The most effective supplement you’ve never used, smart application of caffeine, and reversing a recommendation on another ergogenic aid. Plus, me whining. Get out your tiny violins. Today, on Tri Talk.
Welcome to Tri Talk your podcast source for triathlon tips, training, news and more. New listeners from last week primarily hail from Tampa, Florida, and my thanks to the tri clubs in that state for promoting Tri Talk. Also a big thanks to Tri Talk fans from Brazil. I get the nicest e-mails from Brazil. My goal at Tri Talk is to help you swim, bike, and run faster, to meet your personal triathlon goals. Whether you are an elite or amateur triathlete, we cover sprint distance to Ironman distance. I’m your host, David Warden, and this is Tri Talk Episode 68.
Today on the podcast I’m going to cover 3 supplements and ergogenic aids, one of which may be new to you. We all know the effectiveness of caffeine, but I have some excellent information on just how effective and the most effective application of caffeine including proximity to exercise, dosage, gender and even how caffeine abstinence effects performance. Also, to keep the length of this episode reasonable, I’ll be releasing an auxiliary episode at the end of this week that will cover 2 additional supplements. That’s right! It’s a supplemental supplement episode! Finally, for those of you who can stomach it, I need to vent a bit on my poor performance so far in 2009. I’ve responded to hundreds of your whining e-mails and its time for me to cash in on some sympathy.
Let’s get into the good stuff! I’d like to start out with the most interesting information first. I’ve been somewhat confused at what I perceive to be conflicting information in print on the effectiveness of caffeine in endurance events. While the majority of information confirms the positive effect on athletic performance, there have been a few isolated articles saying that it is ineffective.
My perception of caffeine as useful has been so established over the past 5 years, that I have not done any additional research on caffeine for several years. I placed “caffeine” on my shelf of unquestionable truths right next to “carbohydrates”. But these random articles on caffeine kept bugging me, and I decided to take a new look. I’m very glad that I did, because I came away with some fascinating information not only on the effectiveness of caffeine, but on the application.
I’m going to share 3 caffeine studies with you, but thee are unlike any studies we have talked about before on the podcast. All 3 of these studies are meta studies. That is, they are the aggregate of multiple studies pulled together and then analyzed. The idea is to increase the sample size of testing by pooling together research that was done under similar conditions. Typically, the larger the sample size, the great the confidence level in the results.
The first study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism analyzed the results of 40 double-blind studies on caffeine. A reminder that a double-blind study means that neither the researchers nor the subjects knew what they were being tested on. The combined results of these 40 separate studies was a 12.3% increase in time to exhaustion with the use of caffeine. Not bad.
The second study done by the University of Luton in the UK took 21 separate studies and concluded that caffeine led to a 5.6% decrease in perceived effort, which led to an 11.2% increase in time to exhaustion. Again, this is not just 2 separate studies, but 2 separate studies that looked at a combined 20-40 other studies and came to the exact same conclusion: that caffeine significantly delays time to exhaustion by 11-12%. I would really like to challenge caffeine skeptics to hold their 1 or 2 studies on the ineffectiveness of caffeine against these 2 uber-studies.
These 2 meta studies simply re-confirmed my confidence in the use of caffeine. But a third study is really the heart of this podcast. From the Auckland University of Technology, this study is one of the most valuable studies I have ever found on an ergogenic aid.
Also using a meta analysis covering 32 studies, the researchers not only looked at the effectiveness of caffeine, but took a much closer look at the effectiveness of the application. While there may be hundreds of articles on caffeine supplementation, there is a broad opinion on its application and use. This meta study helped me as a coach to refine and maximize the use of caffeine.
The common protocol used by these 32 studies was the following: Habitual caffeine consumers, 2 days abstinence prior to testing, 6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight, pure caffeine as opposed to taking it in via coffee or gels, taken in 1 hour before exercise, performance was measured during a 30-minute time trial with no pre-fatigue.
