How to choose the best protein powder

We have a food first philosophy here at Dietitian Approved but in some instances, protein powders can have their time and place within a healthy and active lifestyle. As a supplement, that’s exactly what they should be used as; an addition to a balanced diet when you can’t get enough protein through real food for whatever reason.

Protein Powder


Here are some of the reasons we might advise using a protein powder:

  • For convenience. If like us, you have a busy lifestyle and seem to be always on the run!

  • To meet protein needs directly after a heavy strength specific session – where we are trying to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (building new muscle)

  • To make sure your recovery meals tick all the boxes when you’re in a location where real food isn’t feasible. E.g. Post-racing where your recovery meal gets delayed while you’re waiting for your medal :)😂 Or if you struggle to eat post-exercise

  • To bump up the protein of a meal that’s otherwise inadequate to meet your needs. E.g. For those of you who don’t like adding yoghurt to your porridge

 

If you’re thinking about using a protein powder, you first need to ask yourself three questions:

1. Why am I using it?

2. Is it safe?

3. Is it necessary?

 

It’s all too easy to get caught up in clever marketing and the popular opinion that supplements are needed for optimal performance! Once you’ve answered these questions with legitimate answers, the next step is choosing the best protein powder for you. Here are our TOP TIPS to get the best bang for your buck!

1. Ensure it includes enough protein per serve

For optimal muscle protein synthesis look for ~20-30g of protein per serve. More doesn’t equal better when it comes to protein. Anything above this amount in one sitting is a waste as it doesn’t increase the rate of protein synthesis any further (1). And guess where it goes? Straight down the toilet! That’s right – we pee it out.

 2. Choose a protein of high biological value

Not all protein sources are created equal. This is measured by the biological value of the protein. High biological value means two things:
1) it contains all 9 essential amino acids (the ones our body can’t make itself) needed to build and repair muscle and
2) the ratio of these amino acids are similar to what is needed by our body (1).
High biological value proteins are typically whey or milk protein based, but includes egg and some soy proteins as well.

Plant based sources of protein are often missing essentials amino acids and are in a different ratio than what’s required by the body, making them lower in biological value (1). Not to say they are bad, as they can still be matched with a complimentary protein source to provide all essential amino acids between the two sources, but a larger quantity is likely needed as we don’t absorb these as well. Plant-based protein powders are a good choice if you’re vegan or sensitive to lactose or milk proteins.

Protein quality is also influenced by how fast it can be digested, meaning how quickly it can reach your muscles for synthesis and repair. Whey protein has both a high biological value and is rapidly digested, giving this protein powder a great big tick ✔️.  

3. Get enough Leucine

Leucine is a particular amino acid that works as a catalyst for muscle protein synthesis. It’s one of the building blocks required, but it’s also the switch that turns on muscle protein synthesis. Look for a protein that contains 2-3g of Leucine per serve (1). This amount is normally found in 20-25g of high biological value protein (animal protein sources such as whey and meats), but is something to look for when buying a plant-based protein as it can be added.

4. Skip the stimulants

Protein powders advertised to have an ‘energising’ effect can sometimes contain caffeine and other random ingredients. If you’re an evening trainer and plan to use protein powder post-session, avoid a product that contains stimulants. Even small amounts of caffeine can compromise your sleep quality and impact your recovery (check out our previous blog on sleep and recovery).

5. Beware of buzz words

These are the attention-grabbing words that usually sound fantastic but generally just add to the price tag not the quality.

One of our favourites: ‘Weight loss’

Consuming protein in itself will unfortunately not result in weight loss. Supplements with this word generally have an added stimulant or ‘fat-burner’ and we say that loosely as the evidence base on fat burner’s is not currently conclusive (3).

6. Less is more

Remember that the reason you are buying this supplement is for PROTEIN intake, so the smaller the number of ingredients listed, the better. Often cheaper powders contain creamers, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents and other random things to improve the texture of a lower quality product. Also be mindful of random herbs and words you’ve never heard of.

A big one to avoid is “propriety blend”. If the company isn’t open and honest about what a powder is made up of exactly – AVOID IT!

Most protein powders will also have added sugar or sweeteners to make it palatable. If you are choosing a sweetened product, opt for a non-nutritive sweetener like stevia or sucralose to improve the taste without increasing the energy density (2). 

Our Final word

Always try and meet your requirements with real food first! Milk, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds are all great food options that provide protein.  

