Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nitrates + Caffeine - An Ergogenic Sledgehammer For High Intensity Cycling: 46% Improved Time-Trial Performance

You better make sure you are competing in / training for the right sports before you spend you get all excited about a 46% performance increase
After the initial excitement was over, it has gotten quiet in the "nitrate" section of the supplement stores - no excited crys, no customers willing to pay whatever it takes, just to get a bottle of the "next big thing".

Personally, I'd say that this is mostly a result of the disappointment of users of the mostly extremely underdosed "nitrate supplements" experienced. The not exactly earth-shattering effect sizes that have been reported in many of the more recent studies were are another factor... the 46% increase in time-trial performance and the albeit non-significant 27% difference to the caffeine-only trial, on the other hand, has the potential to rekindle the interest of any athlete for whom longer duration high intensity work at 80% of his / her individual VO2max doesn't sound like HIIT gone wrong ;-)

Whatever, ... the big news is that the effects add up perfectly

Within the health and fitness community people are always on the lookout for new pills to pop. If you look at the "regimen" some of them post on pertinent bulletin boards, you sometimes have to scratch your head and ask yourself, whether this guys & gals even eat anything else but supps.
Dosing recommendations: Well, I guess without a control it's a bit premature to provide actual "recommendation", but if you want to reproduce the effects, Handzlik and Gleeson observed in their 14 healthy well-trained 22 ± 3 year-old male subjects, you'd have to drink 70 mL concentrated beetroot juice (the brand in the study was Beet-It - see image to the left; 0.4g of dietary nitrate per 70ml shot; note: the authors declare no conflict of interest!) for breakfast, and 70 min later another 70ml of the same juice + 0.5mg/kg caffeine. Another 75 min later you are ready to roll, cycle or whatever you're up to.
Something that is commonly overlooked, though, is that in the world of dietary supplements the simple equation "1+1" usually ain't "2" - in 85% of the cases the result will be somewhere between "1" and "2". In 9% the effects will be less pronounced than with the administration of a single agent. In another 5% you're lucky and the compounds display a special synergy so that "1+1" isn't just "2", but actually "2.x". And, lastly, there is this 1% of the cases, where "1+1" is actually "2".

Figure 1: Ratings of perceived exertion at 80% ̇ VO2max, left; total time trial performance (cycling at 80% VO2max to exhaustion) in s, right (Handzlik. 2013)
As you can see in Figure 1 the study at hand is actually one of these rare 1% of supplement studies, where "1+1=2" is a true statement; and it is also one of those studies that could help nitrate supplements to return to the focus of attention, if people realized that they are no pump supplements and that their usefulness for strength athletes and bodybuilders appears somewhat questionable. I for my part, would at least be surprised to see a strongman cycling like mad for 30 minutes... but I guess, principle neither rule #2 nor any of the other "Simple Rules of Sensible Supplementation" will ever be heard by the confirmed supplement junkies (learn more).
If this looks only remotely familiar, you are probably not following the "Three Simple Rules of Sensible Supplementation" | learn more
Bottom line: It goes without saying, the effects Michal K. Handzlik and Michael Gleeson report in their most recent paper are pretty outstanding. On the other hand, it's not what the majority of the initially mentioned disappointed customers were looking for, when they bought their underdosed nitrate-based NO-boosters.

In other words, unless you are aware that the benefits Handzlik and Gleeson observed in their fourteen well-trained male subjects won't necessarily be useful, maybe not even noticeable unless you practice sports where HIT (without the 2nd "I" for interval) is part of the training or even competition.
  • Handzlik, M. K., & Gleeson, M. (2013). Likely Additive Ergogenic Effects of Combined Preexercise Dietary Nitrate and Caffeine Ingestion in Trained Cyclists. ISRN Nutrition, 2013.