Getting Cranked: Cycling’s Best Supplements

Getting Cranked: Cycling’s Best Supplements
By Mark Timon, M.S. Clinical Nutrition

From the first turn of the crank, a trained bicycler’s body is called upon to operate at peak efficiency. Through hours spent on the road, uphill and down, and along the flat, each cell has built more microscopic energy centers, called mitochondria, in order to provide the compensatory supply of ATP (adensosine tri-phosphate, the molecule of energy) needed for sustained competitive riding.

A cell packed with robust mitochondria is an efficient energy factory – as long as it is fed with a high level of essential nutrients. Those nutrients include a rich supply of fatty acids. That may surprise some, but indeed, fatty acids, and not blood sugar, customarily fuel energy production in cells during aerobic exercise. When demands exceed the ability of a cell to convert fatty acids to energy within its mitochondria, blood sugar will be substituted, throwing off lactic acid as the end product. Oxygen is not needed for this conversion. Energy produced from sugar is carried out under anaerobic conditions, and leads quickly to the debilitating lactic acid “burn” associated with muscles entering a state of fatigue. And that is why the cells of long distance runners and trained cyclists build more mitochondria. With more mitochondria, their cells maximize efficient energy production through the aerobic burning of fatty acids.

Many cyclists have learned that coconut oil provides just the fatty acid boost needed to keep mitochondria churning out energy throughout a long ride. The medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) in coconut oil are easily absorbed by energy producing mitochondria. Squeezable packets of flavored coconut oil as well as capsules are available as convenient supplements for athletes.

Fueling muscle cells with fatty acids is only part of the picture, of course. Human biochemistry is not so simple that everything you need to support energy production, endurance and recovery can be found in a tablespoon or two of coconut oil. For example, your eyes need to be sharp if you are going to see where you’re going. And as time wears on, muscles will begin to fray under the repetitive stress of a prolonged ride. Oxygen consumption also increases in order to deliver that essential element to all the mitochondria incinerating their fatty acids. And we dare not forget the ionic flow along nerves from brain to toes that control full body coordination during the ordeal.

Translocation of sodium and potassium ions across neuronal cell membranes defines a nerve impulse. It is easy (too easy) for us to get enough sodium from our modern diet, but do we get enough potassium? The latter mineral is not stored in tissues as is sodium, so a daily supply is needed. One of the best sources is not bananas, but rather Green Vibrance from Vibrant Health mixed in orange juice. Both are loaded with potassium.

Green Vibrance also pumps in large quantities of antioxidants, protecting cell membranes from damage under the increased oxygenation of competitive cycling. The botanical extracts that serve as antioxidants have the added advantage of suppressing innate elastase and collagenase enzymes that work within the human body to break down connective tissue. When you are beating your body during an invigorating race, the last thing you need is your own body helping tear down tendons and ligaments. Botanical extracts in Green Vibrance work against that natural activity while also bonding together broken and frayed collagen fibers. And this says nothing about the plethora of trace nutrients, richly supplied by Green Vibrance, that aid removal of waste products form active cells, feed optimal eye function, and strengthen bones.

Calcium, vitamin C, boron and vitamin D3 in Green Vibrance funnel nutrients into bone, aiding healthy bone building in the recovery period after intense exertion. Boron especially should be noted for its ability to restore ideal hormonal homeostasis if one is out of balance. The effects are on testosterone, estradiol and calcitriol (hormonal D), taking them to levels that enhance bone building and muscle synthesis.

After a race, muscles know they have been “put through the ringer.” Connective tissue bonds are broken in certain places among muscle fibers; some cells are exhausted and damaged. Repair and recovery must occur. Anti-oxidants can help, and the superfood, Green Vibrance can help, but protein is also needed. A recovering racer can, of course, rely on meat, eggs and fish to provide that protein, but some also turn to supplements.

New research shows that the heavily sweetened protein supplements long preferred by body-builders and athletes may not be effective. It was long thought that an insulin surge triggered by the sugar component of such products would stimulate muscle synthesis. New research shows that the insulin actually suppresses muscle synthesis after intense exercise.

For that reason, and to avoid hormone and antibiotic residues in commercial meets, athletes can turn to an all vegetable protein supplement called PureGreen Protein. The ingredients in PureGreen Protein were combined in such a way as to craft an amino acid profile that virtually matches human muscle protein. That is great news when you are trying to recover after a road race. Only the Chocolate flavor contains a little sugar, while the Natural, Mixed Berry and Vanilla flavors are sugar free. With natural iron and added vitamin B12 (plus some enzymes) PureGreen Protein becomes an excellent substitute for animal proteins.

But if you really want your cells and your body to function at peak efficiency, nothing beats R-alpha-lipoic acid and acty-l-carntine. Research by Bruce Ames, the same scientist to develop the "Ames test" for carcinogenicity of foods and chemicals, identified the beneficial effect of a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine (one gram per day) plus R-alpha-lipoic acid (500 mg per day) to restore youthful cell membrane potential. Work is continuing on the affects of these nutrients at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University under the guidance of a research colleague of Bruce Ames who was involved in the initial research, Tory Hagen, Ph.D.

"Cell membrane potential" sounds rather nebulous, but the effect is astounding. When cell membrane potential is improved, energy output, healing processes, and all other aspects of cellular metabolism are rendered more efficient and driven up to optimum levels. The effect returns aging animals to youthful behavior. In humans, we can expect an overall improvement to cellular metabolism that will manifest as greater strength, endurance and anti-oxidant protection within every cell.

Although cycling removes the jarring impact that punishes a marathoners legs and joints, powerful forces strain a cyclist’s ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, wrists, back and elbows. For joint protection, and to restore joint health, nothing beats Joint Vibrance from Vibrant Health. The formula can actually rebuild cartilage in damaged joints through its unique combination of patented Arthred® hydrolyzed collagen, anti-inflammatory botanicals, chondroitin, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, MSM and enzyme boosting minerals. Used prophylactically, it can also protect against wear and tear.

Of course, a clean diet focused on organic foods and lacking the processed variety provides a healthy foundation for years of enjoyment on two wheels, whether you are competing or touring for pleasure. Yet study after study continues to identify the shrinking nutritional value of even our best whole foods. It has become necessary, in the opinion of many, to supplement the diet in order to achieve a level of nutrition that will deliver truly optimal health.

about the author
Mark Timon is the founder of and formulator for Vibrant Health, a sophisticated line of nutritional supplements based in the northwest corner of Connecticut. He entered the nutrition industry February 5, 1971, and designed over 450 nutritional supplements for other companies before founding Vibrant Health in 1992.

His formulations are noteworthy for their completeness and synergistic balance. They are based on rigorous research and study, in combination with his experience in Clinical Nutrition.

Mr. Timon holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado, and a Masters degree in Biology, Emphasis in Clinical Nutrition, from the University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport. Connecticut.

He has authored The Complete Dictionary of Health and Nutrition, published by Pyramid Books, Mineral Logic (self published), which discusses mineral transporters and bioavailability and a number of articles on health and nutrition that have appeared in the Townsend Letter for Doctors and in lay publications. He is currently at work on The Caveman Diet…. Or Not, and a series of books called the “Escape from…”series targeting disorders that are clearly treatable or preventable through clinical nutrition. (e.g. Osteoporosis, Cardiovascular disease, etc.)

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