If you’re unsure if you can meet your requirements then sit down with an Accredited Sports Dietitian before going any further! Then if you decide to incorporate a protein powder choose a high quality protein like whey (unless you’re intolerant/vegan). Go for a brand with minimal ingredients and watch out for buzz words that add to the cost but don’t improve the quality.  

 ADDIT:

We’ve had lots of questions about which particular brands we use. In our cupboard at the moment is Venom WPI
Minimal ingredients, provides 27g of protein per serve, 3g of leucine, hormone-free, grass fed NZ cows and cost effective!
Use code REF1A23CE to get 15% off your first order of $30 or more.
We don’t get any payment or commission for recommending this product (or any product for that matter), we just like it!

References:

(1)   Burke, L., & Deakin, V. (2015). Clinical Sports Nutrition (5th ed.). North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill.

(2)   Azad, M., Abou-Setta, A., Chauhan, B., Rabbani, R., Lys, J., Copstein, L., Mann, A., et al. (2017). Non-nutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 189(28), 929-939. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.161390

(3)   Maughan, R., Burke, L., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D., Peeling, P., Phillips, S., Rawson, E., et al. (2018). IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine52(7), 439–455. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099027

How to Beet Your Best Time and Get the Competitive Edge

Beetroot juice was the secret sauce for many athletes competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games. Lots of countries were using it, but it wasn’t until afterwards that the news about beetroot juice became public knowledge.

Many athletes are looking for that performance edge over their competitors. Most athletes have heard about it, but don’t know how to use it. If you’ve nailed the fundamentals of basic sports nutrition and are looking at taking your racing to the next level, it is essential to add beetroot juice to your race plan.

Why beetroot juice?

What is it about this vegetable that gives you a performance kick? The component responsible for the benefits of beetroot juice is Nitrate. It’s produced within our bodies and is also found in some of the foods we eat, particularly green leafy vegetables, beetroot, processed meats and the water supply.

But the nitrate content varies widely even among the same vegetable variety. Freshness and farming practices play a part in how much nitrate is present by the time it lands on your plate. Vegetables grown with nitrogen-containing fertilisers will have higher levels of nitrate. So if you choose organic produce, these will probably contain lower levels of nitrate compared to non-organic produce.

How does it work?

When ingested, nitrate is absorbed and rapidly converted into nitrite. This circulates in the blood and is converted to nitric oxide under conditions of low oxygen availability (just like when you exercise).

Nitric oxide is a versatile little compound that can improve some of the crucial components needed during exercise. It’s known to play a number of important roles in the regulation of blood flow, hormones and metabolism (1, 2). By using beetroot juice, it’s been shown to (1-3):

  • Reduce resting blood pressure

  • Reduce the oxygen cost of exercise - So you use less oxygen for the same amount of work

  • Reduce time trial performance

  • Increase fuel availability

  • Improve skeletal muscle contraction

  • Improve high-intensity performance

Ticking lots of boxes to allow you to work harder and faster before you reach exhaustion!

Who could it benefit?

Some of you may have already dabbled in beetroot juice supplementation and not noticed any difference. Or you don’t know how to properly use it to your advantage. In fact, you probably won’t be able to tell on a day to day basis. Some people are not as responsive as others...

When we look at the relationship between nitrate and oxygen efficiency you would expect the majority of the benefits to be seen in endurance events where oxygen cost is crucial. But in fact, current research shows inconsistent results in longer events of sub-maximal intensity (e.g. an Ironman) (3-5). More research is needed in this space. Whereas if we look at high-intensity exercise (>85-90% VO2max), where our body creates an acidic environment, this is perfect for nitric oxide conversion, helping to improve performance for this type of exercise (5).

Results can also depend on the personal conditioning of the athlete. If you have a higher proportion of Type II muscle fibres that are responsible for powerful bursts of movement, then you’ll likely see more benefit from nitrate use. Also, if you’re more on the beginner/weekend warrior end of the athlete spectrum, you’re more likely to see improvements compared to a highly trained, elite level athlete.

The protocol

More research is definitely needed, but current protocols suggest taking 5-6mmol (or ~300mg) 2-2.5hours before exercise. There are a few concentrated products that help you do this – Beet It (300mg) and Go Beet shots (260mg).

For longer events, e.g. triathlon, road cycling, marathons – 1 shot 2-2.5hrs before may not be enough, so add an additional shot closer to the start of the race (as tolerated).

