Originally published at vitaminking.com.au

When it comes to preparing your body to perform at its peak, there’s no substitute to putting in hard work on the training track.  However, whether you’re hitting football field or the weights room, there are a few key ingredients that science has shown to immediately boost strength and performance.  These include…

 

1. Creatine

Anaerobic Power

Creatine combines with phosphate in the body to become phosphocreatine; a key driving force for energy production during intense physical activity.  Supplementation has been shown to increase muscular creatine stores, meaning a greater supply of phosphocreatine for energy production.  Three decades of research has shown that ingesting this naturally occurring compound can increase your ability to sustain all-out effort for longer, and also recover faster between bouts of such effort.  It has also been shown to increase muscle strength and lean muscle tissue.  A common myth around creatine is that it increases water weight.  It is worth noting though that the very small amount of water weight gained from creatine supplementation (we’re talking mere grams here) will be completely offset by the added strength and power it provides.  Look for a dose of around 3000-5000mg of creatine monohydrate or 750-1000mg of creatine hydrochloride, once a day, preferably after physical activity.

 

2. Beta-Alanine

Anaerobic Endurance

This is the stuff that gives you the tingles that most people associate with energy and buzz.  Whilst it does help endurance, it has nothing to do with mental stimulation.  Beta-alanine converts to the dipeptide carnosine in the body.  Carnosine is a pH buffer that helps disperse excess hydrogen ions built up in the muscles as a result of lactic acid production.  As a Rugby player, you’ll recognise a build-up of excess hydrogen in the muscles.  It’s that deep burning sensation caused by lactic acid after repeated sprints or tackles, which reduces speed, strength and power.  Beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to help get rid of excess hydrogen.  What that means is a reduction in fatigue caused by lactic acid, and an ability to perform at your best for longer.  Take around 3200mg within an hour of starting a game or training session.

3. Caffeine

Adrenaline, Alertness & Endurance

Whilst the aforementioned ingredients will boost performance and recovery in almost everyone, caffeine sits in a slightly different boat.   For some, it will increase alertness, endurance and strength, but for others, cause an increase in heart rate, anxiety, stress, and a reduction in performance.  So how do you know if it’s for you?

Let’s start with the basics.  Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that releases adrenaline by inhibiting adenosine.  This increase in adrenaline usually renders an increased feeling of alertness and a rise of fatty acid levels in the blood.  Alertness is obviously going to carry directly over to your performance in regards to reaction times and decision making.   The rise in fatty-acid levels in the blood may help in two ways:  firstly, by increasing the amount of fat used as energy and thus decreasing body fat; and secondly, by preserving muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and thus increasing endurance.

However, there’s a reason adenosine (the thing that caffeine inhibits) exists.  It preserves adrenaline for when your body is in a state of “fight or flight”, like before a game for example… However, “excess” caffeine consumption will cause the body to keep producing adrenaline, having the same effect as living in a constant state of “fight or flight”.  The end result? Adrenal fatigue and the countless problems that come with it.

What we need to determine here is how much caffeine is too much, and that depends entirely on the person.  Some people find one cup of coffee (approx. 80-100mg caffeine) is enough to make them anxious and jittery (the last thing you want, especially before a game), whereas others may guzzle 4 cups a day, then fall asleep like a baby come 9pm, and wake up fresh as a daisy the next morning.  It really does depend on the person.  The best advice? Assess your tolerance, know how much you’re using, and look for signs of caffeine dependence.  If you struggle to get to sleep at night, have low energy in the morning, and need caffeine to train, then look to cut back your intake and opt for only 0 or 100mg pre-workout.  If you have a high tolerance and caffeine doesn’t affect your heart rate, stress or sleep, then anywhere up to around 400mg should be fine.  Just remember that whilst caffeine can really enhance performance, it can also have a negative effect if abused.  It may be wise to stick to a small dose prior to training and games.