How To Train With Less Cycling Muscle
Muscle soreness is an unavoidable side
effect of endurance training. The only way to avoid post-exercise muscle
soreness completely is to avoid exercise. However, there are several things you
can do to minimize muscle soreness caused mainly by damage to muscle proteins
without sacrificing fitness. Some obvious ones include warming up and cooling
down properly and building up your training workload very gradually.
Less known and less widely practiced are
some nutritional means of minimizing post-exercise muscle soreness that are
based on cutting-edge sports science research. By consuming the right balance
of nutrients before, during, and immediately following workouts, this research
shows, you can minimize the amount of muscle protein degradation that is caused
by workouts and maximize the rate of post-exercise muscle protein repair and
rebuilding. And this will allow you to perform better in your key workouts and
bounce back quicker afterward.
Start with a Full Tank
Carbohydrate, mainly in the form of muscle
glycogen, is the primary fuel for moderate- to high-intensity exercise. But
amino acids, supplied in part through the breakdown of muscle proteins, also
provide some energy. The longer a workout or competition lasts, the less
carbohydrate contributes and the more amino acids contribute to the bodys
energy needs. Athletes can minimize the number of muscle proteins that must be
broken down to supply energy by beginning their workouts with more glycogen
stored in their muscles.
In a university study, subjects performed a
prolonged one-leg strength exercise first with a randomly chosen leg and then
with the opposite leg. They began the workout with normal glycogen levels in
one leg (again randomly chosen) and depleted glycogen levels in the other. The
researchers found that muscle protein breakdown was much greater in the
glycogen-depleted leg than in the normal leg during the course of the workout.
It is important, then, that athletes top
off their muscle glycogen stores before workouts. The best way to do this is to
eat a meal comprising mostly low- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrates two to
three hours before exercise. In a Penn State University study, one group of
athletes ate a rolled oats cereal (moderate-glycemic) while another group ate a
puffed rice cereal (high-glycemic) before a stationary cycling test. Both
breakfasts contained 75 grams of total carbohydrate. Those who ate the rolled
oats cereal were able to cycle significantly longer than those who ate the
puffed rice. These results make it clear that athletes should choose their
pre-exercise foods carefully.
The pre-workout meal should also contain
some protein. New research suggests that providing the body with a dietary
source of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) through
pre-workout protein consumption can further decrease the bodys reliance
on muscle proteins for energy during exercise. It also accelerates
post-exercise muscle protein synthesis by increasing the availability of amino
acids for this purpose.
Consuming a carbohydrate-protein supplement
during exercise can further minimize muscle tissue damage and accelerate
post-workout protein synthesis. Use of a conventional 6-8% carbohydrate sports
drink such as Gatorade slows the depletion of muscle glycogen stores and
thereby delays the rise in the use of muscle proteins as an energy source. But
newer research has demonstrated that the addition of a small amount of protein
to a sports drink spares glycogen even further. It does this by stimulating
more insulin, which is the hormone responsible for transporting glucose to the
In a study, researchers found that the
addition of protein to a carbohydrate sports drink in a 4:1 ratio enhanced
aerobic endurance performance by 24% more than a conventional carbohydrate
sports drink. These data suggest that the addition of protein increased insulin
and glucose uptake, thereby providing faster energy to the exercising muscle.
The result is increased sparing of muscle glycogen and a significant
improvement in endurance.
A sports drink is the best form in which to
consume carbohydrate and protein during workouts, not only because these
nutrients will be more quickly absorbed in this form but also because a sports
drink also provides the water and electrolytes needed to prevent dehydration
during exercise. Athletes should consume a few ounces of such a drink every 10
minutes throughout exercise. The precise amount needed depends on factors that
include the size of the athlete, the intensity of exercise, and the air
A study performed at St. Cloud University
demonstrated that using a carbohydrate-protein sports drink during a workout
can also significantly reduce post-exercise muscle tissue stress. In this
study, athletes that used this supplement showed on average a 36% lower level
of a physiological marker for muscle tissue stress than controls, suggesting
that by providing amino acids in addition to carbohydrate, the sports drink
helped maintain cell membrane integrity.
It is not possible to consume enough
carbohydrate during moderate- to high-intensity exercise to replace what is
burned, nor to completely offset muscle protein degradation. So it is important
to consume additional carbohydrate and protein after the workout. This should
be done as soon as possible, because the body is able to synthesize glycogen
and protein at more than twice the normal rate due to heightened insulin
receptivity in the muscle cells following exercise. For this reason, exercise
physiologists sometimes refer to the first two hours post-exercise as the
muscle recovery window.
Carbohydrate-protein sports drinks are
again the best immediate post-workout nutrition source because of their rapid
absorption and their water and electrolyte content. Using such drinks and/or
water and solid foods, athletes should be sure to fully replenish fluid losses
(i.e. return to pre-workout bodyweight) and consume 10-20% of their daily
carbohydrate and protein intake within the first two hours after completing
In addition to consuming appropriate
amounts of carbohydrate and protein before, during, and immediately after
workouts, athletes can reduce muscle damage and soreness by maintaining a diet
that is generally high in antioxidants. Oxygen radicals are believed to play a
role in the cellular damage that follows the rupture of muscle fibers during
exercise. By consuming plenty of antioxidant vitamins and enzymes on a daily
basis athletes can limit this damage. Vitamins C and E appear to be the most
effective antioxidant defenders against free radical damage to muscle tissues.
Citrus fruits, melon, and berries are good sources of vitamin C. Vegetable
oils, nuts, dark green vegetables and whole grains are rich in vitamin E.
The Bottom Line
While muscle tissue damage and muscle
soreness are normal effects of hard training, proper sports nutrition practices
can minimize these effects. If you are consistent in these practices you will
recover more quickly between workouts and competitions and perform better
during them. Not to mention, you wont wake up in the morning feeling as
though you had been caned in your sleep!