Potential side effects

Good news here! The side effects appear to be few and far between. With the most common issue reported being temporary and harmless pink discolouration of urine and stools (1,3). Some athletes do report gastrointestinal tract discomfort (1,3) though so this is definitely something to trial in training before using for the first time on race day.

Take home message

In summary, if you’ve got the foundations nailed, want to race faster and improve your performance, make sure you look at introducing beetroot juice into your bag of tricks. If you want more great tips like these to enhance your performance, sign up for our regular newsletter where we share evidence-based sports nutrition tips for everyday athletes HERE.

We’re interested to hear from anyone that has played with beetroot juice supplements already so please comment below if you have and share your experiences!

Remember if you don’t use beetroot juice, chances are your rivals are and will have an advantage over you on race day. When you start using this secret sauce correctly, you’ll reach your full potential!

References

(1)  Burke, L., & Deakin, V. (2015). Clinical Sports Nutrition (5th ed.). North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill.

(2)  Dyakova, E.Y., Kapilevich, L.V., Shylko, V.G., Popov, S.V., & Eanfinogenova, Y. (2015). Physical exercise associated with NO production: Signalling pathways and significance in health and disease. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 3. doi:10.3389/fcell.2015.00019

(3)  Jones, A.M. (2014). Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance. Sports Medicine, 44(1), p35-45. doi: https://doi-org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/10.1007/s40279-014-0149-y

(4)  Mcmahon, N.F., Leveritt, M.D., & Pavey, T.G. The Effect of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation on Endurance Exercise Performance in Healthy Adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 47(4), p735-756. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0617-7

(5)  Van De Walle, P., & Vukovich, D. (2018). The Effect of Nitrate Supplementation on Exercise Tolerance and Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(6), 1796–1808. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002046

Turmeric – the next big sports nutrition supplement?

As the Turmeric latte surges to the front of the trend list, what is it about this spice that’s causing all the hype? We take a look at what it is, the potential benefits and how to include it in your diet.

Why the hype?

Turmeric is a golden yellow spice that has been used for centuries in Indian cooking. Turmeric contains the bioactive compound Curcumin, which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s claimed to have a positive effect on heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, colorectal cancer and many other conditions. Be mindful though that research for these benefits has been done in vitro (in a petri dish) or in animal models (mostly rats) which is difficult to extrapolate to humans. The research in humans is limited and more trials are needed.

How much Turmeric and Curcumin may benefit?

It’s not as simple as adding a little turmeric to your latte or smoothie. Curcumin makes up <5% of turmeric. In its naturally occurring state, curcumin has very low bioavailability in humans (i.e. it’s poorly absorbed). Partly due to its low intestinal absorption and partly due to its rapid metabolism. Based on research to date, oral supplementation in the range of 80-500mg is likely to be required, however studies have shown doses as high as 8000mg being insufficient to increase levels of curcumin in the blood (1, 2, 3). The jury is still out on exactly how much curcumin and in what form is required to reap the benefits.

Increasing Curcumin bioavailability

Laboratory testing is currently underway to explore better ways to take curcumin so that it’s more bioavailable, absorbed better and delivered directly to the required tissue. Taken orally, it seems to stay in our digestive system and pass through without being absorbed into the blood stream.

It is possible to enhance curcumin absorption by combining it with piperine, a black pepper extract. One study found that 20mg of piperine paired with 2000mg of curcumin increased curcumin bioavailability by 2000% (4).

Curcumin is also fat soluble so it’s possible to increase absorption by consuming with fat soluble components e.g. oils or traditionally gum ghatti. There is also current research occurring to produce water soluble curcumin supplements.

Curcumin – the next big sports nutrition supplement

In the sports nutrition space – it has been suggested that Curcumin supplementation may acutely blunt DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), improve tendon healing and play an anti-inflammatory role in tendinopathy. Preliminary studies however (5, 6, 7) have failed to show a statistically significant difference between curcumin supplementation and placebo groups. There are a number of reasons why (small sample size, curcumin dose and bioavailability, fitness level of participants) and further work is required to develop appropriate protocols for athletes.

Is there any risk associated with supplementing curcumin?

Due to its low bioavailability and low concentration in turmeric, it is unlikely that you can over consume curcumin in its naturally occurring form. However, supplementation has shown side effects when taken in higher doses.

