This section is about supplements for increasing muscular strength or extending muscular endurance, rather than increasing overall energy. Most of this information comes from “Optimum Sports Nutrition” by Michael Colgan, and for more details on how these supplements work it is worth reading.
Bicarbonate of soda
In “Optimum Sports Nutrition”, Michael Colgan explains how muscles only work well in a very narrow range of acidity. Exercise produces lactic acid and pyruvic acid, which disrupt links in the energy chain, and limit the amount of exercise you can do. Sodium bicarbonate can reduce this acidity. However, it appears to be effective only for short bursts of anaerobic exercise (2-6 minutes) so it wouldn’t be much use to most cyclists.
The effective dose is 200-300 mg/kg of bodyweight. The side effect of it is explosive diarrhoea in about 50% of people. To overcome this, take it in divided doses every 20 minutes, starting 3 hours before the event and stopping 1 hour before. Drink freely up to 30 minutes before. As this is a high level of sodium, this technique should only be used occasionally, but do try it out once on a training run so you know how you’re going to react to it.
Both anaerobic and endurance exercise drain phosphate from your muscles into your blood. So the need for phosphate from food increases. Supplemental phosphate appears to have three beneficial effects – it buffers muscle acid, helps raise the level of the enzyme that unloads oxygen into muscle, and improves the production and use of glycogen for fuel. It works for both anaerobic and endurance exercise.
Sodium phosphate and possibly potassium phosphate are the effective forms. Calcium phosphate doesn’t work. The effective dose is 4gr per day for 3 days.
Carnitine inhibits build-up of lactic acid and metabolic wastes, helps your body burn fats for fuel, and increases maximum use of oxygen. Most people get enough in their diet but athletes can benefit from extra. Take it an hour before exercise, 2-4 grams a day for 2 weeks to get a performance boost. The downside is that it is very expensive. If it isn’t, check the label – either there’s only a little bit of l-carnitine in the supplement or it’s dl-carnitine or racemic carnitine, which are toxic and don’t work.
Insulin enables the body to deal with sugars and carbohydrates, helps metabolise fats, and helps amino acids get into muscle cells and build muscle. You need enough chromium to ensure than your insulin is doing it’s job properly. Over a period of time, 200-800 mcg chromium picolinate daily can increase lean muscle and decrease body fat, as long as you are doing the right kind of exercise.
There is a lot of interest in creatine at the moment and it appears that it really does work. But it must be taken correctly. What it does is extend your muscle stamina, so that you can work longer without your muscles giving up. If you don’t take advantage of this to train harder than you could unassisted, it won’t do you any good. If you do work your muscles harder, you will get a resultant increase in strength that will stay with you when you stop taking it. (As long as you’re getting enough protein to build muscle.)
If you are looking for something to give you more energy, creatine is not for you. But if you want to increase your muscle size or strength, read on. Michael Colgan explained how to use creatine in Issue One of the Colgan Chronicles. These instructions are for people who are weight training, but the amounts and principles will be the same for cycling.
A word of warning – I have heard talk about creatine possibly causing liver or kidney damage in some people. So don’t go crazy and overdo it. Make sure you don’t exceed the recommended doses, do no more than 4 cycles a year and make sure you stay fully hydrated while taking it.
There is no longer any doubt that supplementary creatine monohydrate can add both muscle mass and strength. Here’s how it works. The phosphocreatine level of your muscle is a rate-limiting factor in energy production. The failure rep in heavy weight training (you should always work to failure), occurs when muscle stores of phosphocreatine become depleted. If you use creatine monohydrate to increase phosphocreatine levels, then you can work at maximum for longer. It’s as simple as that.
How Do I Use It? : Here is the most effective way to use creatine. On the first day take 5 grams, six times, spaced evenly throughout the day, for a total of 30 grams. On the second to sixth days take 5 grams, three times, spaced evenly throughout the day, for a total of 15 grams per day. From the seventh day onwards, take 5 grams per day in the morning. The best way to take it is mixed with grapefruit or cranberry juice. This helps to avoid stomach upset.
Is It Working? : To find out if it is working for you or not, test your strength carefully the weekend before the first day you begin to take it. Test on the major lifts: squats, flat or incline bench press, overhead press on the Smith machine, barbell curl and deadlifts.
Use a three repetition maximum, not a one rep max, for two reasons. First, testing your strength with a one rep max is dangerous and should only be done very occasionally, always with spotters, and only under primo conditions. Second, the one rep max achieved is a poor measure because it depends on balance, position and other variables that are not true measures of strength. A three rep max tends to even out these factors.
On the seventh day, after working out each body part once during the week and taking a rest day on the sixth day, re-test your three rep max. If you have not used creatine before, and if you have done the loading properly, your strength in the major lifts should have increased by 8% – 20%.
How Long Does It Work? : You can take the 5 grams of creatine each day for a period of about six weeks, working out as hard as possible during this time for maximum strength increase. At six weeks the body has probably neutralized the creatine effect. You will not lose your strength increase, because of the heavier workouts you have been able to do.
Then go off creatine for four to six weeks before commencing another cycle. Then re-load as if starting from the beginning. After the first week of the second cycle you should see a strength increase of between 4% & 10%. Used in this way you can do four creatine cycles per year for an overall strength increase of between 20%- 25% above what you could achieve without it.
Is It Toxic? : Creatine is a natural non-toxic body chemical that you excrete daily via kidney filtration into your urine. With normal kidneys, toxicity is unlikely even at continuing dosage levels of 15 grams per day. Remember, make sure you take creatine monohydrate and not the useless creatine phosphate.
No discussion on strength would be complete without mentioning steroids. There is no doubt that they work, but the possible side effects are so severe that they are not worth the risk. They include acne, hair loss in men, facial hair & irreversible masculinisation in women, heart disease, liver damage, prostate cancer, impotence, tendon damage, aggression and mental disorder.