The Role of Leucine in the Recovery Process

Research studies to date have suggested that those who train or compete on consecutive days will gradually deplete their levels of muscle glycogen - even if extra carbohydrate is consumed after each exercise session.

In recent years there has been increased interest in the role of the amino acid leucine in this process, as it plays a pivotal role in stimulating muscle synthesis, therefore aiding muscle growth and recovery. Good quality whey protein is an excellent source of leucine - supplementing your diet with carbohydrate and whey supplements, as opposed to just carbohydrate supplements will result in significantly higher levels of the hormone insulin and a substance called PGC-1D after exercise. Why is this important?

Insulin is a key hormone in recovery as it helps muscles to absorb carbohydrate after exercise (ie refuel), so higher levels of insulin will mean that your muscles are better primed for recovery.

Higher levels of PGC-1D (full name peroxisome proliferator- activated receptor gamma coactivator-1 alpha) indicates a greater endurance adaptation - a process that normally takes place as part of the recovery process.

Practical Suggestions

  • 1. Consider using carbohydrate drinks that contain small amounts of added whey protein during your chosen physical activity (around 20% is a good mark to aim for). Allsports energy fuels Winter Training Formula and Summer Training Formula both contain whey protein.
  • 2. Start your recovery nutrition immediately after exercise - consume your chosen rapid recovery formula straightaway, but then don't forget about your recovery diet. Choose carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, rice, beans or lentils combined with high quality proteins such as milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese or fresh fish. Most of these foods contain good levels of electrolytes too, so these will automatically be topped up when you eat a meal.
  • 3. Topping up your chosen protein with a leucine supplement will further increase its effectiveness in the recovery process. Allsports Jumbo BCAA tablets contain a high level of leucine, alongside proteins such as Spectrum Whey or Spectrum Whey+ you will be able to achieve optimum leucine levels.

Maximising Cycling Performance. P.Perf. A.Hamilton

Boost Your Natural Immunity this Winter

Committed athletes are constantly in danger of overtraining. New ideas that could shed seconds off your PB are irresistible but in the cold light of day they can prove one step to far for your body, you contract a viral infection then end up resting for days, running the risk of losing fitness not gaining it.
There are a few things that athletes can do though to maximise their own natural immunity and reduce the risk of infections and illness. Here are our suggestions:


Carbohydrate Intake
Your normal diet should provide ample carbohydrate at all times. Carbs are not the enemy - the human body is essentially a highly complex machine that requires a balance of different fuels (nutrients) to keep all of its components working efficiently. A balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water is the key - not omitting any one of these groups. Low-carb diets should be avoided, and during training sessions longer than 90 minutes or very intense sessions, 500-1000ml of carbohydrate drink containing 60g of carbs per litre should be ingested every hour. What is the science behind this? Studies have shown that athletes training in a glycogen-depleted state after spending several days on a low-carb diet have a much higher release of stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) than those training under normal dietary conditions. This enhanced stress hormone release is linked to a decrease in immune function.

Diet Quality
Immunity can be adversely affected by any number of nutrient deficiencies. Athletes should always ensure their diet is rich in whole unprocessed foods, fruits, vegetables, high quality proteins and is low in fast/processed foods. A broad spectrum multivitamin/mineral supplement is beneficial in preventing a nutrient shortfall in one particular area - most of us have likes and dislikes when it comes to food which can create an imbalance of nutrients.


Vitamin C
Deficiencies in any of the vitamins A, E, folic acid, B6, B12 and C can impair immunity, as can deficiencies of the minerals iron, copper, selenium, zinc, magnesium and manganese. Vitamin C is highly susceptible to destruction by cooking processes and exposure to light so is an obvious choice for a supplemental top-up.


The common-sense bit - Lifestyle and Hygiene
Athletes should ensure they get plenty of sleep and relaxation, minimising fatigue and emotional stress where possible. Good hygiene practices of regular hand washing are recommended to reduce the risk of transferring virus particles to the eyes, nose and throat - the open gateways to the immune system!

