Track Cycling Training - Which Supplement?

This chapter will help you to select the appropriate supplements, covering some general guidelines and rules that will apply to the majority of supplements and people.

The general objective of supplements for the active person is to aid general health and sporting goals. They are able to do this by increasing or optimising recovery rates, energy and energy stores, hormone production, feelings of well-being, alertness, concentration and building processes whilst reducing breakdown processes and much more.

The first and most important rule to remember is that supplements only work in conjunction with a sound diet and training program i.e. they should supplement training and not compensate for a poor training regime or diet. Body type, age, gender, lifestyle and diet are all factors which will dictate what products are most appropriate. It is important to note that supplements can be useful for both men and women and can aid in health, weight management as well as specific sports and training goals. They are not simply the reserve of bodybuilders and weightlifters.

Lifestyle may, as already stated, impact on what supplements become appropriate. For example, someone able to sit and eat meals every 3-4 hours would not necessarily require supplements throughout the day. Where this is not possible, the use of supplements becomes obvious.

Protein Powders are the most popular sports nutrition products on the market. Without sufficient protein in the diet, a majority of people will not gain any additional muscle mass, no matter how hard they train. Protein is a macronutrient made from chains of compounds known as amino acids (Table 1). Depending on the source/type of protein, the series and number of amino acids making it will change its profile. However, there are only 20 amino acids from which a protein can be made. Eight of these amino acids are known as essential amino acids, because as humans, we must consume these through our diet to function properly as our bodies are unable to produce them.

Three essential amino acids are known as Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) (Table 1), which are heavily involved in anabolic (muscle building) and anti-catabolic (muscle preservation, anti-breakdown) activities. BCAAs make up almost a 1/3 of skeletal muscle and aid in recovery. There are other amino acids such as glutamine (one of the most abundant amino acids in the muscle) which are known as conditionally essential amino acids. These amino acids can be produced by the body but in periods of high demand, such as under stress (emotional or physical) the body is unable to produce adequate amounts. For optimum function and recovery it is sometimes necessary to consume larger amounts of these amino acids through diet or supplementation.

The number of differing amino acids within a food source is where the terms complete and incomplete proteins come from. Complete proteins contain all 20 amino acids including the 8 essential amino acids (Table 1); good examples are meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy products. Conversely incomplete proteins are those which lack one or more of these amino acids, for example fruits, vegetables, wheat and pulses. However it is possible to combine sources to obtain a complete amino acid profile, such as beans on toast.

As a macronutrient, protein is able to supply energy (4kcals/g of protein) and is usually only used as a major energy source when carbohydrate and fat stores are severely depleted, for example, at the end of a marathon. The body finds it extremely demanding to process protein for energy as it must first be converted to carbohydrate or glucose within the body through a process called gluconeogenesis. Protein is an essential building block for DNA, muscle, hormones (for example insulin), immune system cells known as immunoglobulins, and much more. Protein requirements for athletes or hard training individuals are higher than that of the average sedentary individual due to the extra stress and trauma caused to the muscle and body. Whilst protein requirement can be calculated as a ratio of daily kilocalorie requirement, there are also broad guidelines that recommend a daily allowance of 0.8g per kg of bodyweight. However, it has been known for sometime that those involved in intense training have a higher requirement for protein with studies suggesting anywhere from 1.3g-2g of protein per kilo of body weight.

Amino Acid Chart (Table 1)