Effects of Strength Training and Flexibility training on Each Other

Introduction

Both strength and flexibility are important for sport performance. In masters athletes both strength and flexibility decrease with age and so become even more important for the competitive masters athlete.

Strength training either by lifting heavy weights or in circuit training has been shown by previous research to improve flexibility. In 2011, a study either doing strength or flexibility training simultaneously or by themselves for 16 weeks and found that strength training also improved both strength and flexibility. However, some research has shown that strength performance when doing weights can be reduced if you do flexibility training beforehand.  The aim of this study was to analyze the strength and flexibility gains after 12 weeks of combined or isolated strength and dynamic flexibility training by experienced older women who had at least 3 years of both strength and flexibility training behind them.

The Research

Twenty-eight trained women (age = 46 ± 6 years; body mass = 57 ± 5 kg; height = 162 ± 5 cm) were randomly divided into 4 groups of 7 people per group: strength training (ST), flexibility training (FLEX), combination of strength and flexibility (ST + FLEX), and combination of flexibility and strength (FLEX + ST). All groups were assessed before and after training for the sit and reach test, goniometry-range of motion about joints, and 10 repetition maximum in bench press and leg press exercises. The training protocol for all groups included training sessions on alternate days and was composed of 8 exercises performed at periodised (gradually increasing) intensities. The FLEX consisted of dynamic stretching performed for a total duration of 60 minutes.

The Results

The results demonstrated significant strength gains in all groups in the leg press exercise. All groups except the FLEX improved in bench press strength with no statistical differences between groups. However, effect sizes ( a measure the size of any changes in measures) demonstrated slightly different effects of training on strength measures for each group. The largest effects on strength measures were calculated for the ST group and the lowest effects in the FLEX group. Both combination groups (ST + FLEX and FLEX + ST) demonstrated lower effect sizes for both leg press and bench press as compared with the ST group. No significant differences in any of the flexibility measures were seen in any group.

So What?

These findings suggest that combining strength and flexibility is not detrimental to flexibility development. However, combined strength and flexibility training may slightly reduce strength development, with little influence of order in which strength or flexibility exercises are performed. For me, both types of training are important for masters athletes. So whatever of the two you want to emphasise is the one you need to emphasise when training the two together in one session.

For more details on strength and flexibility training for masters athletes, check out chapters 7 (Strength training for masters athletes) and 9 (Flexibility training for masters athletes) of my book at: http://www.mastersathlete.com.au

Source: Leite, T. and others (2015) Influence of strength and flexibility training, combined or isolated, on strength and flexibility gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(4): 1083-1088.

Beta-Alanine: Might it be a Supplement of Choice for Masters Athletes?

Introduction

The use of dietary supplements in sports is widespread as athletes young and old are continuously searching for strategies to increase performance at the highest level. Beta-alanine is a supplement that is becoming increasingly popular over recent years. This review examines the available evidence regarding the use of beta-alanine supplementation and the link between beta-alanine and exercise performance in young and older people.

The Research

Beta-alanine supplementation is well-known to increase muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine is known to lower fatigue levelsand improve high-intensity exercise performance through buffering muscle acidity levels. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that chronic beta-alanine supplementation can increase intramuscular carnosine content. On the basis of its biochemical properties, several functions are ascribed to carnosine, of which intramuscular pH buffer and increasing the release of calcium in muscle to increase the force of muscle contraction are the most cited ones. In addition, carnosine has antioxidant properties, suggesting it could have a therapeutic potential in older athletes.

The suggested protocol for taking beta-alanine to increase muscle carnosine levels is taking up to approximately 4-6 gm per day over 4-10 weeks but in smaller regular doses in the day or using a slow-release tablet form. This is because taking more than 800 mg/day (approximately 10 mg/kg of body weight) has been shown to lead to parasthesia or a burning, tingling sensation in the skin. It appears that being an athlete in regular training increases the efficiency of the beta-alainine in increasing carnosine levels in muscles. Stopping ingestion  of the btea-alanine sees the carnosine levels return to pre-supplementing levels after 6-20 weeks. Maintenance of muscle carnosine levels appears to be maintained by beta-alanine intakes of about 1.2 gm/day.