Under those conditions, the researchers found a 2.8% increase in cycling power over that 30-minute time trial. Let’s put some more real numbers around that. Let’s say that you are a competitive cyclist ,150 pounds putting out 250 watts over a sprint-distance bike portion of a triathlon. For convenience sake, you are at sea level, 0% grade, no wind and 75 degrees with moderately aggressive aero positioning. Under those ideal conditions, you would perform a 12 mile ride in 29.29 minutes. If you were able to increase your power by just 2.8% to 257 watts, that same ride would take you just under 29 minutes. That’s 20 seconds off you total time. Even if you are a more realistic rider of 180 pounds who can average 200 watts, the difference would be almost exactly the same: about 20 seconds faster with that 2.8% increase.
And that does not even consider what will happen on your run, as the effects of caffeine have been proven to last beyond that 30 minutes. This same study looked at those 32 other studies and calculated the effect of caffeine in a pre-fatigued state. Meaning, the same time trial after performing a previous time trial, or doing the time trial in a fatigued state. Although the athletes were slower in that second time trial, they still generated 3% more power than if they had not had caffeine for that second time trial. It is very possible that you could see a 3% increase in your run power, which could shave another 15 seconds off your run, for a total of 35 seconds faster just from the use of caffeine.
OK, there is better information I need cover. Remember, the protocol that was used to gain this 3% increase in power was a habitual caffeine consumer, 2 days abstinence prior to testing, 6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight, pure caffeine as opposed to taking it in via coffee or gels, taken in 1 hour before exercise. But there is some excellent information on the use of caffeine if we tweak the protocol or athlete just a bit.
The researchers found that males, females, and elite males all had about the same power improvement of 2.8%, 3.1%, and 2.9% respectively. The effectiveness was increased from 2.8% to 3.4% if the athletes increase the abstaining period from 2 days to 7 days. That is several more seconds saved if you can give up caffeine for a week before your event. Taking in caffeine 2 hours before the events had the same effect as taking it in 1 hour before the event. That gives you a nice broad window in which to take in that caffeine.
They also found that the dosage and method made a significant difference. Taking in just 0.3mg per kg instead of 6mg per kg only provided a 1.6% increase. Not bad, but not nearly as much as the higher dose. Also, taking the same amount in from drinking coffee vs pure caffeine was only a 1% power improvement. I feel much more confident in taking in caffeine via a caffeine tablet than from a sports gel or coffee, and this study confirms that.
One final note is that athletes who were not habitual caffeine consumers at all actually realized the greatest benefit of a whopping 4% increase in power. Let’s go back to our 180 pound age grouper who puts out 200 watts. That is an improvement from 20 seconds to 30 seconds faster on the bike from having a 4% improvement as opposed to a 2.8% improvement. Let’s extrapolate that onto the run, and I’m estimating you would save 50 total seconds from a 4% increase in power from a non caffeine user over a sprint-distance bike/run event, compared to 35 seconds with a 2.8% increase in power from a habitual caffeine user.
So, is it worth giving up coffee and Coke to save an extra 15 seconds? Absolutely not. That’s just crazy talk.
Alright. The next section on ergogenic aids is not as fascinating, but it deserves a focus since it is a change in a recommendation I have made for the last few years.
While doing the research on caffeine, I also came across a meta study on creatine. This study took 100 other studies and analyzed them. It is possible that no other ergogenic aid has been studied more that creatine over the past 20 years. It’s been two years since I last did a podcast on creatine, and at the time I recommended it, and have continued to do so for sprint-distance triathletes.
A reminder that creatine is a natural occurring substance. However, you would have to eat an unreasonable amount of food to get an effective dose. Creatine adds additional phosphate to the muscles, which allows your body to more readily convert ADP to ATP, which the chemical requires for muscle contraction.
This meta study of 100 other creatine studies found that creatine is effective in athletes, but only under certain conditions. It does increase muscle mass, and it does increase power. But it appears to only increase explosive power of repetitive bouts of less than 30 seconds. For a triathletes, there are very few conditions in which you would find yourself performing several power bursts of 30 seconds or less. One could argue that it would help the closing stretch of the run at the end of the event, but the study specifically noted that creatine was not effective for single bout bursts of power, only for repeated bouts of power.
It does appear that creatine would be very useful for road cycling, were frequent and short bursts of power are the haulmark of road racing. I think it also applies to draft legal triathlon, where you do need to occasionally perform bursts of power to both stay in the swim pack and in the critical peloton. But for a steady-state event, where it is unwise to redline off and on throughout the event, creatine would not provide any benefit.
