Chiseled and strong muscles formed through thousands of hours of running, cycling, or other endurance activities.
A robust cardiovascular system developed through lung searing interval trainingsessions.
A well thought out tapering strategy that always seems to help you nab that next PR.
These three things are often associated with peak athletic performance but there is one often overlooked training component that may be just or more important to endurance athletes when it comes to performing their best and it has to do with the brain.
The ability to stay focused on the task at hand, push through the pain without flinching, and create a strong mind-to-muscle connection can make the difference between a breakthrough race or subpar outing
Several research studies have demonstrated this (check out the book Endure by Alex Hutchinson) that mostly have athletes do monotonous and mentally fatiguing tasks in order to "train the brain" to help the body perform better.
Outside on brain training exercises, there is one supplement that may help athletes stay hyper-focused when they are training or racing and create a stronger mind to muscle connection.
This supplement is Alpha-glycerophosphocholine or Alpha-GPC for short.
This article will discuss what Alpha-GPC is, how it can benefit endurance athletes, what research has been done on it, the proper dosage and timing, and if Alpha-GPC is safe.
Alpha GPC is short for Alpha-glycerophosphocholine
Alpha-GPC is a lipid (fat) and cholinergic compound that is obtained from soy lecithin and is considered to be the most bioavailable source of choline.
When Alpha-GPC is ingested it is converted to choline. In the body choline helps synthesize phospholipids, plays a role in cholesterol metabolism, supports cellular membranes and most importantly, as it relates to this article, is involved in the signals the brain sends to our muscles via acting as a substrate for the biosynthesis of acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is vital in regulating our physiological response to exercise and plays a role in the way our muscles contract.
It also plays a role in keeping athletes mentally sharp via efficient transmissions of communication impulses between neurons. In the simplest sense, Alpha-GPC/acetylcholine enhances muscular power output via motor unit activation of muscle fibers and also delays mental fatigue.
When the available pool of choline becomes depleted muscle contractions become less efficient and we may not feel as focused. Supplementing with Alpha-GPC creates a greater “pool” or acetylcholine and thus can improve cognition and bolster athletic performance.
Fast fact. It is estimated that 90% of the population is choline deficient. The news is worse for endurance athletes.
Activities like strenuous running or biking can significantly decrease blood choline concentrations (up to 40%) which can have a negative impact on muscle contractions and cognition.
Thus, supplementing with Alpha-GPC (which is converted to choline when ingested) can improve performance in hard training sessions and races, stave off fatigue, and help keep you focused. It does this by:
Standard dosing of Alpha-GPC for athletes is 300-600mg. This amount has been demonstrated to improve power output, cognition, and possibly growth hormone secretion.
Higher doses of 1200mg can be taken by athletes to provide a sharper mental focus and a stronger mind to muscle connection.
Alpha-GPC should be consumed 30 minutes before exercise. This will quickly increase plasma choline levels that will remain elevated for ~2 hours before gradually returning to baseline after 24 hours.
Research On Choline Supplementation In Long Distance Runners
Von Allwörden investigated the effects of either placebo or choline supplementation on adolescent runners (aged 14–20 years). The subjects performed cross-country races of between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on age.
Choline supplementation resulted in an 18% increase in plasma choline levels with and a 54% increase without exercise; however, runners without PC supplementation did not deplete plasma choline levels.
In a follow-up trial, well-trained endurance athletes (aged 25–28 years) were running with a velocity of 12 km per hour for 2 hours. Subjects received either a choline supplement 3 hours before exercise or placebo.
Plasma choline values decreased after 2 hours of running by an average of 55%. When supplemented with choline average plasma choline levels increased during three hours of rest.
Physical stress lowered choline levels by 41%; however, final values were still higher than initial values.
Lactic acidvalues with choline supplementation were lower in 8 out of 10 runners and time to recover was 12% shorter.
Finally, in a double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled clinical trial ten long-distance runners received either choline or placebo 1 hour prior to and again after completing 10 miles of a 20-mile run.
Plasma choline levels were reported to have increased in the choline-supplemented group, whereas they decreased in the placebo group after strenuous exercise.
The mean run time was found to be significantly shorter when runners were supplemented with choline when compared to placebo, being 153.7 minutes and 158.9 minutes, respectively.
Research On Choline Supplementation in Cyclists & Triathletes
Ten top-level triathletes performed two sets of two-hour cycling exercise at an average speed of 35 km per hour. The participants received either a placebo or choline.
Choline supplementation without exercise led to an increase in plasma choline concentrations of approximately 27%.
Exercise without choline supplementation decreased the plasma choline concentrations in the triathletes by an average of 17%. When choline was given one hour before exercise, average plasma choline concentrations remained at the same level as the initial values.
Von Allwörden reported similar findings from a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover pilot trial. Well-trained endurance athletes performed a cycle ergometer test for 2 hours.
Subjects received either a placebo or choline before cycling at 1 Watt per kg body mass. Plasma choline values decreased after 2 hours of exercise by 38%. When supplemented with choline, the average plasma choline levels remained at the same level as the starting values.
Lactic acid concentrations after 1 hour (break for taking blood samples) and after 2 hours of exercise were increased by about 15% without supplementation; however, choline supplementation led to 11% decrease after one hour and a 25% decrease after 2 hours of exercise.
In addition, choline supplementation resulted in a more rapid return of heart rateto normal levels, indicating a beneficial effect of choline on fatigue and recovery during cycling
Research had confirmed Alpha-GPC has no negative effects on blood pressure, heart rate, or blood parameters. In some individuals, higher doses on Alpha-GPC (1000mg or more) may produce headaches until tolerance of the supplement is built up. These individuals should start with the lowest beneficial dose of 300 mg daily.
Alpha GPC can be purchased as an individual supplement through places like Amazon or bodybuilding.com.
It can also be purchased as part of a comprehensive pre-workout like PerformElite X where it is clinically dosed at 600mg per serving.
Based on the available research, Alpha-GPC is an effective and safe supplement that can provide an ergogenic benefit to endurance athletes by eliciting improved muscular contractions and focus.