To athletic “civilians,” the bodybuilding lifestyle often seems incomprehensible. Likewise, the dietary and training regimens of elite endurance athletes would be considered sacrilegious by most bodybuilders. Yet a select few of us feel a need to combine the height of masochism with the ultimate narcissistic goals; a need to construct a body that performs as good as it looks, inspiring both awe and respect. Such a Herculean task is only possible through meticulous training and diet. However having the right supplements at your disposal makes things a bit easier. Fortunately, science has practically eliminated the line between dietary supplements and drugs, even in the post-ban era (PBE).
So by now (hopefully) you’ve read Part I of this series and enacted a training protocol to fit the requirements unique to your sport. Now, as you stare into the supplement stockade that once housed “the good china” or some other long-lost household amenity, you find yourself faced with a new dilemma: Which of these ergogenic aids will further your endurance-sport goals, and more importantly, which “buffness-boosters” might hinder your athletic performance?
Timing Really is Everything
Whether you’re eating a meal or choking down a few tablespoons of some horrific-tasting “bulk powder,” timing is of utmost importance to reap the maximum benefit. Certain supplements need to be taken hours before an event, others during the event itself, and still others need to be taken for a week or two leading up to the event. Just as meal timing and content is critical to carbing up for either a bodybuilding competition or a triathlon, supplement timing is equally important to ensure maximum efficacy.
One convenient way to ensure you take your supplements at regular times throughout the day is to prepare “med-packs,” or “supp-packs” for our purposes. No one wants to carry four or five bottles of pills with them throughout the day, and even the smallest pillboxes can be bulky and inconvenient. Plastic baggies are cheap, convenient, and can be labeled with a regular pen. For an excellent selection of baggies and small jars/vials for measuring out single doses of powdered supplements, check out McMaster-Carr’s website. Preparing a day or a week’s worth of supp-packs can ensure proper timing. Now, on to the good stuff.
Many supplement formulations, especially endurance/energy products contain one or more B vitamins, usually at large doses, so attention needs to be given to just how much you’re getting. However, a good B-12 supplement taken 20-45 minutes before an endurance event is a great way to supply lasting energy. My personal favorite, next to bi-weekly IM shots of B-12, which require a prescription, is B-12 strips. Similar to the Listerineâ strips for freshening breath, these are available at most drug stores.
If you aren’t sick of hearing about CM, you haven’t been reading any bodybuilding forums, magazines, or talking to anyone at the gym. There’s a good reason for the hype. CM promotes aerobic energy production in muscles by increasing ATP production and decreasing the sensation of fatigue (1). More importantly, it does not cause cramping, dehydration, or “painful pumps” like other products marketed as cell-volumizers. Dosing/Timing: The average dose of CM is 5g a day, split into two servings. CM’s effects become noticeable within three to five days, and include reduced sweating and lower pulse during high-intensity exercise (especially strength/endurance and power/endurance exercises that utilize type-II-A muscle fibers). Also, there is new evidence that the combination of CM and branch-chain amino acids may speed recovery time from intense workouts, be they aerobic or anaerobic. CM has also been shown to have a protective effect against ammonia poisoning and lactic acidosis (2).
A secret of cyclists, mountain-bikers, skiers and bodybuilders alike, Glycerol has the ability to “super-hydrate” muscle cells. According to one study, six highly-trained endurance runners ingested a combination of water/placebo, water/carbohydrate (CHO), or water/glycerol. Highly-trained subjects showed less dehydration after being treated with glycerol/water pre-exercise and no water during exercise, than subjects that consumed no glycerol pre-workout, and only water during the exercise itself (3).
Unlike CM which needs to be taken for approximately five days to reach full efficacy, glycerol can be taken between two and six hours before an event to achieve the desired effect. While bodybuilders use glycerol to “pull” water from under the skin into the muscles to create a more “shredded” and vascular appearance, endurance athletes simply use it to prevent dehydration. Glycerol seems to really shine during hot-weather exercise (can anybody say “beach muscles?). There are a few different protocols for glycerol dosing. Most involve two Tbsp of glycerol followed by 32 oz. H20. Some athletes ingest more, however intestinal distress and cramping are common side effects of over-doing it.
While USP glycerol from lab supply companies is the least expensive alternative (approximately $30 a gallon), most athletes prefer vegetable glycerin, the only difference being that it is derived from vegetable sources. Some people mix glycerol/glycerin (same thing basically) in a 25/1 water/glycerol ratio and drink that. However I find it much easier to choke down two Tbsp, followed by 32 oz H20 (for a 100kg. athlete). My personal favorite glycerol supplement is PBL’s “Liquid Muscle.”
