Supplements That Research Suggest Work in Older Athletes


Most masters athletes I know are competitive. Some like to win medals, most love doing PB’s or beating their friends at events they’ve trained together for. Some like to achieve goals they didn’t think were possible before they discovered they can do great things if they are smart about their training and listen hard to their bodies.

Most of us will also look for an advantage if it’s legal and available. For example, we know caffeine can help improve our endurance performance, that creatine (monohydrate) can help us recover between efforts if we are involved with team sports, and that sports drinks help us during endurance events longer than an hour in length, especially in the heat.

A recent review published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition has examined what ergogenic (performance-enhancing) dietary aids such as the above substances may be useful in older people. They reviewed 327 articles to come up with their list of what works in older folk. Here is what they concluded works.

  1. Creatine is made up of amino acids from our body and produced naturally in the liver. It is also naturally available from meat and fish we eat. It is also one of the most widely available and used supplements that does enhance performance in athletes that do repeated efforts of high intensity such as team players or when doing weight training or repeat sprints in training. It has also been shown to enhance muscle size in weight trainers both young and old. A number of studies on older people have shown that taking creatine at the dose of 0.3 mg / kg body weight for 5-14 days with or without weight training can increase muscle mass and strength and power. Similar studies examined creatine effects in older endurance cyclists and found no improvement in cycling performance suggesting that it’s only speed, strength and power and not endurance that’s improved with creatine supplementation. Creatine iscommonly sold in gyms, health food shops and chemists but should be used with caution in masters athletes with kidney issues.
  2. Caffeine  is one of the most well-studied ergogenic (work-enhancing) aids. It increases attention and improves endurance when taken in dosages between 4-6 mg / kg body weight (One No Doz tablet contains 100 mg and a cup of coffee between 50-100 mg. Click here for exact amounts of caffeine per product. Only one study has examined the effect of caffeine on performance in people over 60 years. They were given capsules of caffeine at the dose of 6 mg/kg of body weight and performed exercise 1 hr later. The had better endurance, less perceived effort, and greater strength compared to a placebo (no caffeine) trial.
  3. Caffeine/Creatine combination appears to have promise to enhance sprinting power – at least in young athletes. One study showed improved sprinting power when taking creatine (0.3 gm / kg body weight for 5 days) then caffeine (6 mg /kg body weight) an hour before sprint running.
  4. HMB (beta-hydroxy-betamethylbutyrate) That’s why it’s know as HMB! is derived from a naturally occuring amino acid called leucine. It’s used by young athletes to increase muscle size and strength. research has shown that consuming HMB between 250 mg / day and 6 gm / day increased cycling performance but the effect is greater in previously untrained people. In one study with 70 yr olds doing weight training twice a week they improved strength in some exercises but not others. No known side effects have been observed in people consuming between 3 and 6 gm / day.
  5. Ubiquinone (Co-enzyme Q10) helps generate aerobic energy in the muscle cell’s power house, the mitochondria. Some research has shown benefits of supplementing (100 mg / day) with it at the end of weight training sessions. The one study that did use older people (60-74 years) and compared them with 22-38 year olds showed no age or cycling performance differences when supplementing at 120 mg day for 6 weeks.
  6. Carnitine is an amino acid that helps us burn fat in those mitochondria pwer houses in our muscle cells. In young swimmers, taking 2 gm of carnitine twice a day for a week has been shown to increase epeat 5 x 100m swim performance. While no studies have been done in older athletes, a couple of carnitine supplementation studies (2 gm / day for periods over 6 weeks or more) showed reduce feelings of fatigue and six-minute walk time in non-athletes over age 65 years.
  7. Resveratrol is found in red grapes (and red wine but in smaller amounts), mulberries and peanuts.  In older rats it’s been shown to enhance endurance performance. No exercise-related studies have been done in humans. However, health-wise it’s been suggested but not proven to have cardioprotective and anti-diabetes benefits in humans.

So What?

Limited research has been done in the area of ergogenic aids and masters athletes. However, it appears that, similar to younger athletes, caffeine and creatine, especially in combination, may have beneficial effects in sprinters while caffeine in the right dosage and timed correctly can benefit endurance performance. Finally, creatine appears to benefit strength and power-based athletes or team sport players who have to repeat speed during a game.

For more detailed reading on what legal ergogenic aids work in athletes young and old, including the dosages, timing and side-effects, read Chapter 18 of my book The Masters Athlete titled Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete.

Source: Cherniak, E.P. (2012). Ergogenic dietary aids for the elderly. Nutrition, 28: 225-229.

Warm-Up Hard for Hotter Performances


The gun goes, the starter says ‘go’! Legs or arms are hurting and we’re hanging on wishing we’d done a better warm-up.  I see most masters athletes do an easy warm-up before a race and then wonder why they don’t perform in a race or ‘die’ early in a race that starts out hard. Here’s some recent research evidence from the UK that strongly suggests harder warm-ups are far better than easy ones when it comes to maximising performance.