Peak Performance Special Report: Nutritional Supplements

Embracing Cold Weather Training

Out of season training is the key factor for success in competing months - for the majority of athletes the down-season is Winter. Studies indicate that the increase in energy expended on simply staying warm in cold conditions can rise by up to 5-fold compared to temperate conditions. If you prefer to train outdoors regularly, being prepared for the cold is essential. Whilst the UK has a temperate climate and only occasionally do we experience brutal cold, thanks to the combined effects of wind and rain the body can be chilled to dangerous levels - even if the temperature hasn't yet sunk below zero.

How does the cold make you cold?

Heat is removed from the body via three mechanisms:

1. Contact cooling - this occurs when your skin is in contact with a cold surface, such as immersing parts/all of your body in cold water.

2. Low air temperature cooling - when cold air is breathed in this cools not only the airway but the whole body.

3. Wind cooling - this will exacerbate low air temperature cooling by increasing the rate of heat removal. Damp or wet conditions will create evaporation from the skin which will increase contact cooling - if the skin becomes wet in the rain, wind will enhance evaporation of water from the skin. Each gram of water that evaporates removes heat energy which can add a huge extra cold stress on the body.

So what are the nutritional implications for those training in cold weather or participating in cold weather events?

Carbohydrate

The increase in energy needed just to stay warm means an increase in carbohydrate intake is essential. Carbohydrate needs can be increased further when shivering occurs, particularly when intense. Because fat supplies more than twice the number of calories per gram than carbohydrate, many people have wrongly assumed that high-fat foods are preferable when exercising for long periods in the cold. However in cold conditions carbohydrate oxidation typically rises by 6-fold, whereas fat oxidation rises by only around 2-fold.

Protein

Carbohydrate is crucial for cold weather performance, but there are also benefits of consuming a high protein breakfast before your training session or event. This is because the thermic effect of consuming protein is higher than that for both carbohydrates and fat. This can result in increased body warmth for up to six hours following ingestion of a high protein meal. It is still important though, to start any cold-weather event with your muscles well carbohydrate-loaded from the previous days.

Hydration

You are more likely to become dehydrated in very cold conditions as opposed to mild or cool conditions because during increased exposure to cold your urine losses increase, very cold air that is breathed in doesn't hold as much water vapour and you will still sweat (generally because you are wearing more layers of clothing). So, contrary to what you might expect, in cold conditions you might actually need more fluid than in mild conditions. Athletes who neglect to ensure ample fluid intake can expect to pay a performance penalty.

Hot Drinks

Given the need for a plentiful supply of fluid and the need to stay warm, the use of hot drinks can be particularly useful when training/competing in cold conditions. It takes a lot of energy to warm up water - which means that water will give up alot of energy when it cools down. By consuming a drink that is warmer than your core body temperature, each litre will release heat energy into the body. This is in addition to the energy released when carbohydrate in the drink is broken down to release energy. Hot drinks are therefore highly recommended if you're struggling to maintain heat balance.

Applying the science

Take advantage of your ability to cold acclimatise - you don't need to wait for the weather, just wear less warm garments. (Though it is not recommended to do your first few acclimatising sessions in remote areas, you may need a quick escape to warmth!).

Factor in the effects of wind chill - don't just consider temperature but how hard the wind is blowing.

Consider a high protein breakfast on cold weather training days, but be sure to include some good quality carbohydrate too.

During the training/event carbohydrate is king. Consume plenty in a little and often system - try to use warm drinks so as not to add to the loss of heat through core-cooling cold drinks. Hot drinks are a useful additional source of heat if you are struggling to stay warm.

Don't Give Up on the Cuppa!

Caffeine is a popular supplement for endurance athletes for a very good reason: numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that it can significantly enhance performance by extending endurance and reducing fatigue - probably by blocking the passage of 'fatigue signals' to the brain.


