On the hunt for increased performance
In the quest for improved performance, endurance athletes rely heavily on well formulated supplements for that extra edge during training and racing.
It’s not surprising then that a great deal of the research and development budget of supplement manufacturers around the world goes into developing endurance-based products for before, during and after training and competition.
Historically, carbohydrates have been the king of endurance supplements, with carb-only drinks and powders dominating the shelves of supplement retailers and sport stores across the globe.
However, through continued research and the pioneering efforts of a number of forward-thinking sports scientists, that conventional approach has changed – gone are the days of carbo-loading and carb-only race fuel.
During-event nutrition has seen the greatest evolution in terms of supplement options, with a variety of products now on offer, including amino acid-carb blends, and even high energy yielding fat-based products.
The theory that protein in endurance drinks offers athletes a performance benefit has been around for some time, but it’s only in the last five or so years that these products have entered the mainstream.
Products that offer endurance athletes a carb-protein blend for use during exercise, not just afterwards, now have significant science backing their effectiveness, which has seen this product category grow in popularity. Today the range of available carb-protein products is extensive, offering everything from energy drink powders, ready-to-drinks (RTDs) and gels to carb-protein bars.
There are various reasons why adding amino acids to a carb drink benefit endurance. Firstly, through a metabolic process known as gluconeogenesis, the body is able to metabolise amino acids, be it from muscle tissue or ingested protein, to produce glycogen. Up to 10% of an endurance athlete’s energy requirements can come from protein over a prolonged event of three hours or more.
BCAAs are a beneficial source of amino acids for enhance performance and recovery.
However, the greatest benefit of these supplements is undoubtedly the effect they have on limiting muscle damage and aiding recovery. Numerous studies show that a carb-protein drink can positively influence recovery by limiting the degree of muscle damage that occurs, and reducing the inflammatory response and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This obviously has a positive, albeit indirect, effect on performance during subsequent training sessions or races.
When taken during exercise, these products ensure the recovery process starts early, while athletes are still exercising.
It also limits the amount of muscle tissue that is metabolised for energy, and less muscle damage equates to reduced recovery demands after exercise. It is ultimately this muscle-sparing effect that offers the greatest performance benefit to endurance athletes over the long term.
For these reasons, the benefits and importance of optimal nutrition and supplementation after endurance-based activity are also important. Increasingly, athletes are turning to muscle recovery products traditionally used by body builders and strength sport athletes, such as whey, casein and protein blend products, many of which also contain a source of high glyceamic index (GI) carbohydrates to replenish glycogen and aid the absorption of amino acids in the muscle cells.
Protein blends offer endurance athletes the best post-exercise recovery. By replenishing depleted energy stores more efficiently and boosting the recovery process even further, athletes subsequently benefit from improved performance at their next training session or race.