Author Archives: Kiara Johnson

Improving your performance with Caffeine. Part 2.

Lance's latte

In part 1 of our posts on caffeine, we discussed the effects and the benefits of caffeine during high-intensity activities that are short in duration. Caffeine has also been shown to benefit endurance events.

Several studies have found that caffeine improves endurance exercise performance, but the factors which are responsible for this are not fully understood. Scientists have thought that one of the possibilities is increased free fatty acid (FFA) oxidation and a resultant sparing of muscle glycogen.

During long duration events athletes use a combination of carbohydrate and fats as their fuel source. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen (in the muscle and liver), and glucose (in the blood). The preferred fuel source for endurance events is muscle glycogen. However, muscle glycogen stores deplete after approximately 90 minutes of exercise; when this occurs, athletes have to rely on fats as the dominant fuel source. The problem with using fats as a dominant fuel source is that they are slower to break down, and as a result the athlete must slow down their intensity of exercise. So it would be a great advantage to rely on muscle glycogen stores for longer and try to ‘spare’ these stores for the end of the race in order to maintain a high intensity. This is the proposed benefit for caffeine intake: sparing of muscle glycogen.

A few studies have found that caffeine administration, 60 min prior to exercise; significantly increases plasma FFA levels both prior to and during exercise. Caffeine administration did not alter any of the other variables examined, including heart rate, rating of perceived exertion, plasma levels of glucose, lactate, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.  Researchers from this study concluded that caffeine administration in athletic, habitual caffeine consumers increased plasma FFA levels but had neither metabolic nor neuromuscular effects that would be of potential ergogenic benefit in endurance running.

The mechanisms of the benefits of caffeine for endurance events are still not properly understood, although the proposed benefits are ‘sparing’ of muscle glycogen and an increase in plasma free fatty acids. This increase in free fatty acids, however, has not been shown to have an ergogenic benefit in endurance training. Therefore, caffeine has a greater benefit with high intensity activities that are short in duration.

Need Some Motivation?

Motivation is the driving force which helps us to achieve our goals and succeed. It is related to, but distinct from emotion. Motivation comes in two forms, intrinsic or extrinsic. People often have different motivations for continuing or beginning exercise.

Intrinsic motivation is motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself. It exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressure. Intrinsic motivation is your natural desire to achieve something. If you are driven to compete or achieve something without any prize or reward amply because you enjoy the challenge of it, this is intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards like money. Competition is in general extrinsic because it encourages the performer to win and beat others, not to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the activity. A crowd cheering on the individual and trophies are also extrinsic incentives.

It is important to understand your motivation, whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic as this can help with setting goals and the way you go about achieving them. For example if your motivation for exercising is extrinsic you are more likely to compete in fun runs and triathlons in order to receive prizes and trophies. An individual who is exercising for intrinsic factors would be more likely to go out for runs on their own.

Arousal is another factor to be considered when looking at motivation. Arousal is your level of excitement and readiness to perform. Arousal can have positive and negative effects on your performance. Your performance will be best at an optimum level of arousal. After this level, performance gets worse as you become anxious and nervous.

This is a graph which demonstrates this theory. It is called the Inverted U theory as it looks like an upside-down U!

It is important to understand your motivation to exercise as this will help with your goal setting and the way you go about achieving these. During exercise it is important to make sure your arousal level is optimum to ensure you perform at your best.

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Improving your performance with Caffeine. Part 1.

red bull gives you wings

We all know and most of us love caffeine, whether it is from coffee, energy drinks, soft drinks or chocolate. We particularly enjoy caffeine on a Monday morning when we need to become more alert. But caffeine not only wakes us up whilst we are at work, but it also improves our performance.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance, found in over 60 different plants, and is a stimulant and mild diuretic. Caffeine has diuretic properties when administered in sufficient doses to subjects that do not have a tolerance for it. Regular users, however, develop a strong tolerance to this effect, and studies have generally failed to support the common notion that ordinary consumption of caffeinated beverages contributes significantly to dehydration.

The precise amount of caffeine necessary to produce effects varies from person to person, depending on body size and degree of tolerance to caffeine. It takes less than an hour for caffeine to begin affecting the body, and a mild dose wears off in three to four hours.

The latest result shows that caffeine mainly has an effect on events that are high in intensity and low in duration. The major benefit in which caffeine has on sporting performance is in reducing our rating of perceived effort (basically things don’t feel as hard). For example, you may be able to get through those five hill sprints a bit easier. Furthermore, during periods of 30-120 minutes caffeine has been shown to produce the following benefits:

– Improved muscle contractibility

– Increased time to exhaustion

– Improved concentration

– Enhanced alertness

– Reduced fatigue

In the short-term (under 30 minutes), caffeine can have a detrimental effect on some aspects of performance (for example fine motor control and technique due to over-arousal). Therefore you need to be aware of timing of intake to ensure optimal performance.

Despite having a positive impact on sporting performance, there are some side-effects of caffeine which include dehydration, headaches, high blood pressure, restlessness, anxiety and irritability.

So caffeine not only has a positive impact on waking us up of a morning but also on improving our performance. The amount of caffeine we need will vary depending on the individual as we all have a different tolerance. Although caffeine helps improve performance, individuals need to be aware of the side-effects and thus use sparingly.

In our next update on improving your performance with caffeine we will go into detail of how caffeine can be used to increase performance in long endurance events by helping to conserve carbohydrate stores.

Fitness for Health

Doctor NickThe question that who is fitter out of a marathon runner vs. a sumo wrestler cannot be answered so simply. When we talk about ‘fitness’ often people only think about aerobic fitness. Fitness is such a broad term and a complex subject which can include health and skill related fitness. These components of fitness include endurance, agility, speed, strength, power, flexibility, balance and skill.

