If you are a cyclist with a few years of experience under your belt, you probably have a good understanding of the training and nutrition required to perform at your best. However, when it comes to supplementation it gets murky. Every day you get bombarded with advertisements of all sorts of supplements with dubious efficacy. The lack of oversight in the supplement industry lets marketers get away with false advertising and exaggerating the effects of some supplements.
In this article, I will give a no-bull, no-hype list of effective supplements that can help your performance. Their effects might be small, but small effects can compound over time leading to significant improvements in your performance.
Not to be confused with BCAAs, beta-alanine is a non-essential beta-amino acid that is fairly useful for endurance athletes including cyclists. Once consumed, this beta-amino acid is converted into carnosine, which is stored in your muscles. Among the many potentially beneficial effects it has, the one that cyclists like you will enjoy the most is that it reduces lactic acid accumulation.
In other words, that nasty burn you have to deal with is reduced, allowing you to cycle at a higher performance for longer. You simply do not get tired as quickly as you would without this supplement. There is also some minor evidence that it might help you recover from your workouts, enabling you to train harder overall.
What kind of improvement should you expect?
A definitive answer is hard to give since it depends on the type of cycling you do as well as how responsive you are to this supplement. On top of that, biology being what it is, there is plenty of individual variability, some will get a lot out of it while others will barely feel an effect. That being said, an average 1-2% improvement is probably a safe bet. Keep in mind the closer you get to long-distance cycling the less useful the supplement will be.
All you need is 2-3g per day of beta alanine to get all of the benefits. If you get paraesthesia—that tingling sensation—and it bothers you, you can experiment with lower doses. This supplement should be taken over a prolonged period to maximize results, you want to build up the level of carnosine, so do not expect immediate results.
Like many people, caffeine is one of my favorite supplements, and it is for good reason. Aside from the mood-enhancing effects that coffee and caffeine provide, it is one of the most well-researched compounds with proven efficacy for high intensity and endurance exercise, whether of a cardiovascular nature or a weightlifting one.
In a study on cyclists, two groups were compared, one was given 0.2mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight while another group was given a larger dose of 0.7mg/kg. For a 75kgs cyclist, that is roughly 15mg of caffeine on the low end and 52.5mg on the high end.
The 0.7mg/kg group improved their performance and decreased their perception of pain, probably leading to a lower perceived rate of fatigue. Basically, they could cycle at a higher speed for longer since they did not feel fatigued as much. Keep in mind that this remains a fairly low dose, and yet it was still beneficial.
What kind of improvement should you expect?
You should be aware that not everyone responds the same way to caffeine. Some individuals are quite sensitive to caffeine, while some are almost immune from its effects.
For long-distance cyclists, a 3% improvement is a good average to look forward to. Some will get a bit more some a bit less. On the other hand, the faster you go the less you can expect. At that point, an improvement of around 1.5% is more reasonable.
The ideal dosage will depend on the type of cycling you do and your sensitivity. Long-distance cyclists should aim for 300mg of caffeine, while high-intensity types should aim for 500mg. A good range is 4-6mg/kg of total body weight.
A few caveats, if you don’t drink coffee regularly or you’ve never supplemented with caffeine starting at a lower dose (70-100mg/kg) will still get you most of the benefits. Very sensitive individuals should also aim for lower doses. For instance, I am very sensitive to caffeine and just one black cup of coffee—let alone a caffeine supplement—is enough to make me feel significantly different. If I take, a high dose of caffeine I mostly get the negative side effects so it is completely unnecessary for someone like me to go beyond 150-200mg. Finding the right dosage for you requires some personal experimentation.
Although multivitamins get some warranted criticism at times, the fact of the matter is that deficiencies can really mess with your performance. Let us start with the obvious, electrolytes that are crucial to maintain your performance and the annoying part is that training as hard as you do, you’re likely to sweat them all out.
It is vital to have an easy source of electrolytes to replenish them as you train to maintain your work capacity as long as possible. Sadly, you can’t simply rely on sports drinks, they typically contain too much water and not enough minerals. A much more effective alternative is to simply supplement appropriately.
Iron deficiencies are also common among athletes—especially women. Relying on too many chicken breast or having a diet that doesn’t fully replenish the effects of the hard work you put on your body through can leave a nutritional gap which can negatively impact your performance. On top of that, hard cycling can break down red blood cells further reducing your iron supply.
To make it more complicated you need the right vitamins and minerals to assist with nutritional absorption. Even when you consume a lot of iron, if you do not have enough Vitamin C, iron absorption rates can be hindered. An iron deficiency can be problematic for your performance; it tends to reduce your oxygen transport capabilities and deprives your muscles of the precious supplies they need to maintain a high degree of performance.
These are but a few of the potential issues you might need to deal with. Depending on where you live and the level of sun exposure you get you might have a vitamin D deficiency which leads to a swath of issues. Or perhaps you don’t get enough iodine, which let’s face it is tricky to get from whole foods.
The safest and simplest way to get ahead of most of these issues is to get checked. Once you do, you can consider picking the right foods for you to combat these deficiencies. However, that can be inconvenient at times, and that’s when supplementation becomes really useful. A high-quality multivitamin combined with some additional minerals can fix these potential deficiencies in a heartbeat. At Icon Nutrition our assortment of vitamins & minerals are of the highest quality. We don’t do fillers and we done do smoke screens. Our products are here for you and your health.