Curcumin has potential interactions with antiplatelet and anticoagulant medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, salicylates, and thrombolytic agents which may cause bleeding. Taken on an empty stomach, especially in high doses, it may cause nausea and diarrhoea. The safety of curcumin supplements during pregnancy and lactation is also not established. As with any supplement, speak to your doctor or sports dietitian to see if it is suitable for you.

Take home message

Watch this space. Curcumin potentially has some benefit but it’s not a miracle spice that will cure the qualms of the world. There’s no harm in using it in a normal dose – but be careful with a high dose supplement until we know more.

Tips to include more turmeric in your diet

  • Sprinkle on your oats: this works well with the flavours of coconut milk in particular
  • Add to a smoothie or juice
  • Stir through scrambled eggs, it takes a mild, interesting flavour and gives it a beautiful colour
  • Add to rice during cooking
  • Add to mince mixes: whether it’s burger patties or cottage pie, a little spice will brighten the flavour
  • Soups, casseroles and stews: a curry is not a curry without turmeric, but you can add a mild Indian flavour to soups, casseroles and stews with a little turmeric
  • Sprinkle on roast vegetables, particularly root vegetables such as potato, parsnip and sweet potato
  • Spice up your salads with a pinch in your salad dressing. This works well with lemon based dressings

 

Turmeric Scrambled eggs

References:

1. Lao, C.D., Ruffin, M.T., Normolle, D., Heath, D.D., Murray, S.I., Bailey, J.M., Boggs, M.E., Crowell, J., Rock, C.L. and Brenner, D.E. (2006) BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6(1), p. 10. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-6-10.

2. Cheng, A.L., Hsu, C.H., Lin, J.K., Hsu, M.M., Ho, Y.F., Shen, T.S., Ko, J.Y. and Lin, J.T. (2001) ‘Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions’, Anticancer Research, 21(4B), pp. 2895–2900.

3. Dhillon, N., Aggarwal, B.B., Newman, R.A., Wolff, R.A., Kunnumakkara, A.B., Abbruzzese, J.L., Ng, C.S., Badmaev, V. and Kurzrock, R. (2008) ‘Phase II trial of Curcumin in patients with advanced Pancreatic cancer’, Clinical Cancer Research, 14(14), pp. 4491–4499. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.ccr-08-0024.

4. Shoba, G., Joy, D., Joseph, T., Majeed, M., Rajendran, R. and Srinivas, P. (1998) ‘Influence of Piperine on the Pharmacokinetics of Curcumin in animals and human volunteers’, Planta Medica, 64(04), pp. 353–356. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-957450.

5. McFarlin, B.K., Venable, A.S., Henning, A.L., Sampson, J.N.B., Pennel, K., Vingren, J.L. and Hill, D.W. (2016) ‘Reduced inflammatory and muscle damage biomarkers following oral supplementation with bioavailable curcumin’, BBA Clinical, 5, pp. 72–78. doi: 10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.02.003.

6. Tanabe, Y., Maeda, S., Akazawa, N., Zempo-Miyaki, A., Choi, Y., Ra, S.-G., Imaizumi, A., Otsuka, Y. and Nosaka, K. (2015) ‘Attenuation of indirect markers of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage by curcumin’, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(9), pp. 1949–1957. doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3170-4.

7. Drobnic, F., Riera, J., Appendino, G., Togni, S., Franceschi, F., Valle, X., Pons, A. and Tur, J. (2014) ‘Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): A randomised, placebo-controlled trial’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), p. 31. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-31.

Sports Supplements

Words by Accredited Sports Dietitian, Taryn Richardson, Dietitian Approved

Sports Supplements are everywhere!  I struggle to keep up with the latest products on the market with new brands popping up every week. As many athletes search for that ‘magic bullet’, sports supplements have become a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, a recent study found that 40-70% of athletes take supplements.

A nutrition supplement, as the name suggests, is designed to supplement the diet and should never replace it. My approach as a dietitian is always “food-first” as your day-to-day nutrition is where you will see the greatest health and performance benefits long term. Supplements are considered the sprinkles, on the icing on the cake. It’s important to get the foundations of a balanced, healthy diet in training right first (the sponge), before adding the icing and even considering the sprinkles.

Supplements typically fall into three main categories: Sports foods and fluids, Medical supplements and Performance supplements.

