A recent meta-analysis by Brazilian and English universities found significant evidence of an ergogenic effect from taking beta-alanine supplements. Beta-alanine increases muscle carnosine content, which improves the body’s ability to buffer hydrogen ions produced during high-intensity exercise. This can potentially delay fatigue and reduce perceptions of fatigue by delaying a rise in acid levels. A dose of 3-6g per day is recommended, though the research showed a greater effect when ingested with sodium bicarbonate. But beware: this combo can cause sickness!
2. THOROUGH WARM-UP
Next time you’re competing in a triathlon, you might be wise to slip into a Dryrobe after your swim warm-up. A team from Canberra University investigated the effects of completing additional warm-up strategies in the transition phase between the pool warm-up and the start of the race. These included dry-land exercises and passive warming via a heated jacket. The researchers showed that swim performance improved by 0.8% with the more strategic warming protocols, thanks to a lower reduction in core temperature
3. PROTEIN OVERLOAD
It’s generally accepted that a 20g hit of post-exercise protein results in optimal muscle repair, but a study from Stirling University suggests that 40g could be better. The study showed that with 40g, muscle protein synthesis increased after whole-body exercises that utilise large-muscle groups (the 20g figure came from smaller-muscle studies). Exercise physiologist Asker Jeukendrup concludes, though, that the current guidelines are a great starting point: 20-25g of protein containing 8-10g of essential amino acids and 3g of leucine at regular (3-4hr) intervals.
Protein: how much do you need when training and racing?
4. GIVE YOURSELF WINGS
To give your session a boost, try a shot of Red Bull. A study by Diego Souza of Londrina State University, Brazil, analysed 34 papers looking at the acute effects of caffeine-containing energy drinks on physical performance. Though caffeine produced a nominal improvement in strength and endurance, taurine realised an even greater boost in performance. Taurine is a free-form amino acid first discovered in the bile of bulls (hence the Red Bull name), and is utilised by the body during exercise and times of stress. Be warned: too much Red Bull can increase anxiety.
5. PERFORMANCE GAINS FROM TECHNICAL FABRICS
Pondering whether to buy that merino base layer and Lycra run tights or ‘be hard’ and slip into vest and shorts? Recent research suggests that the former combo is well worth the outlay. A Scandinavian team examined the effects of skin and core tissue cooling on oxygenation of the vastus lateralis, one of the four muscles that makes up the quadriceps, during walking and running. (Measuring the amount of oxygen swimming around in your bloodstream is a good indicator of how hard you can exercise.)
The team showed that skin cooling had no impact on oxygenation levels, but that core tissue cooling led to greater deoxygenation of the thigh muscle before the session had even begun, because the subjects’ metabolism sucked up larger quantities of oxygen simply to keep warm. This has performance repercussions: reduced oxygen levels resulted in early cessation of a bike or run effort and greater discomfort. Of course, mechanisms such as shivering mitigate reductions in core temperature, but don’t take the risk – insulate with breathable fabrics and you’ll not only extract more from a session, you’ll also reduce the chances of a muscle strain.