There are a few individual studies that indicate creatine benefits for short running events of 4K. This was the source of my recommendation for creatine for sprint-distance triathletes, that it might give the athlete an edge during the final portion of their run.
So there are 2 ways to look at this. One, is based on the overwhelming volume of studies from this meta study. Or, one could look at it this way. There is a common example used in scientific observation. If you place 100 people in a forest, and 95 of them come out and say “I did not see a deer”, but 5 of them come out and say “I saw a deer”, odds are there was a deer in the forest even if the majority did not see it. Even if 95% of the studies do not show benefit for creatine use in endurance events, the few that do might still validate it’s effectiveness.
But from my perspective, creatine moved from recommendation to skeptical, and anything I am skeptical of I don’t employ or recommend. In fact, I was 3 weeks into an 8-week creatine cycle when I did this research, and I immediately went off.
Can we talk colostrum for a moment? I’d never even heard about this supplement until 2 years ago, and it has been on my list to research for about that long, and just got around to it as part of the work on this podcast. Colostrum (also known as beestings or first milk or “immune milk”) is a form of milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals in late pregnancy. It is believed to boost the immune system and aid recovery . Consumption by humans is typically through a bovine (cow) extraction.
At first, this sounded really gross to me. Produced and extracted from the mammary glands of cows? But then I realized, uh, that is the same method used for regular milk.
Anyway, does it work? There are a few studies that say “yes”.
First study from the journal Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise took 42 competitive cyclists and put them into 3 groups. A = 20g/d colostrum (c)+ 40g/d whey protein (wp), B = 60g/d colostrum (c), and C = 60g/d whey protein (wp). The performance measurement was a 40k time trail after 2 hours at 65% VO2max. This was measured at week 0 and again at week 8 of an 8-week supplementation period.
The results were interesting. The improvement in the time trial over those 8 weeks was only 37 seconds for the whey protein group, but 134 and 158 seconds for the colostrum + protein and pure colostrum group, respectively.
A second study on runners evaluated 30 competitive runners and put them into 2 groups, also using a 60 grams per day of colostrum or 60 grams per day of whey protein protocol. This group performed two 30 minutes time trials separated by 30 minutes and measured the runners at week 0, 4 and 8 of the 8 week supplementation.
At week 4 and 8, there was no statistical difference in the first run. But in week 8, the second of the two runs showed a 4.6% improvement in the colostrum group compared to a 2% improvement in the whey protein group.
Finally, a study from the The University of Queensland took 29 cyclists over a 9 week program either taking in just 10 grams of whey proteain a day or 10 grams of colostrum. This was a significantly reduced dosage. After 7 weeks of training, neither group showed a significant difference in the increase in performance over a 40K time trial. However, during week 8, the cyclists performed a week of high intensity training. In week 9 the cyclists, after that HIT training, the cyclists were measured again on their 40K time trial and the colostrum group showed a 2.2% improvement in their time trial over the whey protein group.
So, what so these 3 studies have in common, other than colostrum supplementation? Study #1: Improved TT after 2 hrs of riding. Study #2: Improved Run #2 but not Run #1
Study #3: No change at week 7 with normal training, but significant improvement after high intensity training.
All studies appear to support the theory that colostrum aids your ability to perform while in a fatigued state. Remember, study #1 was a time trial after a 2 hour rise. Study number 2 showed no performance improvement in the first run, but 20 minutes later in the second run time trial, there was a 4.6% improvement. Finally, the third study showed no improvement until after the week of high intensity training.
The common theme of all the colostrum studies is that it never improved performance on fresh legs or in a high-level non-fatigued state, but it consistently improved performance in situations where the athlete was performing at high intensity in a relatively fatigued state.
I think that the best application of colostrum would twofold: One for racing, and another for training. For racing, I could see the use of colostrum all the way up to half Ironman distance, but I question the effectiveness colostrum on IM racing. All of these studies seem to indicate that for racing, it only is proven to work with a time-trial type finish, which is very consistent in Sprint and Olympic racing, common in half-Ironman racing, but very rare in Ironman racing.
The second application would be for training in general. Like the third study suggests, staying on a multi-week colostrum plan could provide the ability to train harder during a high-intensity week, and the results of training harder for that week would result in better racing performance. In fact, the third study is very similar to a Build-Peak cycle. 8 weeks of Build followed by 1-2 weeks of Peak at very high intensity.