The Research

Mean power output in watts was determined during a one-minute cycling sprint in 11 trained males cyclists and triathletes (31±11 years; 74.4±10.5 kg; 1.79±0.07m, VO2max 61±5 ml/kg/min) preceded by either an easy, moderate, or hard warm-up and a 10-min recovery. The guys were tested on a cycle ergometer in a lab and used their own pedals and shoes with power cranks used to measure power output. The athletes completed three different warm-ups in a random order and with at least 48 hours between each test:

  1. An easy warm-up consisting of six minutes of cycling at 40% of peak aerobic power taken from a previous VO2max test;
  2. A moderate warm-up consisting of cycling for five minutes at 40% peak aerobic power, followed immediately by 1 minute at 80% of peak aerobic power; and,
  3. A hard warm-up consisting of cycling for five minutes at 40% peak aerobic power, followed immediately by one minute at 110% of peak aerobic power.

After sitting down for 10 minutes after each warm-up, they then did an all-out one minute sprint on the ergo. The researchers measured mean power output in watts during the sprint, oxygen consumption during the sprint, and blood lactate levels before and after the one-minute print.

 The Results

As expected the harder warm-up produced the greatest blood lactates (4.2±0.9 millimoles per litre [mmol/L]) before the one-minute sprint test. However, the blood lactates did not reach the ‘magical’ figure of 5 mmol/L that has been shown to lead to decreased subsequent performance. Crucially, the harder warm-up lead to both reduced lactate levels after the all-out sprint and increased oxygen use during the sprint with no significant differences between warm-up intensities in mean power output (easy  516±28 watts; moderate 521±26 watts; hard 526±34 watts). This sport scientists concluded that a harder warm up-induced a reduction in lactate production and increased oxygen utilization with no change in sprint performance.

 The So What?

 The research team supports other previous research that has showed harder warm-ups are the best way to go for middle distance and short-endurance events (3-10 minutes) that are hard from the word go. So if you know you are doing an event like this, or that the running crew take off hard or the cycling bunch is going to take off hard such as in a handicap race or a hill start event, hit the pool, road or ergo and get warmed-up hard but not to the point of lactate build-up in the legs. For more on the importance of warm-up for older athletes, see Chapters 5, 6 and 12 of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Wittekind, A. & Beneke, R. (2011). Metabolic and performance effects of warm-up intensity on sprint cycling. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 21(6): e201-e207.

Position Statement – Caffeine and Performance

Concensus on Short-Term Endurance Training Methods?


In late 2009, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Team Danmark bought together the leading sport scientists in the world that were focused on high-intensity sport events lasting less than eight minutes in duration or team sports where frequent bursts of high intensity were needed. Such events require training that is a balance between high volumes and high intensity but is also technical as well. The objective was to develop consensus statements on preparing athletes for such events or sports. This article summarises the recently published outcomes of the three-day meeting of the minds.

The Consensus Statements

The meeting focused on high intensity sports lasting less than eight minutes (e.g. track running and cycling, 200 and 400m swim events, rowing, kayaking etc). Here is a summary of what they decided:

  1. Athletes should perform high–intensity interval training.
  2. These intervals should consist of repeated bouts of exercise performed close to or well above the intensity requiring maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).
  3. Athletes should taper before major competitions by emphasising intensity of training at the expense of training volume.
  4. Heavy resistance strength training enhances performance in high-intensity sports.
  5. Heavy resistance strength training without muscle growth enhances endurance capacity in high-intensity sports or events lasting from a few minutes to several hours.
  6. Concurrent strength and endurance training prevents muscle growth but facilitates improved endurance capacity.
  7. Heavy training loads of 4-12 repetitions of 70-95% of maximum load are suggested.
  8. Adequate dietary carbohydrate and energy intake are essential for high-intensity training sessions.
  9. Small amounts of high-quality protein should be consumed soon after high-intensity training or events to enhance recovery and adaptation.
  10. Promote and monitor non-sport recovery strategies to enhance physical and mental recovery.
  11. Focus on long-term athlete development rather than short-term success.
  12. Create a social environment with open communication and a cohesive training group.
  13. Support athletes to balance sport, education, family and personal life.

Reference: Bangsbo, J. and others (2010). Performance in top sports involving intense exercise.  Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 20 (Supplement 2): ii-iv.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation may enhance recovery and subsequent performance in veteran cyclists

The Introduction

The purpose of the study was to examine the influence of vitamin and mineral complex supplementation on muscular strength and cycling efficiency in elderly endurance-trained master athletes during a heavy cycling time trial. The research suggested that the multivitamin-mineral supplement improved cycling efficiency during intensities commonly seen in bike races.

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