Beta-Alanine: An Amino Acid of Interest to Veteran Athletes

Stay Warmed Up for Hot Performances

Introduction

Warm-up should be used before every competitive sporting event to prime the mind and body, reduce the risk of injury, and increase performance . However, little research has examined how long the effects of warm-up last. This is of particular interest in team sports where players sit on the ‘bench’ or events where we need to be marshalled for long periods or have long breaks between events. Here is a greek study that showed performance speed and power declines gradually the longer we sit and do nothing after warming-up.

The Research

The aim of the study was to examine changes in performance and biochemical parameters of basketball players while resting for 10, 20, 30 and 40 minutes after warm-up. On four consecutive days, 14 elite young basketball players (7 male and 7 female) performed a structured sports-specific warm-up. They then had body temperature measured, provided blood samples for analysis of blood lactate and glucose, and performed vertical jump and 10- and 20 m run tests. They then rested for either 10, 20, 30 or 40 min. Body temperature measurement, blood sampling, and performance testing were repeated after each rest interval.

The Results

Body temperature dropped from 36.9 degrees C after warm-up to 36.2 degrees C after 40 minutes of doing nothing. Vertical jump decreased gradually over time during rest to be 13% lower after 10 minutes of rest and 20% lower after 40 minutes of rest. 10- and 20-m run times also got worse over time dropping by approximately 3.5% after 10 minutes of doing nothing to 6.3% after 40 minutes of rest. Blood glucose decreased by about 9% during rest independent of interval duration.

So What?

This research, even though it was done using young athletes, highlights the importance of staying warm after a warm-up. If the competition rules or venue allow you to warm-up somewhere after the official warm-up, then do it! If not, think about other options like wearing warm clothes, jogging on the spot, using an ergo or wind-trainer, or pulleys so you can mimic exactly the action of your sport. Also sip sports drink to keep the all-important blood glucose level up. Pages 55-56 in Chapter 4 (The principles of training the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete give very specific guidelines on the structure of a warm-up to maximise performance in any masters sport.

Source: Galazoulas, C. and others (2012) Gradual decline in performance and changes in biochemical parameters in basketball players while resting after warm-up. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(9): 3327-3334.

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.

Stay Warm After Warm-Up for Hot Performances

Introduction

It is well known in sports science that warm-ups that increase muscle temperature also improve power output in high power events lasting less than 5 minutes of so. Indeed, there is about a 4% increase in vertical jump power for every degree centigrade increase in muscle temperature. In cycling, peak power output improves up to 10% for every degree centigrade increase in a muscle’s temperature.

Warm-ups of high enough intensity can increase muscle temperature by 3-4 degrees C.  However, we usually warm-up then sit and wait for an event to start so that benefit of warmed up muscles drops as our muscle temp drops. However, what if we keep the muscles warm and prevent that drop by wearing (hot!) pants with heating elements in them to keep the muscle temp elevated to the level we had after the warm-up?

Here is a British study (yep, those brits love their cycling research!) aimed to determine the effect of passive insulation versus external heating during recovery after a sprint-specific warm-up on thigh muscle temperature and subsequent maximal sprint cycling performance.

The Research

On three separate occasions separated by three days, 11 male cyclists (24.7 ± 4.2 years old, 1.82 ± 0.72 m tall, 77.9 ± 9.8 kg) completed a standardized 15-min warm-up (5 min cycling at 100 watts then 5 x 10 second sprints separated by 1 min 50 sec of pedaling at 75 watts) on a cycle ergometer. The warm-up was followed by a 30-min passive recovery period before completing a 30-second all-out sprint test on a bike. Muscle temperature was measured in the thigh muscle (vastus lateralis) at 1, 2, and 3 cm depth before and after the warm-up and immediately before the sprint test. Absolute and relative (/kg) peak power output (watts) was determined and blood lactate concentration was measured immediately after exercise. During the 30 minute recovery period, participants wore a tracksuit top and either (i) standard tracksuit pants (CONT), (ii) insulated athletic pants (INS), or (iii) insulated athletic pants with integrated electric heating elements (HEAT). The heating element covered the back and front of the thigh but not the middle of the legs and was like a small electric blanket that was heated to 40-42 degrees C.