The application of colostrum would be anywhere from 10-60 grams per day. I know that is a wide range, but there were good results across that spectrum. Prescribing to the theory that any supplementation should be used as little as possible to be effective, I would recommend that you stay near 10 grams per day, possibly 20. Also remember that unlike caffeine, this is not a race-day supplement. It only appears to be effective after an 8 week period of daily supplementation. It would be excellent to time the 8th week to coincide with your A race.
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Let’s move on. The next 15 minutes will do nothing to make you swim bike or run faster. The next 15 minutes is for me. I need to work out some disappointment, and I’m going to take advantage of my triathlon family to help me work it out. If you are having no feelings of empathy right now, you better switch me off. What was supposed to be a technical analysis of a race cluster, has turned into a self-assessment.
My identity and perception of self-worth is firmly rooted to triathlon. One could argue whether that is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, and frankly that is part of the purpose of this self-review. Regardless of whether using triathlon to measure self-worth is good or bad, the reality is I have a physical, intellectual, and yes a very spiritual investment and connection to this sport that will not easily be severed. As a consequence, I have to learn to deal with the results of my performance, both positive and negative.
On the positive side, 2008 was a good year for me as a triathlete. Named as a USAT All-American, ranked 104th in my age group in the nation and 3rd in the state, I met my goal of a top 5% national age-group ranking. I was initially satisfied with those results. But like all triathletes, that ranking came with a long list of excuses for why I didn’t do better, and I made sure that those excuses were known by as many people as possible. Plus, frankly, being ranked 104th left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. The longer I thought about it, the more it bothered me. 104th? Just a few spots away from top 100? I calculated that if I had just been 4 seconds faster at each of my top 3 events from last year, I would be ranked 100 instead of 104th. The names of JUSTIN RIDDLE, JOHN ANTHONY, ANTHONY BEESON, and DAVID KUCK might not mean anything to you, but to me those 4 athletes are seared in my brain as the men who stood between me and a top 100 ranking. The bottom line is that within a week of the USAT rankings I went from satisfied and confident to furious and devastated. 104th felt like kissing my sister, and I was determined to finish stronger in 2009.
Part of that strategy for 2009 is a 6 week Race period cluster. That is using a classic periodization annual training plan to peak for an A race, and then be at race form for 5 more weeks, with a race each week for those 6 weeks. It’s a risky plan. For example, from the Triahtlete’s Training Bible, Joe Friel states: “The single greatest mistake I see self-coached athletes make is to schedule too many A-priority races in a season.” Joe goes on to recommend no more than a 3-week race period. So my 6 weeks of racing A races would certainly fall outside his recommendation, and the fact that he calls this the single greatest mistake an athlete can make weighed heavily on my mind as I mapped out my season.
However, the individual who developed modern periodization, Tudor Bompa, from which Joe’s training method is primarily based, has a different option. Listen to this clip from an interview I did with Dr. Bompa back in 2007:
On one hand I have Joe recommending 3 weeks, and on the other Dr. Bompa justifying up to 10 weeks. Being the intellectually lazy individual I am, I simply split the difference between my two role models, and scheduled a 6 week peak.
I came into this race cluster with high aspirations. Bolstering my confidence is the fact that for the first time ever, I’ll have smooth legs for those 6 weeks. After a disastrous staff infection in 2008 from a leg shaving gone horribly wrong, I put up the money for a leg waxing. That’s right! These babies are waxed and should last the duration of my 6-week race cluster. In retrospect, I’m not sure if the pain from the waxing procedure was actually worse than the staff infection, but that’s in the past. I can confirm that the worst part about a leg waxing is anytime I get goosebumps, it feels like my legs are on fire, like all the hair in my leg is trying to burst above the epidermis at the same time. I digress.
Race 1 of my 6 weeks is a small event drawing just under 300 people with 176 participating with me in the Sprint-distance. With 5 events already under my belt in 2009 as B and C races, including a couple of 1st place overall results, I am confident in a top 3 finish or even an overall win. I see a few familiar faces at the event, including my arch nemesis and good friend James Lawrence.
Another athlete I’ve been impressed with who also is doing the event is a 15 year-old young man named Alex Bowcut.
