Some of the supplements recommended to endurance athletes are necessary for performance, while others offer only minor benefits. You can determine which ones are right for you with a look at your diet and an assessment of the pros and cons that come with each supplement.
What are Supplements?
If you aren’t getting all of the nutrients that you need through your regular diet, supplements are there to help. Dietary supplements are manufactured products that contain nutrients like vitamins, proteins, or minerals. While every supplement has its own unique function, supplements are typically used to integrate essential nutrients into your regular diet. Before using supplements it’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional first.
Do Cycling Supplements Make you Faster?
You don’t need to take a lot of different supplements to get faster. In fact, you can obtain most of the essential nutrients that you need to be a fast and healthy cyclist through a balanced and nutrient-dense diet.
With that said, there are a handful of supplements almost every endurance athlete can benefit from taking on top of their regular diet. Substances like carbs and electrolytes, for example, are often depleted during aerobic exercise. Because of this, you will likely need to supplement additional carbohydrates and electrolytes into your diet to maintain the electrolyte balances and glycogen stores.
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Ultimately, you can use supplements to address deficiencies in your diet and ensure that you’re obtaining all of the nutrients you need to keep up with your training. By helping you stay on top of the nutrients you need, supplements can help you get faster.
In addition to using supplements to address your training demands, there are supplements you can take simply for their performance-associated effects. This includes supplements like caffeine, beta-alanine, and creatine. It’s unlikely that your diet demands these additional supplements, but there are performance-associated effects that can come with their ingestion.
What Supplements Should I take?
Deciding which supplements are right for you will depend on a number of variables. The most important being your unique physiology, diet, and health. What works for one athlete may not be right for you, and what’s a concern for another athlete may not adversely affect you at all. Similarly, we all react to different supplements differently, which means there isn’t one end-all formula for taking supplements.
As a general rule, you should take a closer look at your diet before adding in new supplements. Are there ways you could integrate all the nutrients you need more efficiently into your regular diet? It’s also important to consult with your personal physician before adding any new supplements to your diet. Adding unnecessary supplements to your diet can have harmful effects on your physical health.
Supplements are also not regulated at the same standard that other medications and substances are. In general, you should always research the brand of supplement you plan on taking. If you compete, you’ll also want to find a supplement that has been certified by NSF International or Informed Sport.
Supplements for Recovery, Pre-Workout, and Hydration
When you know which supplements are fit for you and your diet, it’s time to consider which supplements you might want to take. Every supplement has its own unique benefits, drawbacks, and caveats that you may want to consider before taking them. To get you started, here are a few supplements often taken by endurance athletes.
Taking a caffeine supplement between sixty and thirty minutes before training or racing is proven to increase endurance performance and focus while riding. These well-established performance benefits, paired with plenty of supporting research, make caffeine a go-to pre-workout supplement for endurance athletes. However, there are limitations to caffeine’s benefits. Caffeine’s effects appear to vary depending on genetics, and it’s less effective for those who take in caffeine regularly.
To dive deeper into caffeine and its effects on performance check out this article: Caffeine for Cyclists: Pros, Cons, And Caveats
While you can address much of your body’s demand for carbohydrates in your regular meals, supplementing carbs in addition to meals is often necessary to stay on top of your liver and muscle glycogen stores. You can use carbohydrate supplements in the hour before your ride to ensure that your glycogen stores are as full as possible as well as during your ride. The standard advice has been to take 60-90g of carbs per hour using a 2:1 glucose to fructose ratio, but recent research suggests that athletes can ingest upwards of 140g/hr in a 1:1 ratio
To learn about carbohydrates and how you can supplement them into your diet check out this article: How to Use Carbs for Maximum Performance
Research suggests that consuming the supplement beta-alanine consistently over a prolonged period of time may increase exercise capacity and reduce muscular fatigue. Unfortunately, the research surrounding the use of beta-alanine for endurance athletes is not yet conclusive. While some research has shown that it may delay the onset of neuromuscular fatigue, there is lacking research on its effects on efforts longer than thirty minutes. With that being said, there seem to be no real downsides to consuming Beta-Alanine, and there is a potential upside, which ultimately makes it a continued go-to among endurance athletes.
For more information on Beta-Alanine and its potential performance benefits check out this article: Beta-Alanine for Cyclists: Will It Make You Faster?
Hydration and Electrolytes
Supplementing electrolytes before, during, and after your training can help you maintain an electrolyte balance as you deplete sodium levels during exercise. Whether or not you need to supplement additional electrolytes into your diet depends on several variables, though. The longer your workouts, the hotter the conditions, and the saltier your sweat, the more important it is to supplement additional electrolytes into your regular diet. This is also true if you follow a low sodium diet. If you’re unsure whether or not you should be taking in additional electrolytes, consult with your physician.
Studies have shown that supplementing creatine is effective at increasing muscle mass and strength during resistance training. This, in turn, may improve your single maximal sprints. Creatine is typically attained by consuming animal proteins such as red meat, pork, and poultry.
While the benefits seem substantial, supplementing creatine comes with a significant drawback for cyclists—weight gain. Supplementing with creatine causes your body to retain more water, which can result in several pounds of additional water weight. Ultimately, while creatine works for some cyclists, it’s not worth the cost for many.
For more information on supplementing creatine into your diet go ahead and read Creatine for Cyclists: Will it Make You Faster?
Collagen is the body’s most abundant and structurally important protein. By anchoring cells to one another, this elastic protein holds your body together. This protein is vital for bones, cartilage, connective tissue, skin, and intestines. Supplementing collagen can help improve your joint health and recovery from injuries.
You can naturally ingest collagen through bone-based foods like bone broths, gristles, and meat on the bone. For athletes following plant-based diets, berries, leafy greens, and pumpkin are all ways to naturally ingest collagen as well. With that said, it’s generally difficult to ingest all of the collagen you need in both plant-based diets and diets that include animal proteins. Which ultimately makes collagen supplementation a solid go-to for most endurance athletes. It has an upside for most athletes, our diets are regularly lacking in it, and it may help you avoid injuries.
For more information on collagen and its benefits for cyclists read here: The Benefits of Collagen for Endurance Athletes
Carbs and Protein
Supplementing additional carbs and protein into your post-workout nutrition can assist your body’s recovery process. Consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein in a four-to-one ratio in the hours after your training session can help replenish your glycogen stores. This, in turn, can help you ensure that your body has the protein it needs to complete muscle protein synthesis and the carbohydrates it needs to replenish its glycogen stores for the next workout. All in all, there are no detriments to performance when you supplement with carbs and protein immediately after your workout, and it increases the likelihood you’ll get in the fuel that you need in the time frame that you have.
For more on supplementing carbs and protein in your recovery nutrition, read this article: Timing Your Recovery Drink.