Sports foods and fluids

These include an extensive list of sports drinks, gels, chomps, bloks, bars, protein powders and recovery drinks. They are easily accessible, portable, convenient and provide concentrated nutrients when real food may not be practical.  In most situations though, real foods can take the place of sports foods if you’re organised. Sports foods and fluids can be expensive, may be completely unnecessary, are energy dense and can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people.

Medical supplements

Are used to treat a known deficiency such as Iron or Vitamin D for a short period of time. They can be pills, potions or powders and should only be taken when recommended by a doctor, accredited sports dietitian or other health professional after a blood test and/or diet review. Taking un-prescribed medical supplements can be dangerous and have harmful long-term effects. 

Performance supplements

Approved ergogenic aids or performance-enhancing supplements have been proven in scientific trials to provide a performance benefit, when used according to a specific protocol in a specific situation in sport. Things like caffeine, creatine and bicarb form part of this list. However there are many other popular supplements on the market promising remarkable super-human powers that don’t deliver. In some cases, these supplements may actually impair health or performance.

Stay safe

A recent study found that 80% of certain supplements didn’t contain what the label said (scary). The risk of contamination with banned substances is real and should be at the forefront of every athletes mind. Especially now that age group drug testing is a common occurrence. The supplement industry is largely unregulated, and traces of banned substances can find themselves in products by accident. You can take responsibility by checking your product on the ASADA website. You can also look for products that have been through a contamination screening process such as Informed Sport or Hasta in Australia. 

Be smart

Be an informed supplement user. Before purchasing anything, do you research and talk to a professional. Ask yourself three questions – Is it safe? Is it legal? Does it really work? If it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it probably is. Everyone has an opinion but be mindful that what works for one, may not work for another. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you work out what supplements are best for you and your sport.

Source: projetopedalando.com.br

Happy Training

Taryn

Dietitian Approved

Chocolate & Sports Performance – the next big thing?

There’s been lots of talk in the media about chocolate being good for you. From lowering blood pressure to increasing HDL cholesterol, it’s the new wonder drug (apparently). Dark chocolate in particular is rich in cocoa, which is the seed part of the cocoa tree. Cocoa is rich in a compound called flavanols, a potent antioxidant also found in fruits, vegetables, tea and red wine.

Image Source: hungryforever.com

Image Source: hungryforever.com

Research is emerging in the general population of a positive effect of flavanols on cognitive, visual and brain function. It has also been suggested that flavonoid and polyphenol compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, improve blood flow and insulin sensitivity. There is however limited research of a performance benefit in the healthy, athletic population.

Chocolate lovers may take solace in a new study out of the UK, the first of its kind in fact.
Researchers found that dark chocolate enhanced performance in a small group of cyclists when compared to white chocolate.

Let’s take a closer look…..

A group of 9, “moderately trained” cyclists were put through their paces in the lab. Their baseline VO2max was measured before completing a 20min ride at 80% of their gas exchange threshold, followed by a 2 minute all-out time trial. In a crossover design, they then consumed 40g of either flavanol rich dark chocolate or flavanol deficient white chocolate for 2 weeks before repeating the exercise testing again. After a 7 day washout period, cyclists crossed over and repeated 14 days of the chocolate supplementation (white or dark) and repeated the testing again. 

What did they find?

Dark chocolate consumption resulted in a 17% increase in distance covered in the 2 minute TT compared to baseline (~300m) and a 13% increase compared to white chocolate (~200m). Dark chocolate supplementation also increased gas exchange threshold by 21% from baseline and was 11% higher compared to white chocolate. There was no difference between groups in the 20min moderate intensity cycle, heart rate, blood pressure or blood lactate. 

Dark chocolate/Flavanols seem to act in a similar way to beetroot juice, but through different mechanisms. Beetroot juice is high in nitrates which convert to nitric oxide in the body, assisting to reduce the oxygen cost during sub-maximal exercise. The flavanols found in dark chocolate appear to increase nitric oxide bioavailability. Are you still with me?

Critically thinking - A few things to note:

  • You can’t effectively blind participants to the trial as it would be obvious whether you were consuming dark or white chocolate due to its distinct taste – this may have caused a placebo effect if participants believed dark chocolate would be of benefit.
  • The cyclists were regular punters, within a healthy weight range (just) BMI 23.75-24.55kg/m2, but were far from elite athletes with VO2 max values only 41.90 +/- 5.4ml/kg/min. (A typical cyclists VO2 max would roughly sit around 80-90ml/kg/min; so double this). 
  • Diet was essentially only controlled in the 24hrs preceding exercise testing. There are many confounding food choices that could have affected the results such as nitrate concentration or carbohydrate quality of the diet.
  • Dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine – caffeine is well established as a performance enhancing supplement and may in part be responsible for the observed performances.
  • The flavanol concentration of the chocolates were never specifically tested so conclusions can not be based on the flavanol explicitly. 