Did you catch that? He trains in triathlon not just one event? Were any of us that mature at 15? In fact, when I stop to think about what I was doing at 15, it scares the heck out of me and gives me goosbumps.
Alex’s mom was very worried about his race. After his previous event where he ended in the hospitol, just listen to the stress in Jennifer Bowcut’s voice as she almost breaks down with relief Alex comes in off the bike.
So you don’t worry about those sirens in the background, there were two crashes in the event, but both athletes fully recovered.
I had two goals for this event. One was to beat my nemesis James, and the other was to come in top 3. And frankly, I didn’t want 15-year-old prodigy Alex to beat me. Based on those goals, it was a disappointing race. Although I did manage the second fastest bike split, and fourth fastest run of the field, coming out of the water with 24 people ahead of me was just too much to overcome, and I end up a disappointing 4th. A few seconds behind Alex, and a few seconds in front of James, who came in 3rd and 5th, respectively.
I can give you all sorts of excuses for my poor swim, but as Dr. Bompa said in the same interview you heard a moment ago, there are no childish excuses in individual endurance sports. I simply got beat.
The following week is a 600 person event, and the largest event within a 300 mile radius. Although not a USAT sanctioned event, it has heavy bragging rights for my local community. Despite my disappointment in the previous week, I come into this event feeling fantastic. I have no excuses, and am planning on a top 5 finish.
Accompanying me on the drive to the event is one of my athletes, Michael Warden who also happens to be my brother, 8 years my junior. Michael is an amazing triathlon prodigy. In just 9 months of racing, in his first 5 races he has always finished in the top 10, he has finished at least top 3 in his age group at every race, and has finished 2nd overall 3 times in events up to 300 athletes. 2 of those second place finishes were to me. I love saying that. Give me goosbumps.
Michael’s success is less of a commentary on my coaching as it is to his natural ability and incredible discipline. He does exactly what I say, and it pays off. We talk about his goals on the way down to the event.
For Michael, the day ends up well. 10th place overall, 3rd age group, and keeping his top 10 streak alive, and an excellent finish considering a field of over 600.
For me, the day ends in another bitter disappointment. 8th overall. Not only was I 8th overall. I was clobbered. James beat me by a full minute and ended up 3rd overall. 6 spots all came in with 60 seconds of each other, with me at the tail end of that cluster. I was passed on the run by 2 people, which I find outrageous and completely unacceptable. The worst part is, I was just plain beat. No excuses. There were 7 guys who were simply more talented than I was that day. I could see the lead pack in front of me on the bike and then the run, James and all, for the entire race, and I just could not chase them down. Oh sure, I have excuses, but they are all childish excuses.
The result of these last two races is that I am completely depressed. If you want to know why this episode was a week late, or for that matter, why I haven’t responded to e-mail for the last 2 weeks, it’s because I spent the week-end in bed eating jelly donuts, feeling sorry for myself and having recurring nightmares of seeing the lead pack ahead of me by a minute for 50 straight minutes.
This is the danger of having a triathlon-based identity coupled with an ego centered motivation. If my motivation in triathlon was achievement based, I’d be happy knowing I did my best. But I can’t help but hear Sean Connery from the 1996 movie The Rock who said, “Losers always whine about doing their best”. If it was affiliation based, I’d be thrilled to be shaking hands, doling out hugs, sharing stories, and patting sweaty backs. But my motivation is to be at the top. If I don’t win, I’m not happy. Considering I have only won 4 times in over 50 events, I think a change in expectation is in order.
And that’s the key to my happiness in the sport. It’s not to separate my identity from triathlon. It’s my motive and expectation that need to be assessed. I do love racing. I love getting up at 4 in the morning. I love being the very first bike in transition. I love jostling for position on the swim. I love getting kicked in the chest. I love passing people on the bike. I love the final ½ mile with the crowd cheering. If my expectation and motive is to have fun, it seems to me the fun is already there. I just have to reach out and take it. That won’t be easy for me. But I’ll have 3 more chances in the next 3 weeks to try it out.
The next race is just a week away, and that gives me goosebumps. This is David Warden, for Tri Talk.
Thanks for staying with me. I’ll be releasing a supplemental episode next week on 2 more supplements that I wanted to cover, but did not make it into the already long episode. The supplemental supplement episode! Keep an eye out for that in the next week.