What about the effect of beta-alanine supplementation on sports performance. Research suggest chronic beta-alanine supplementation increases muscle carnosine concentration leading to improved exercise performance in high-intensity exercise lasting 1-4 minutes after loading for 4 plus weeks. Some small but positive effect has been noticed in 2000m rowing performance (6-7 minutes all-out) but the effect drops off dramatically in longer endurance events. For example, in 2014, a study by Chung and others examined the effect of doubling muscle carnosine by supplementing with oral beta-alanine. Based on previous research that showed that muscle carnosine loading through chronic oral beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to be effective for improving short-duration, high-intensity exercise, the researchers wanted to see what effect it might have on one-hour cycling performance in athletes. 27 well-trained cyclists/triathletes were supplemented with either beta-alanine or a placebo (6.4 g/day) for 6 weeks. Time to completion and physiological variables for a 1-hr cycling time-trial were compared between pre-and post-supplementation. In conclusion, chronic beta-alanine supplementation in well-trained cyclists had a very pronounced effect on muscle carnosine concentration and a moderate buffering effect on the acidosis associated with lactate accumulation, yet without affecting 1-h cycling time-trial performance under laboratory conditions. Similarly, research has also shown that beta-alanine supplementation has no positive effect on repeat sprint performance such as that in road cycling or team sports.

In older non-athletes there is some evidence to suggest beta-alanine may have benefits on performance. Del Favero and others (2012) found that 3.2 gm/day of beta-alanine over 12 weeks improved time to exhaustion on the treadmill in 60-80 year old non-athletes compared to a control group. More recently, McCormack and others (2013) study examined the effects of an oral nutritional supplement fortified with two different doses of beta-alanine on body composition, muscle function and physical capacity in older adults. 60 men and women (age 70.7 ± 6.2 yrs) were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: 1) oral nutritional supplement (ONS; n = 20) (8 oz; 230 kcal; 12 g PRO; 31 g CHO; 6 g FAT), 2) ONS plus 800 mg beta-alanine (ONS800; n = 19), and 3) ONS plus 1200 mg beta-alanine (ONS1200; n = 21). Treatments were consumed twice per day for 12 weeks. At pre- and post-supplementation period, participants performed a submaximal cycle ergometry test to determine physical working capacity at fatigue threshold. Fat mass, total body and arm lean soft tissue mass were measured while muscle strength was assessed with handgrip dynamometry and 30-s sit-to-stand was used to measure lower body functionality. They showed that beta-alanine may improve physical working capacity, muscle quality and function in both older men and women. Previous research has also shown that carnosine levels in muscle decrease about 15-20% from youth to  middle-age with no decrease into older age. This might suggest that beta-alanine may have an even greater effect on performance than in younger people. However, no research to date has examined the effect of beta-alanine supplementation on performance in older male or female athletes.

Conclusions

On the basis of the high concentration of carnosine in human muscles, research supports it’s critical role in skeletal muscle physiology. Recent studies show that increasing carnosine levels through beta-alanine supplementation may improve muscle contraction forces and reduce muscle acidity levels in events lasting between 1-4 minutes.

While results from studies differ depending on the sample (e.g. young vs old; trained vs untrained), the most recent review of the research (Blancquaert and others, 2015), suggest the following:

  1. Chronic beta-alanine supplementation increases muscle carnosine concentration leading to improved exercise performance in high-intensity exercise lasting 1-4 minutes after loading for 4 plus weeks.
  2. Exercise training and co-ingestion of beta-alanine with meals can improve the efficiency of beta-alanine in increasing carnosine levels
  3. The exercise performance benefits of beta-alanine supplementing are equally effective in both trained and untrained individuals
  4. The increased muscle carnosine levels increase calcium release that excites muscle contraction. The increased carnosine also encourages a reduction in muscle acidity.

Sources: 1. Blancquaert, L and others (2015). Beta-alanine supplementation, muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Current Opinions in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 18(1): 63-70. 2. Chung, W. and others (2014). Doubling of muscle carnosine concentration does not improve laboratory 1-hr cycling time-trial performance. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(3): 315-324. 3. McCormack and others (2013). Oral nutritional supplement fortified with beta-alanine improves physical working capacity in older adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Experimental Gerontology, 48(9): 933-939. 4. Del Favero and others (2012). Beta-alanine (Carnosyn™) supplementation in elderly subjects (60-80 years): effects on muscle carnosine content and physical capacity. Amino Acids, 43(1): 49-56.

Having a Nutrition Strategy Improves Endurance Performance

Introduction

It never ceases to amaze me how few athletes young or older (not old!) go into an endurance race without a nutrition plan. Here is some recent research evidence from Denmark highlighting that using a scientifically-based nutrition plan can improve race speed by close to 5%.

The Research

The researchers investigated whether a marathon run (42.2 km) was completed faster by applying a scientifically-based rather than a freely chosen nutritional strategy. Importantly from an applied perspective, gastrointestinal symptoms were also examined and reported. 14 non-elite runners performed a 10 km running time trial 7 weeks before the Copenhagen Marathon 2013 for estimation of running ability. Based on that time, runners were divided into two performance-matched groups that then completed the marathon by applying either of two race nutritional (gels and water) strategies – one they chose themselves, the other scientifically-based and given to the runners in that group under instruction from experts in the sports nutrition field. Runners applying the freely-chosen nutritional strategy (n = 14; 33.6 ± 9.6 years; 1.83 ± 0.09 m; 77.4 ± 10.6 kg; 45:40 ± 4:32 min for 10 km) freely choose their in-race food and water intake. Runners applying the scientifically-based nutritional strategy (n = 14; 41.9 ± 7.6 years; 1.79 ± 0.11 m; 74.6 ± 14.5 kg; 45:44 ± 4:37 min 10 k time) were targeting a combined in-race intake of energy gels and water, where the total intake amounted to approximately 0.750 L water, 60 g maltodextrin and glucose, 0.06 g sodium, and 0.09 g caffeine per hr. Gastrointestinal symptoms were assessed by a self-administered post-race questionnaire.