Health related fitness is often divided into several other components which form our overall health status:

– Endurance: This is also sometimes known as stamina and is the ability of your body to continuously provide enough energy to sustain submaximal levels of exercise This type of fitness has enormous benefits to our lifestyle as it allows us to be active throughout the day, for example walking to the shops, climbing stairs or running to catch a bus. It also allows us to get involved in sports and leisure pursuits.

– Strength: vitally important, not only in sports but in day-to-day life. We need to be strong to perform certain tasks, such as lifting heavy bags or using our legs to stand up from a chair and maintaining posture. Strength is defined as the ability of a muscle to exert a force to overcome a resistance.

– Flexibility: the movement available at our joints, usually controlled by the length of our muscles. This is often thought to be less important than strength, or cardiovascular fitness. However, if we are not flexible our movement decreases and joints become stiff. Flexibility in sports allows us to perform certain skills more efficiently, for example a gymnast, dancer or diver must be highly flexible, but it is also important in other sports to aid performance and decrease the risk of injury. In daily activities we must be flexible to reach for something in a cupboard, or off the floor. It also helps to improve posture, reduce low back pain and improve balance during movement.

– Body Composition: the amount of muscle, fat, bone, cartilage etc that makes up our bodies. In terms of health, fat is the main point of interest and everything else is termed lean body tissue. The amount of fat we carry varies from person to person and healthy averages vary with gender and age. A healthy amount of fat for a man is between 15&18% and for women is higher at 20-25%. It is important to maintain a healthy percentage of body fat because excess body fat can contribute to developing a number of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes and places strain on the joints, muscles and bones, increasing the risk of injury.

In conclusion fitness cannot be defined as any one thing; it is broken up into many components. These components are all very important in activities of daily living. Most sports involve all of the fitness components however some may be more important than others. So the answer to the question, ‘who is fitter between a marathon runner and a sumo wrestler?’ The marathon runner would be fitter in terms of endurance and body composition however the sumo wrestler would be fitter in terms of strength and power.

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What The Hell Is Eccentric Strength Training?

Eccentric Resistance TrainingWhen a muscle contracts the length can either change or stay the same. If the muscle length remains the same it is known as an isometric contraction, an example exercise is holding the plank. Whereas if the muscle length changes it is known as an isotonic contraction, an example exercise is performing a bicep curl. An isotonic contraction involves two phases; the shortening phase (i.e. the up phase of a bicep curl) which is called a concentric contraction and the second phase is the lengthening phase which is known as an eccentric contraction (i.e. the lowering phase of a bicep curl).

Research has shown that eccentric training, where the muscle lengthens, can be more beneficial for optimal performance training. With eccentric training, muscles are able to create more for less work. This means that eccentric contractions use less energy and actually absorb energy that will be used as heat or elastic recoil for the next movement.

While energy costs remain low, the degree of force is very high. This leads to muscles that respond with significant increases in muscle strength, size and power. Research has shown that increases in both strength and muscle fiber are higher in eccentric training than in traditional concentric training. In old age, loss of strength and muscle mass is commonplace. Eccentric training enables the elderly, and those with the same problems, the ability to train muscle groups and increase strength and resiliency with low-energy exercise.

Performing eccentric dominant contractions have been shown to also assist in injury prevention. This is particularly true for hamstring injuries. By conditioning the muscle eccentrically they will become stronger at longer lengths and therefore decrease the risk of hamstring injuries. Some great example exercises are deadlifts and back extensions.

In conclusion eccentric contractions use less energy, even though they create more force than concentric actions. Performing these types of muscle contractions can have significant benefits in decreasing the risk of injuries. Furthermore due to significant increases in strength and power seen in eccentric contractions it is optimal for improvements in training.

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What Are The Implications Of Strength Training In Children?

Strength Training In ChildrenHave you ever heard anyone say, “don’t let children do any strength training because it will stunt their growth!” The latest research has shown that strength training can actually be very beneficial for children both physically and mentally. Not only is it beneficial but there has been no documented evidence that any child has injured themselves when performing strength training exercises. Whereas if you have a look at the emergency room on a Saturday afternoon it’s full of children who have hurt themselves playing sport. So when should they start?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends strength training for children as young as six years old. In general, if a child is old enough to participate in organised sports, he or she is ready for a strength training program.

Research has shown strength training helps children maintain a healthy body weight, benefits skeletal and joint development as well as improves sports performance. ACSM reported that strength training programs can prevent as many as 50 percent of all preadolescent sports injuries.

Among the general developmental benefits of strength training is its ability to increase bone mineral density, thereby decreasing the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. In fact strength training is most beneficial for young women before the age of 16 and young men before the age of 18. Evidently, the benefits acquired are long term.

In addition to decreasing the risk of osteoporosis, strength training:

– strengthens ligaments and tendons

– readies soft tissues to produce the forces associated with play, making them more pliable and resistant to external forces

– improves motor fitness skills, such as jumping and sprinting, which are often required in sports performance.

Most importantly because strength training is structured similar to play (i.e., periods of high-energy activity alternated with longer periods of rest), it can be fun for children.

As with any physical activity, certain precautions should be taken for the participant’s safety. Adult strength training guidelines and programs should not be applied to children. For example children should never perform a maximal weight lift or ballistic movements (i.e power lifting exercises).

So there you have it, young children can be involved in strength training programs. However certain precautions must be taken, for example they must do it under qualified supervision by a person trainer or gym instructor. The program will start off with body weighted exercises and progress to weighted exercises such as using dumbbells. It is important to start training at an early age as this will improve body mineral density for later in life. Overall strength training helps children maintain a healthy body weight, benefits skeletal and joint development as well as improves sports performance.