In addition to an adequate serving of kosher vegetable glycerin, each serving contains ten grams of beef protein. Although I cannot find any studies supporting the use of protein with glycerin, “Liquid Muscle” is far superior to regular glycerin, at least from the perspective of increasing vascularity. As far as hyper-hydration for endurance events in excessive heat, regular glycerol may accomplish the same goal. But after all, we’re bodybuilders too, and that “onion-thin-skin and garden hose veins” look gives a competitive edge, even if it is just from psyching out your opponents, or turning heads on the beach.
One warning regarding glycerol that supplement companies rarely mention: the USOC banned glycerol supplements under their anti-doping policy because without adequate water intake, it can actually work as a diuretic (4), causing severe cramping and electrolyte imbalance.
This category is a “no brainer” as far as endurance is concerned, but the bodybuilding-athlete should err on the side of caution. After all, these supplements are loaded with carbs. Choose your favorite. I personally prefer a combination of ½ cal (light) orange juice, carrot juice, POMâ 100% pomegranate juice (just 1.5 oz), a pinch ¼ Tbsp salt, (No room to explain this, just post your questions on the AL forum) and either water or seltzer, depending on how much time I have to burp all the gas out so my gut doesn’t cramp up. You could go w/ any of the dozens of sports drinks available at retail stores. Some even contain CM, glycerol, BCAAs and various citrates to act as acid buffers.
This compound has been used for hundreds of years in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as a general vitality booster. A double-blind placebo controlled study provides proof-positive that Rhodiola does increase athletic endurance (5). In this particular study, one group supplemented w/ Rhodiola for four weeks, while another only supplemented for two days. Measurements were taken on a day to day basis. No differences were seen between the two groups, however, most athletes claim that Rhodiola needs to be taken for a few weeks to maximize the effects. Perhaps Rhodiola’s other positive effects such as decreasing hypoxic fatigue, lowering C-Reactive protein, and alleviating stress call for long-term dosing. An entire paper can be written on this marvelous herb, so for the purposes of endurance, we’ll say that 500mg of a quality Rhodiola product taken twice a day for three days leading up to the event would be sufficient.
Tread With Caution
Baking soda, calcium citrate, and potassium citrate are commonly used by competitive athletes to shuttle lactic-acid out of their muscles. However, in addition to the often massive intestinal distress they sometimes cause, buffering agents can cause cramps, muscle spasms, and even delirium. This of course defeats the purpose of taking them at all. If you choose to use buffering agents, Sodium Bicarbonate is the recommended buffering agent as it has the most positive feedback and has been used the longest. Because of the dangers involved in this practice, I won’t get into dosing. If you’re still interested, look it up yourself.
This one truly falls under the heading “balancing act.” Some CV’s such as AAKG and CM that can increase ATP re-synthesis and improve circulation will help with endurance and recovery. Others, such as creatine monohydrate, will cause painful pumps and cramping. Yes, I know, creatine on its own does not cause cramping; creatine and dehydration do. But what endurance sport does not cause some sort of dehydration? The only feasible use for creatine during endurance sports is if you’re taken out of the game frequently, such as in football, basketball, or soccer, and given time to re-hydrate. Still, that doesn’t even address the painful pump issue. However with the fairly new creatine supplements (DiCreatine-citrate, malate, or Creatine-Ethyl-Ester) the jury’s still out. If any of you endurance athletes have any feedback to offer, I’d sure appreciate it.
These have no place in endurance events. I know what you’re thinking: many athletes rely on amphetamines, ephedrine, and others to give them an extra edge. However pushing your body to its limits is dangerous enough without adding compounds that will increase your blood pressure and pulse, and possibly cause further dehydration.
While its cognitive and even vasodilating properties are undisputed, many athletes who compete at altitude rely on Ginko’s purported ability to prevent hypoxic fatigue. I’ve personally found this to be untrue, and one study found in the Archives of Internal Medicine backs up my assumption, stating that the Ginko group showed no significant improvement from the placebo group. The one drug they did find that drastically improved athletic performance in hypoxic conditions is acetazolomide prophylaxis (6). But we’re talking supplements here, and to quote Mr. Macky from South Park: “Drugs are bad… mmmmkay.”
Congratulations, you’ve made it this far, Mr. Bond… So You’re obviously a member of the rare breed of bodybuilder that cares about more than just how you look naked. This was going to be a three part series: training, supplementation, and diet. But any athlete worth his salt knows that he/she is going to have to up the carbs and total calorie intake for increased performance, and lower them to well, look good naked. So I see no reason for a third part dealing with diet.
The supplements mentioned in this article are just a primer of sorts. There are many other compounds (not to mention drugs) that will aid in strength, body-composition, and endurance. And there are even more that will hinder at least one of those goals.
This article is called “Balancing Act” for a good reason. Accomplishing the goals of building a body that inspires shock and awe based not only on looks, but on performance as well is no easy task. It requires moderation, balance. Come to think of it, so do all things in life. Throw in a hectic work schedule, family commitments, household chores, etc, and the balancing act could easily turn into a tight-rope walk. Perhaps that would have been a more fitting title.