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If your idea of a fun weekend involves crawling through pits of mud, throwing spears with laser accuracy, and jumping over walls of fire; then chances are you are one of the millions of individuals who participate in obstacle course racing on any given Saturday or Sunday. Unlike other endurance sports such as running and cycling where success mostly depends on having great speed and endurance, obstacle course racing requires an individual not only to possess stamina and speed but also strength, quick reaction time, focus, and power. Lacking any one of these physical capabilities can mean the difference between a podium finish and falling flat on your face, possibly in one of those mud pits mentioned earlier.
While proper training and nutrition will play the biggest part in performing well on race day, taking four research proven supplements may give you a competitive edge and help you crush the race from beginning to end. This article will take an unbiased, in-depth look at these four supplements and discuss how they can help you on race day. All supported by science.
Don’t buy into the hype that caffeine will somehow make your heart explode or dehydrate you during endurance exercise. Besides carbohydrate, caffeine is the most effective supplement that enhances endurance performance. In fact, over 1000 peer-reviewed papers demonstrate that caffeine taken 30-60 minutes before endurance exercise can improve time to exhaustion and time trial performance by 5-15%. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Caffeine can also improve reaction time and focus, which can be especially helpful during long obstacle course races when fatigue sets in.
So how exactly does caffeine work once you take it? Glad you asked! Here’s your answer:
Caffeine is thought to work via three primary physiological mechanisms:
One last point on caffeine before we move on to the next ingredient. You may be wondering why you can’t get your caffeine kick from a cup of joe right before the race. While this may improve race performance slightly, research shows that caffeine anhydrous from a supplement is far more effective. Additionally, you will more than likely not get an effective amount of caffeine from 1 cup of coffee (~200mg).
In the past few years, several supplement brands have developed products that include beet in them. Now, if you’re like me this conjures up memories of your mom forcing you to eat this red bulbous vegetable because “it’s good for you.” Well, it turns out that your Mom was right…especially if you happen to be an endurance athlete who wants to gain an advantage over your competition. The good news for you is you don’t have to eat beets by the fistful or choke down some nasty juice to get the endurance-enhancing effects of this wonder vegetable. Beetroot powder is a more palatable option, and an easier way to get the necessary compound found in them responsible for improving your next run or ride. The compound found in beets responsible for supercharging stamina are nitrates.
So how will taking beetroot powder help you during an obstacle course race? The nitrates found in beetroot powder don’t just affect blood pressure and blood flow; they actually increase our cellular and metabolic efficiency. Six days of beet-sourced nitrate supplementation decreased the oxygen cost of exercise at low, moderate, and high intensities. What does that mean? To perform the same amount of work, less oxygen is required! This is like increasing your VO2Max, but just pushing on the other side of the scale. How, though?
Every movement, from chewing to running, requires a muscle contraction, and every muscle contraction requires a little cellular currency, called ATP. With nitrate supplementation, each muscle contractions ATP cost is reduced by about 25%. The result is improved performance. In both of the previously cited studies, participants experienced an average ~20% extension in time to exhaustion.
Those well-versed in the endurance scientific literature know that time to exhaustion is not the same as time trial performance. Fear not! Nitrate supplementation from beetroot consumed 2 hours before a cycling event improved 4km time trial performance and 16km time trial performance by ~3%! What about longer events? Well-trained cyclists reduced their time to cycle 50 miles by 1.2 minutes after only a single serving of nitrates. What’s more is the nitrate supplemented participants maintained a higher power output to oxygen consumption ratio, confirming the aforementioned metabolic efficiency.
What’s more, research had shown that when caffeine and nitrates are consumed together their synergy produces more performance enhancing effects compared to when taken alone.
Why is Beta-Alanine one of the most popular supplements for obstacle course racers and endurance athletes? Because it works! The quick and dirty reason for why it works is because it reduces the amount of lactic acid and hydrogen ions produced by hard-working muscles. Let’s geek out on beta-alanine!
The first thing you may notice when taking beta-alanine is you literally start to feel geeked out. This is a harmless side effect of beta-alanine, called paresthesia. In other words, your skin just feels really tingly and more sensitive to touch for a little while. Research examining this effect has demonstrated that only a particular type of neurons that are exclusively found in the skin are affected by beta-alanine. The itching sensation is NOT associated with any allergic (histamine) response or inflammation.Sensations are more pronounced in individuals with greater expression of the MAS-related G-Protein Receptor Family Member D (MrgprD) gene. Don’t like your MrgprD genes? You may find it worth it to endure the tingles for better performance!
Anyone exercising at a high intensity and pushing their limits generates lactic acid and hydrogen ions (that burning sensation) from rapid metabolism of glucose. Energy production from this metabolic pathway is unavoidable during tip-top performance efforts. Training helps the body learn how to buffer a reduced pH (acidosis), but beta-alanine is one of the only ways (and the most effective way) to reduce acidosis with nutrition. Beta-alanine is the rate-limiting step in the generation of carnosine (the intracellular pH buffer that reduces acidosis). I know what you’re thinking, why not just take carnosine? Gram for gram, beta-alanine is actually more effective for increasing muscle carnosine than carnosine itself! Carnosine binds the hydrogen ions produced from exercise, keeping blood pH more stable, and less burning sensation enables the athlete consuming beta-alanine to push harder, longer.
Do any studies how that Beta-Alanine can improve endurance? Yes. Numerous studies have found beta-alanine to improve endurance, fatigue resistance, and training volume. So how do you take it? Beta-alanine is best supplemented daily in doses of at least 3.2 grams per day (up to 6.4). Beta-alanine works best when consumed for extended periods of time because it can accumulate in the muscle tissue to provide additive effects. For those with active MrgprD genes who are more sensitive to beta-alanine, doses can be divided across the day without compromising beta-alanine’s efficacy. Beta-alanine does not need to be cycled. Some studies have investigated the effects of beta-alanine co-ingested with other ingredients such as caffeine to find even greater improvements in performance.
So far we have discussed how supplements such as caffeine, beetroot, and beta-alanine can improve endurance performance and other physical capabilities required in obstacle course racing. Now we will take an in-depth look at the final supplement that can help you go longer and faster. This supplement is choline.
Despite being synthesized in the body in small amounts, choline must be consumed through the diet to maintain optimal health. Although eating a diet that includes meats, milk, eggs, and peanuts provides natural sources of choline, it is still estimated that 90% of the population eats a diet deficient in choline. For endurance athletes, this deficiency may be even greater as strenuous exercise has been reported to result in decreased choline concentrations in the blood. For example, runners who participated in the 1985 & 1986 showed a 40% drop in plasma choline levels. The point is a decrease in choline can negatively affect endurance performance, and supplementation provides a practical solution.
So how will supplement choline help you dominate your next OCR?
In sum, choline supplementation is an effective nutritional strategy to prevent exercise-induced drops in plasma choline levels, which are associated with reduced endurance performance.
Now that you have read this article I want to make one point clear. You should always have your training and diet regimen dialed in before taking supplements. These two variables will play the biggest part on how well you compete and perform on race day. Supplementing with the four ingredients discussed above can help give you that extra “edge” over your competition and make race day a much more pleasant experience when you feel strong the whole way and set a new PR in the process.
While you could take all four supplements separately, EndurElite has made it simple for you by combining them all plus six other performance enhancing ingredients in PerformElite – The Endurance Athlete’s Pre-Workout. PerformElite was designed specifically for endurance athletes, not gym rats, and it contains only efficacious doses of scientifically-validated ingredients that support different aspects of obstacle course racing performance. Give it a try and find out for yourself!