before becoming a committed user.
How Much To Take?
This is another area of conjecture amongst studies. One study suggests that while caffeine does improve performance, there is no difference between doses over 3 mg/kg of bodyweight. Other studies suggested 3mg is the minimum need to gain aerobic benefits, while 4.4 mg/kg of bodyweight is the ideal amount. It has also been shown that 9 mg/kg of bodyweight led to a 51% increase in aerobic capacity.
No matter what dose is used it has been shown that dividing the dose (e.g. some before exercise and some during) provides no greater benefit than taking it in a single dose prior to exercise. It has also been shown (importantly), that even though caffeine exerts a diuretic effect, it has no impact on hydration levels.
Another aspect to remember is that pure caffeine in a supplement form is much more effective than coffee or a caffeinated beverage; takes (orally consumed) 40-60 minutes to take effect. 60 minutes seems to be the standard for studies, so make sure you take the caffeine 1 hour before your event.
The best thing about caffeine, if it works for you, is the price. Again how much you take depends on your weight but the average cyclist could get 40 doses for less than $6 by purchasing Higher Power's caffeine product. This would be at least 20-40 weeks worth as you should only take it occasionally.
The bottom line is to experiment with various doses until you find what works best with you. Start at 200mg or 3mg/kg and go from there. Best results will probably be found around 4-5mg/kg of bodyweight.
Creatine is arguably the most popular sport supplement of the last 15 years. Since it burst onto the scenes after the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, creatine has been the choice of power athletes around the world. But, does it have any benefit for cyclists?
Anecdotally creatine increases strength and the ability to repeat bouts of high intensity exercise which would benefit sprinters. Let's look at some studies.
One study found that after loading with creatine, cyclist's total work and peak power improved by 9.6% and 3.4% respectively . Another study showed creatine supplementation helped to improve a cyclist's recovery between repeated sprints.
While most of the studies conducted focus on power aspects there are some that suggest creatine can improve endurance in elite athletes and others suggest further research is required.
The main problem with creatine for cyclists is the effect it may have on the power-to-weight ratio. Most users gain 1-3kg after loading creatine and this weight is almost completely water weight. If creatine increased power 3% like some studies suggest this may not be a big problem. For most cyclists, the weight gained would account for a less than 3% gain.
Creatine most likely would be beneficial for most cyclists, but again it is probably worth experimenting first, both with creatine and then with various types of creatine. For example creatine monohydrate causes bloating and holding of extracellular water in some people, while newer creatines such as CEE claim all the water will be held in the muscle, no bloating. Extra water or bloating is something you would want to avoid as a cyclist.
Brach chain amino acids consist of the three essential aminos leucine, isoleucine and valine. These aminos are particularly valuable in building muscle. They comprise about 35% of all muscle proteins, and also play a role in energy production. BCAA supplementation for cyclists is not all that important, especially considering maximizing muscle growth is not important.
However, there is room for them in your supplement regimen and I feel they can make a big difference. In part 1, I discussed the value of consuming protein while you ride. BCAA's are an excellent source of protein for this purpose. In fact one product is almost perfectly designed for this purpose: Xtend by SciVation.
This will make the perfect drink to consume while you ride, providing precise ratios of proteins and carbohydrates. There are other BCAA products that will do the job as well but the addition of Citrulline Malate and serving size make Xtend look impressive.
Citrulline Malate (CM) is a relative newcomer to the supplement market and looks like it could be valuable for cyclists. CM leads to greater ATP production and anecdotally makes endurance exercise seem easier due to its ability to reduce lactic acid. 6 grams a day should be the minimum taken but more is not unsafe.
There are plenty of products that contain CM as part of a formula and others that are basically pure CM products. There is not much academic literature on CM yet, but studies have shown that it promotes aerobic energy production.
This is one supplement I would recommend to try as long as your finances allow and it doesn't compromise other more vital items. Check out SciVation's Xtend, SAN's OX, or Man's BodyOctane for some ideas.
ZMA consists of 30mg of Zinc monomethionine aspartate, 450mg of magnesium aspartate and 10.5mg of Vitamin B6. Studies have shown the product to raise testosterone levels by up to 30% and increase strength 2.5 times faster than a placebo group. Where ZMA becomes important of cyclist are on two fronts.
- Firstly, ZMA helps improve sleep and enhance recovery. Anecdotally users report deeper sleep with more vivid dreams while using ZMA and awaken feeling much more refreshed.
- Secondly, ZMA is important for its individual components magnesium and zinc. It is often reported that most athletes are deficient in magnesium and this deficiency can lead to early fatigue, nausea and muscle cramps. Magnesium also plays a vital role energy production.
- Athletes also tend to have lower zinc levels than sedentary individuals. Zinc is important for energy production, immune system function and repair/recovery post-exercise. ZMA is a relatively cheap product, for about $12 you can get a months supply from top brands such as Optimum, NOW and Higher Power.
There is currently a lot of debate over glutamines role as a bodybuilding supplement; however it appears to be a wise choice. Endurance based exercise has lower glutamine levels and can impact on the immune system.
One study showed athletes who consumed glutamine after exercise were much less likely to suffer from infections. A dose of 2-5g post exercise would be adequate for these immune system and recovery benefits.
- Multivitamins: Take 1 a day, or better yet use a 2-a-day type to ensure you are never short of what you need
- Fish oil: Take 6g per day
- Whey protein: Consume 30g post training or race
- Caffeine: Experiment, but try 4-5mg/kg of bodyweight 60 minutes before a ride
- Creatine: Consume post ride (after loading period)
- BCAA's: Consume 10g in 600ml of sports drink while riding
- Citrulline malate: Consume 6g per day
- Glutamine: 2-5g post exercise.
Again, it is not vital to consume all these supplements, however they may help improve your performance as a cyclist and may take your riding to the next level.
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