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The Science Behind Your Training – Proving the Fitness Myths

Whether you have aspirations to one day be an elite level athlete, or you’re simply looking to push past your PB in the gym it’s likely you’ll look into anything that could give you the edge. But how can you actually know what’s going to work? There’s always the latest fads. Does beetroot actually improve performance? Can coffee before training really have an impact?

Well, to truly understand these questions, we put it to the test. We tested four well known supplements measuring improvements on speed, power, and endurance as well as the impact on heart rate and RPE (rate of perceived exhaustion).

Our Subject

Our test subject was a well-trained mid 30-year-old male. He is 6.2’ and 72kg. He is an experienced runner, cyclist and triathlete.

The Test

The test was a 20km time trial performed on a Wattbike. The distance is one often performed by amateur cyclists, but it also represented a realistic personal training session time, as well as an excellent fitness test distance.

Our test subject was required to cycle the distance initially without any supplements, giving us a control time. He was then tested on four separate occasions over the same distance, on the same bike, in the same conditions; each time one of the four supplements was used.

The Four Supplements and their Proposed Benefits

We chose to measure our subject using the following four supplements:

  • Isotonic Gel – One SiS GO Isotonic Gel 60 minutes pre-trial

  • Caffeine – 4mg/kg 60 minutes pre-trial

  • Nitrate (Beetroot Juice) – 400mg dietary nitrate 60 minutes pre-trial

  • Beta Alanine – 1.5g between meals in the two days leading up to the trial

Isotonic Gel - Proposed Benefits

Isotonic gels are designed to offer readily absorbable carbohydrate to provide rapidly available energy. This may be useful if you have not eaten for a while to have sufficient glycogen (energy) in your muscles to fuel your efforts.

Caffeine – Proposed Benefits

Caffeine has been found to reduce feelings of exertion during endurance exercise for a given workload.

Beetroot Juice – Proposed Benefits

Dietary nitrate leads to increased blood flow; reducing oxygen demand from the muscles. This enables them to work more efficiently. This can lead to reduced RPE and increased performance markers leading to reduced time trial time.

Beta Alanine – Proposed Benefits

Beta alanine is proposed to work as a buffer inside the cells. This means that when we exercise, the pH drop that usually occurs, resulting in fatigue is slowed down. This should result in decreased RPE leading to increased time trial performance.

What did we measure?

In order to enable us to understand the full picture across the four supplements, we measured the following:

  • Heart Rate (HR) – Number of beats per minute (maximum is generally considered as 220 minus your age)

  • RPE (rate of perceived exertion) – An athlete’s perception of how hard/intense the exercise is

  • Power – Measured in Watts - This is the force that an athlete can apply to the pedals

  • Speed – Measured in Km/h

  • Time to reach 20km

Putting it to the test – Can we Boost Performance?

Let’s take a look at the overall picture before we break it down and analyse each individual supplement.

Overall Time and Percentage Difference

Chart showing the effects of different supplements

Graph showing the effect of different supplements in blue

Chart showing the effect of different supplements in green

The above tables illustrate that each supplement had a direct impact on the speed our subject was able to complete the 20km time trial. Beta Alanine enabled him to complete it with the quickest time, followed by Caffeine. The difference between Beetroot and Isotonic Gel is just too close to call.

Overall Speed and Percentage Difference

Chart to show the effect and %25 difference of different supplements on the body
Chart to show the effect of different supplements on speedChart to show %25 difference of speed when using different supplements

The above charts again show us that when taking each of the four supplements, the subject was able to achieve a quicker speed in each of his subsequent trials. Again Beta Alanine comes out on top, with Caffeine second. Beetroot Juice just loses out to Isotonic Gel.

Overall Power and Percentage Difference

Chart showing the effect of different supplements on speed over distance
Chart showing power output under the effect of different supplements
chart showing the %25 difference of power after taking different supplements

In the power stakes Beta Alanine is again out in front, with Caffeine coming in a close second once again. The difference between the Isotonic Gel and Beetroot Juice is again close with Beetroot just pipping it.

Looking at the Individual Supplements

We’ve seen the overall performance and can rank our supplements from best to worst, but can we delve a little deeper to understand how each supplement impacted our test subject across all factors, and what our explanation for their improved performance really is.

  1. Beta Alanine

Our findings

  • Heart rate –higher than control trial

  • RPE – very similar to control

  • Average power – 6.6% greater than control

  • Average speed – 2.6% faster than control

  • Time to reach 20km - 2.5% faster than control test

Our explanation

We saw the largest improvement on any of the supplements we investigated. Potentially, this could have been increased further as some recommendations advocate a week loading period and we only used two days.

  1. Caffeine

Our findings

  • Heart rate – slightly higher than control trial

  • RPE - slightly greater than control.

  • Average power – 6.4% greater than control.

  • Average speed – 2.3% faster than control

  • Time to reach 20km – 2.2% faster than control test

Our explanation

As the test was not conducted at a set workload there is potential that the caffeine allowed our participant to increase their power output. This resulted in the increased RPE. We would recommend individuals to practice with caffeine to understand how it works for them.

  1. Isotonic Gel

Our findings

  • Heart rate - similar to control trial

  • RPE - slightly greater than control

  • Average power - 4.1% greater than control

  • Average speed - 1.7% faster than control

  • Time to reach 20km - 1.5% faster than control test

Our explanation

There is potential, depending on our subject’s recent food intake, that the gel may have ensured sufficient ready energy for the trial. Typically though, providing the athlete is well fed, this product would be better suited on efforts of 90 minutes plus.

  1. Beetroot Juice

Our findings

  • Heart rate – similar to control trial

  • RPE – Lower in periods than control

  • Average power – 4.3% greater than control

  • Average speed - 1.6% faster than control

  • Time to reach 20km - 1.5% faster than control test

Our explanation

We conclude that the nitrate used in this trial was effective in achieving its proposed effects. It tends to be most effective in efforts up to 30 mins and may work better in amateurs rather than elite athletes likely explaining our good result.


gceditor | 29/12/2016 00:00:00

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