The runners in the scientifically-based nutrition and fluid group took in the following:

  • 2 energy gels (each gel contained 20 g maltodextrin and glucose, 0.02 gm of sodium and 0.03 gm caffeine) and 200 ml of water 10-15 minutes before the start of the marathon
  • 1 energy gel after 40 minutes of running and 1 gel every 20 minutes after that until finishing
  • water was encouraged at every one of the 10 water stations with 750 ml per hour the recommended target with each station having each individual athlete’s recommended water intake. Runners were encouraged to stop and drink

The Results

Marathon time was 3:49:26 ± 0:25:05 for the runners applying the freely chosen and and 3:38:31 ± 0:24:54 hr for the scientifically-based strategy nutrition and water intake strategy. The difference was statistically significant and represented a 4.7% faster marathon when using the scientifically-based nutrition plan. Some of the runners experienced diverse serious gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. urge to defecate, reflux, bloating, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, urge to urinate, dizziness), but overall, symptoms were low and not statistically different between groups.

So What?

The sport scientists concluded that non-elite runners completed a marathon on average 10:55 min (4.7%) faster by applying a scientifically-based rather than a freely chosen nutritional strategy with both groups having the same incidence of gastrointestinal upsets. In endurance races I often see or hear of well-prepared athletes who train the house down but forget race nutrition. These same athletes say they were worried about getting gut upsets, the lack of gels etc being available on the race course or hard to find and buy, or that simply did not know what the scientific principles of race nutrition are. These present findings tell you to learn what these principles are and prepare yourself rather than relying on the race organisers. When it comes to race day nutrition I’ve always worked on the 6P’s Principle – Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor (pardon the french!) Performance or another well known saying, Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. For more detailed information on nutrition before, during and after training or racing, see Chapters 6, 15 and 16 of my book The Masters Athlete.

Sources: 1. Hansen, E. and others (2014). Improved marathon performance by in-race nutritional strategy intervention, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(6): 645-655. 2. Pfeiffer, B. and others (2012). Nutritional intake and gastrointestinal problems during competitive endurance events. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(2): 344-351. 3. O’Neal, E. and others (2011). Half-marathon and full-marathon runners’ hydration practices and perceptions. Journal of Athletic Training, 46(6): 581-591.

Masters endurance athletes more at risk of heart arrythmias

Introduction

Over the last 5-10 years I have become aware of a number of former elite endurance athletes having heart issues. This is counter intuitive given endurance athletes are considered to have strong hearts. However, over the last 10 years research is increasingly showing that the incidence of arrhythmias is higher in athletes, especially in elderly athletes with a lifelong training history in marathons, ultra-marathons, ironman distance triathlons and long distance bicycle races. An arrhythmia is any change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses in the heart. The electrical impulses may happen too fast, too slowly (bradycardia), or erratically so that the heart can’t pump blood effectively.

Bradycardia, defined by a resting heart rate <60 beats min−1, is the most frequent rhythm disturbance in response to endurance training where the resting heart rate can be ~30 beats min−1 and even lower at night. Cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain reportedly had resting heart rates of 30 and 28 beats per minute. Although the bradycardia is usually a harmless adaptation to endurance training, it can become a pathological condition. It was previously thought to affect the electrical activity of the heart that starts in what is called the sinus node (see photo) which is an area of specialized cells in the upper right chamber of the heart that controls the rhythm of your heart.

The most compelling evidence of a link between endurance training and sick sinus syndrome comes from a study of former professional cyclists. Their average heart rate was lower, sick sinus syndrome was more frequent, and pacemaker implantation for bradyarrythmias was more frequent relative to a control group with matched cardiac risk factors. Similarly, a high incidence of pacemaker implantation has been reported in elderly marathon runners.

Historically, this slowing of the heart rate was thought to be the result of a change in the nervous system stimulation of the heart muscle through the sinus node, the pacemaker structure in the heart muscle itself. However, a recent animal study is the first to show that the heart rate adaption to exercise training is not the result of changes in this nervous system control of the heart, and instead is primarily the result of a training-induced remodelling of the sinus node within the heart itself.