The Results

Warm-up increased muscle tempaterature by approximately 2.5 °C at all muscle depths, with no differences between the three conditions. During recovery, muscle temperature remained much more elevated in HEAT compared with INS and CONT at all depths. Power output (watts/kg) in the 30-second sprint was elevated by 9.1% in HEAT (20.9 ± 1.6 w/kg) compared with CONT (19.2 ± 1.7 w/kg). The increase in blood lactate concentration was also significantly greater after sprint in HEAT (6.3 ± 1.8 mmol/L) but not INS (4.0 ± 1.8 mmol/L) versus CONT (4.1 ± 1.9 mmol/L).

The research team concluded that passive heating of the thighs between warm-up completion and sprint cycling using pants incorporating electrically heated pads can lower the decline in muscle temperature and improve sprint cycling performance.

The So What?

The results of this study highlight how important it is to keep the specific muscles involved with sport as warm as possible after warm-up until the event we are doing starts. We can do this by staying active right up to the start of the event, wearing warm gear up to the event, or using heaters or heat pads (blankets) to keep the muscles warm. This study supports other previous studies that show this works in high power events lasting up to about 5 minutes in duration.

In longer endurance events where high power outputs aren’t as critical, the same principles also apply but aren’t as important if we can build into the event once it starts. However, where positioning is critical in endurance events (eg open water swim events, triathlon, cycling) when powerful starts are important, there are some lessons to be learnt from this research. Stay as warm as pssible up to the start of your event.

For more on warming up smart as an older athlete, see Chapter 4 (Principles of Training the Masters Athlete). Now avialable as a stand-alone pdf chapter along with 18 other chapters in the only book I’ve ever seen that brings the science of sport to athletes over 35 years of age.

Source: Faulkner, S. and others (2013) Reducing muscle temperature drop after warm-up improves sprint cycling performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(2): 359-365.

Masters Athletes NOT Using Recovery Methods but Should!!

Introduction 

Using recovery strategies after training and racing means we bounce back quicker for the next training session. Young high performance athletes eat and drink straight after races and training, they get massages and use the methods science has shown work, such as compression garments or ice baths. My masters athlete research team at CQUniversity have just completed an online survey of Queensland veteran cyclists because we wanted to learn about their current training and recovery practices. The results relating to recovery practices shocked us. Very few vet cyclists use recovery strategies!

The Research

We surveyed 212 male and female veteran cyclists aged 35-82 years. To our surprise, 47% of both male and female veteran cyclists do not using any form of recovery strategy after racing or training.  The percentage of users did not differ between male and female.  In order of use, the following recovery methods were used by the veteran cyclists as a group:

  1. Stretching (40% of riders)
  2. Carbohydrate-protein mix (38%)
  3. Active recovery (35%)
  4. High glycemic index foods within 30 minutes of exercise (29%)
  5. Massage (25%)
  6. Compression garments (25%)
  7. Hot-cold showers (19%)
  8. Ice baths (7%)
  9. Pool running (6%)
  10. Spa baths (5%)

Other strategies were used including ‘beers’, hot baths and one response that we can all relate to at times –  3 double-shot lattes, a lay down on the couch and hoping not to cramp-up!!

The So What?

Our research strongly suggests that both male and female veteran cyclists are poor users of recovery strategies following both training and competition. Using these scientifically-proven methods of recovery is critical to enable us to bounce back between training days or between races on the same or subsequent days.

A few years ago, the chief recovery scientist at at the Australian Institute of Sport, Dr Shona Halson, undertook a research project examining the common recovery strategies used by the world’s leading athletes, coaches and sport scientists. She rated the majority of the strategies into categories based on the then research evidence and what these coaches, athletes and sport scientists practiced. The table below shows the ratings of the strategies that work.

Table 1: Ratings (High and Medium-High) of commonly used recovery strategies.

High

Medium-High
Contrast water treatment Active recovery
Compression garments Water therapy (e.g. spas)
Ice Massage
Stretching Pool work
Nutrition

Sleep

The bottom line is we need to use what science says work, not waste valuable family, work, leisure and training time on strategies that waste our time or even worse, no strategy at all!! Get to it fellow masters athletes – recover hard and recover smart!

For specific details (e.g. water temperatures, times to hold stretches or have hot/cold showers, what specific foods to eat etc etc) on how to recover using all the methods outlined above, see chapter 15 of my book The Masters Athlete. Now available in pdf format as  whole book with individual chapters such as the recovery chapter also available as a pdf.