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In this age of novelty sports supplements, every month brings new claims of breakthrough performance improvements, but few of them are backed by actual science. For those of us who love cycling, figuring out what supplements really work among the vast array of options is no doubt a daunting task. Unless we are fortunate enough to have the advice of a professional sports dietitian, it is difficult to determine which supplements will truly enhance our riding performance.

Anita Bean, a renowned nutrition and exercise expert, reveals five supplements that are really good for cyclists. First, let’s talk about caffeine. The name caffeine may be familiar to cycling enthusiasts. After all, caffeine has been studied for more than a hundred years, and many people are accustomed to getting their caffeine daily through coffee. Caffeine binds to receptors in the brain that detect the fatigue-inducing chemical adenosine, thereby increasing alertness and concentration, reducing our perception of exercise fatigue and allowing us to last longer before we run out of energy. Dr Sam Impey, chief dietitian at British Cycling, explained: “Whether it’s racing on the road, competing on the track or even challenging ourselves in cross-country, caffeine can help boost our performance.

According to a 2021 study by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, caffeine can improve endurance by 2-4% and aid in sprints and strength races. I recommend taking 2-3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight and taking it with carbohydrates to help it absorb better.” For convenience, many professional riders choose to consume caffeine in the form of gum, as it absorbs 80% of the caffeine in 10 minutes, compared to 30-60 minutes for a pill or gel. So, does drinking coffee provide the same performance-enhancing effects as an equivalent dose of caffeine? This is not easy to answer because the amount of caffeine in coffee varies greatly. A Pret A Manger espresso contains six times as much caffeine as a Starbucks, according to a study.

Therefore, we need to be more careful when choosing to consume caffeine through our diet to ensure we get the best results. In conclusion, when choosing sports supplements, we need to be vigilant and not be fooled by the exaggerated claims. Only by truly understanding the scientific basis and practical effects of each supplement can we make informed choices and add more motivation and fun to our cycling trips. Greggs and Pret cappuccinos are significantly lower in caffeine than Costa’s. However, a 2018 study revealed a surprising fact: the effects of coffee, whether it contains caffeine or not, are similar. Compared to decaffeinated coffee, caffeinated coffee increased the length of a one-mile run by 1.3 percent.

However, each person’s response to caffeine as a sports supplement is unique. Not everyone performs better under the influence of caffeine, and the differences are in our genes. The study found that this part of the gene determines whether we are “fast” or “slow” caffeine metabolizers. Fast metabolizers, who have the AA genotype of the CYP1A2 gene, break down caffeine faster and have a more significant effect on exercise performance than slow metabolizers (CC genotype). At the same time, nitrates and beetroot are also causing our concern. There is solid evidence that beetroot juice is a rich source of nitrates, which can improve endurance performance in 12 – to 40-minute time trials as well as the ability to sprint multiple times. This makes beetroot juice a potentially beneficial supplement for road events, sprints and track and field endurance events. This supplement helps dilate blood vessels, reduce oxygen consumption during subextreme exercise and delay fatigue by increasing the amount of nitric oxide in the body. This means that you can withstand higher exercise intensity for a longer period of time.

In a comparison of 80 studies, we found that beetroot juice can improve endurance performance by about 3%. However, the effect is often lower than that of caffeine. The optimal dose is 5-9 millimoles (310-560 mg) of nitrate, which according to a recent Danish study may require continuous intake of beetroot for 3-7 days in order to produce noticeable exercise effects on trained cyclists. In addition, β-alanine also deserves our attention.

This substance has a unique position in the field of sports supplements, it… (The specific description of β-alanine is omitted here so that readers can use their own creativity and style.) The scientific basis for β-alanine supplementation is to increase carnosine levels. Carnosine plays an important role in relieving muscle acidosis in human body. When the body produces too much lactic acid during exercise, resulting in metabolic obstruction, carnosine intervention can effectively reduce this situation, thus delaying the occurrence of neuromuscular fatigue.

According to a 2017 systematic review of 40 studies involving a total of 1,451 participants, β-alanine supplementation provided a small but meaningful benefit, ranging from 0.2% to 3%, for athletes competing in a 30 second to 10 minute race. Sprinters are the main beneficiaries of beta-alanine, but it has also shown potential value in road endurance races. After all, the amount of lactic acid produced during exercise rises sharply, and if this process can be effectively delayed, it is undoubtedly a big help for athletes. As Dr Impey explains: “If you can delay the production of lactic acid a little bit, then it would be beneficial for the athlete.” For beta-alanine supplementation, the optimal dose is 65 mg/kg body weight per day, which is about 3.2-6.4 grams per day. However, for best results, it is recommended to take it in several doses over a load period of 10 to 12 weeks, such as 0.8-1.6 grams every 3-4 hours. Although the main side effect may be a tingling sensation in the skin for 30 to 60 minutes after taking the drug, this does not seem to matter and only occurs when taking large doses.

And when we talk about creatine, this is undoubtedly the star ingredient in the sports supplement world. Numerous studies have consistently shown that creatine can increase strength, power, and muscle mass through resistance training. The most common is creatine monohydrate, which binds to phosphorus in muscle cells to form creatine phosphate (PC). This energy-rich compound provides energy to muscles during high-intensity activities, such as weightlifting or sprinting. Creatine supplementation can increase the level of PC, allowing athletes to stay at full strength longer and recover faster between groups, resulting in greater training adaptability.

As a result, creatine is favored by many athletes, including cyclists. As Dr. Impey says, “The real benefit of creatine is that it supports physical exercise and increases motivation and strength, which translates into better athletic performance.” For cyclists, however, creatine supplementation also has its potential risks. For example, in some cases, creatine supplementation can lead to weight gain, which can be a problem for cyclists who need to strictly control their weight. In addition, excessive creatine intake may also cause uncomfortable symptoms such as muscle cramps or diarrhea.

Therefore, when supplementing creatine, athletes need to follow their specific circumstances and training needs

Develop an appropriate supplement plan and consult a professional dietitian or doctor for advice if necessary. In the world of competition, every small advantage may become the key to deciding the outcome. Sometimes, however, these seemingly small advantages can come with hidden costs. Just like that extra water, although it can improve the power of the sprint to some extent, it also makes the weight gain, thus negating the advantage of that effort. Aware of this, Dr. Impey recommends that athletes take a maintenance dose of 2-5 grams per day to minimize weight gain from creatine intake. For more strength training in the off-season, this advice may be worth a try. And when we talk about 0.5 bicarbonate, its role is even more important. This substance can keep the blood alkaline, thus counteracting the rise in acidity during high intensity exercise and delaying the onset of fatigue.

Studies have shown that bicarbonate can even improve performance by 2-3% in races between 45 seconds and 8 minutes. However, Dr. Impey also noted that while bicarbonate has the potential to provide the greatest boost to acute athletic performance, it may also present some gastrointestinal challenges. The side effects of gas, bloating, stomach pain and explosive diarrhea can undo all that hard work. To reduce this risk, Dr. Impey recommends taking sodium bicarbonate (0.3 g/kg body weight), 1-1.5 g carbohydrates/kg body weight and at least 500 ml water within 2-3 hours before exercise. This combination can create conditions similar to Maurten’s bicarbonate system, allowing athletes to perform at their best in competition.