Methods

Rats were trained for 12 weeks (1 hour per day, 5 days per week) by aerobic interval training (uphill running) alternating between 4 min at 85–90% of the maximum oxygen uptake and 2 min active recovery at 50% of maximum oxygen uptake. Experiments were also carried out in mice that were trained for 4 weeks (1 hour per day, twice a day, 7 days per week) by swimming. Resting heart rates, electrical activity of the heart, as well as actual tissue samples from the sinus node of sedentary and trained animals were analyzed.

Results

The resting heart rate of the trained rats and mice was ~26% and ~20%, respectively, lower than the heart rate of untrained animals. The resting heart rate of exercise-trained human subjects in various studies varies between ~17–26% lower than the heart rate of inactive people, a reduction similar to that observed in the animal models in the present study. This decrease is less than in elite human athletes. However, severe bradycardia or heart rate slowing in human athletes is uncommon. A protein found in the sinus node (the heart’s pacemaker) changed in response to training with a decrease in an important pacemaker protein, known as HCN4, a protein that is responsible for the low heart rate seen in fit animals.

So What?

With lifelong endurance training, research has consistently shown that veteran endurance athletes have a higher incidence of sinus node disease and artificial pacemaker implantation than normal individuals. Historically, we always believed this was due to changes in the nervous system stimulation of the heart. The present study, although done on rats and mice, suggests the slowing of the heart rate may be due to actual remodeling of the sinus node in the heart wall that actually stimulates the heart muscle to beat. The researchers believe that this finding may also help explain syncope (fainting) in the young athlete as well as other heart rhythm disturbances in older athletes including atrial fibrillation, heart block, bundle branch blockand even sudden cardiac death.. They suggest that it is likely that these disturbances may be the consequence of an actual remodeling of other parts of the heart that are responsible for electrical activity in the heart and perhaps in combination with a pre-existing heart condition in the case of sudden cardiac death.

Critically, the researchers suggest endurance exercise is undoubtedly beneficial for the cardiovascular system, but at the same time intense endurance training over many year can have harmful effects, especially in elderly athletes with a lifelong history of training and competing in endurance events like marathons, triathlons and ironman. They conclude that although endurance exercise training can have harmful effects on the heart, it is more than outweighed by the beneficial effects. Importantly, the researchers also know that this animal study’s findings need to be reproduced in humans and that more research is needed before we could draw conclude that too much endurance training is bad for the heart health of veteran athletes who have undertaken years of endurance training.

Source: D’Souza, A. and others (2014). Exercise training reduces resting heart rate via downregulation of the funny channel HCN4. Nature Communications, 5, Article 3775.

Rain affects performance in the cold

Introduction
Environmental factors such as heat and cold, humidity, wind and altitude influence the performance of athletes young and old, especially endurance athletes. While their have been plenty of studies examining the effects of these factors on performance, little research has ever been done to examine the effects of rain on performance, especially in the cold. The present study aimed to determine energy metabolism while running in cold, wet conditions using a climatic chamber that precisely simulated rainy conditions.

The Research

Seven healthy (trained 3 times per week) men (23.3 ± 2.9 years; 168.6 ± 7.5 cm; 65.9 ± 8.1 kg; VO2max 52.0 ± 5.7 mL/kg/min) ran on a treadmill at 70 % VO2 (about 82% max heart rate) intensity for 30 min in a climatic chamber at an air temperature of 5°Celsius in the presence or absence of 40 mm/hr of very heavy rain. Expired air, oxygen consumption, oesophageal (down the throat and into the gut) temperature, heart rate, skin temperature, rating of perceived exertion and blood samples (lactate, glucose, adrenalin [stress hormone] and noradrenalin [increases heart rate]) were measured before the 30 min run and every 10 minutes of the 30 min test.

The Results

Oesophageal (body) temperature and average skin temperature were significantly lower in the rain condition than in the non-rain run. The amount of air breathed per minute, oxygen consumption used during the run, and levels of blood lactate and noradrenalin were significantly higher in rain. In conclusion, the higher oxygen consumption and plasma lactate in rain indicated that energy demand increases when running in cold and wet conditions.

So What?

This study is one of the first to suggest that rain has a strong effect on endurance performance, especially in the cold. The higher blood lactate, higher oxygen consumption and ventilation volumes all suggest that glycogen energy stores will be used up more quickly too. This suggests making sure that if we race or train hard in the cold (and wet), that we carbohydrate load well before training or racing, replace carbs during longer (> one hour) training and racing, and ensure we replace carbs more aggressively after training and racing to recover.

For more specific ‘bridging the gap’ tips on training in the cold or heat see chapter 11 of my book The Masters Athlete. For more on carbohydrates before, during and after training or racing, see chapter 16 of The Masters Athlete.

Source: Ito, R. and others (2013) Effects of rain on energy metabolism while running in a cod environment. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(8): 707-711.