So where to from here?

The study, while only small, certainly shows some merit and warrants further research in the area. At the end of the day, what harm can come from consuming 40g of dark chocolate each day?

To prevent unwanted weight gain, stick to no more than 40g/day (2-3 squares) and choose chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids to ensure you’re getting the highest concentration of flavanols.

Move over coconut oil, beetroot dark chocolate will be the next big thing– you heard it here first :)

References:

  1. Baker, L.B., Nuccio, R.P. and Jeukendrup, A.E., 2014. Acute effects of dietary constituents on motor skill and cognitive performance in athletes.Nutrition reviews, 72(12), 790-802.
  2. Nehlig, A. 2013. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75, 716-727.
  3. Malaguti, M., Angeloni, C. and Hrelia, S., 2013. Polyphenols in exercise performance and prevention of exercise-induced muscle damage. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity.
  4. Patel, R. K., Brouner, J. & Spendiff, O. 2015. Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 1-8.

 

Caffeine - Performance nutrition

Caffeine is a widely used, socially acceptable stimulant.
cappucino

 

It is found naturally in the leaves, beans and fruits of a variety of plants. The most common dietary sources of caffeine include tea, coffee, cola, energy drinks, chocolate and supplemented sports foods like gels and shots. It is rapidly absorbed and transported to all body tissues and organs where it exhibits a complex range of actions. Effects include the mobilisation of fat from adipose tissue (yes please!) and the muscle cell, changes to muscle contractility, lowering the perceived rate of exertion (how hard you feel you’re working), effects on the heart muscle and stimulation of adrenaline (our fight or flight hormone).

The major benefit of taking caffeine on exercise performance appears to be achieved by central nervous system effects, which can help reduce perception of effort and fatigue, effectively allowing you to train or race harder and longer.

Who would benefit?

There is a solid body of evidence that supports caffeine use to enhance endurance exercise performance, with studies dating back to the 1970s. Caffeine has a half–life of approximately 6-7 hours, with peak blood concentrations occurring around 45-60 minutes. Individuals respond differently, some feel energised, focused and ready to perform; others don’t feel or notice any perceptual changes; and, some are affected negatively suffering from nervousness, gut upset, anxiety, irritability, headaches, heart palpitations and an inability to focus. Given the varied response it’s important to trial caffeine in training before any thought of introducing it into a race.

How much and when?

Previous recommendations for caffeine use during exercise were around 6mg/kg body mass (420mg for a 70kg athlete), consumed 60min prior to the start of exercise. More recent evidence suggests doses as low as 1-3mg/kg body weight (70-210mg for a 70kg athlete) are enough to enhance endurance performance.

Caffeine taken before exercise, spread throughout the event, or taken late in the race when fatigue starts to set (i.e. an IM) appear to assist exercise performance. Furthermore, caffeine withdrawal for a few days doesn’t appear to enhance the beneficial effects of caffeine use during exercise for habitual users.

If you currently use caffeine or are intending to use it, start with a low dose (1mg/kg) in training and build up to develop your own protocol that enhances performance using the lowest effective dose for you. Also play around with taking it 30-60minutes before training, part way through an extended session and/or towards the end of a long session to determine the best protocol for your individual needs.

A word of caution

The effects of high doses of caffeine can be negative such as increased heart rate, anxiety, over-arousal and impaired fine motor control. Also be aware of the side-effects of withdrawal such as headaches and lethargy. The other major factor is that caffeine can interfere with sleep patterns, making it difficult to get to sleep and in turn affecting your body’s ultimate form of recovery. And lastly, it’s not a substitute for quality training and race experience – so caffeine supplementation shouldn’t be considered for younger triathletes.

So what’s the verdict?

Caffeine has a proven performance enhancing benefit for endurance sports like triathlon. If you are considering using it as a supplement, try it in training first! Start at a low dose and manipulate the dose and timing to develop your own personalised protocol. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you individualise your plan and incorporate other nutritional strategies to maximise your performance for training and competing. 

 

Look out for the full article in Triathlon 220 magazine!