However, one of the curious aspects of caffeine supplementation is that while it works extremely well for most athletes, there is a degree of individuality in response - some athletes mysteriously fail to derive any significant benefits. One theory for this is that in athletes who regularly consume dietary caffeine there may be a degree of habituation (i.e. caffeine tolerance), so athletes choose to refrain from teas, coffees and cola drinks in the run up to a race. A new study by Brazilian scientists, however, suggests that your day-to-day caffeine intake is actually irrelevant in determining your response to acute caffeine ingested before and/or during a race.

The Research
A study was conducted (double-blind, crossover, counterbalanced) whereby 40 endurance cyclists were allocated into three groups depending on their daily caffeine intake: 1. Low intake (around one strong cup of tea); 2. Moderate intake (around two cups of coffee); 3. High intake (around five cups of coffee). All cyclists then completed three separate time trials in a random order on three different occasions either consuming a caffeine supplement, a placebo supplement or neither (the control condition).

The times of each trial were then recorded.

The Results
When the data was analysed the first finding was the the cyclists all performed significantly better when they took caffeine (an average time of 29mins 55secs, compared to 30mins 49secs (placebo) and 31mins 08secs (control)). More importantly though, there was no difference in time-trial times across the three groups, and the degree of improvement was unrelated to the amount of caffeine that he/she usually consumed in their daily diet.The amount of caffeine consumed in the diet also bore no relationship to the levels of perceived exertion experienced when the caffeine was/wasn't consumed before the time trial.

The Verdict
The researchers concluded that the performance effects of acute caffeine supplementation during a 30 minute cycling time trial were not influenced by the level of day-to-day caffeine consumption, which is great news for those who love their daily cuppa, be it tea or coffee. It means there is no need to abstain from caffeine for days or weeks running up to an event where you will be using caffeine supplements - your body does not build uo a tolerance to caffeine supplements through drinking teas and coffees as part of your daily diet.

There is no need to forgo your daily cuppa in order to benefit from caffeine as a performance enhancer. Hurray!

References: J Sports Sci. 2011 Mar;29(5):509-15; Peak Perf. Iss 366-26

The Power of Warm-Ups

PAP and Warm-Ups

Previous research has shown that including some very high-resistance exercises such as high load leg presses in a warm up procedure before a subsequent 20km time trial, can produce a dramatic increase in cycling performance. The answer to this lies in something known as post-activation muscle potentiation (PAP), which is a well-established phenomenon in sport. Whilst the science of PAP is sound, the problem for most cyclists (or any endurance athlete) about to embark on an event is that leg-press machines or squat racks are not usually found near the start line. To resolve this, researchers have been exploring whether a more practical warm up applying the same principles could be an effective alternative - and the results look promising.

The Research

A team of British researchers at the University of Chester looked at whether they could induce PAP in the leg muscles by using a more convenient alternative to weight loading - some high intensity bursts on the bike during the pre-race warm up routine. They tested 10 well-trained male endurance cyclists, performing 2 x 4km time trials on separate occasions with two different warm up procedures: the first warm up was simply pedalling at low intensity , the other was low intensity pedalling combined with 3 x 10 second bursts at 70% of peak power.

The Results

The key finding was that when the cyclists performed the PAP-inducing warm up containing the high intensity bursts, they completed the time trial significantly faster, knocking just under two seconds off and averaging five extra watts of power. More research is of course needed to determine the best combination of burst intensity, length and recovery interval, but for now 3 x 10 second bursts with a 30 second recovery time between each is a good place to start.

More Suggestions

Start with five minutes at low to moderate intensity pedalling then add in the bursts.

Ensure the bursts are performed at the end of the warm-up and that no longer than ten minutes elapses between the end of your warm up and the beginning of the event (as the PAP effects will fade after this time).

Use a relatively high gear for your bursts - this will increase the force and involvement of fast-twitch muscles fibres in your legs, which will enhance the PAP effects.

The PAP method can be applied to other endurance sports and is not just cycling-specific. You just need to find a convenient way to add in high-intensity effort bursts near to the start line of your chosen event.

Reference: Andrew Hamilton, Peak Performance Issue 364

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