May 15, 2013
Overtraining - Biochemistry & Hormones

The most consistent overall finding in endurance and strength-trained athletes who have OTS is a decrease in the maximal lactate concentration  while submaximal values are unaffected or only slightly reduced.  Glutamine levels are often toted as another possible marker to indicate excessive training stress.  However, several problems exist with biochemical testing of overtraining:

  • Lactate differences can be subtle and depend on the type of exercise test used.
  • No lactate changes are reported in strength athletes.
  • Glutamine may decrease with excessive training but low levels are not a consistent finding in OTS.

At first, scientists tried to measure the testosterone/cortisol ratio as a marker of overtraining.  This is not possible because this ratio only indicates the actual physiological strain of training.  Furthermore, during rest days in endurance-trained athletes, 24 hour cortisol secretion is normal and even comparable to levels of sedentary individuals.  Problems exist with hormonal testing as well:

  • Many factors other than exercise affect blood hormone concentrations such as stress or food intake.
  • In females, it depends also on the menstrual cycle.
  • Different hormones are released depending on the modes of training (endurance vs. resistance).
  • Diurnal and seasonal variations of hormones.

May 3, 2012
Cold-water immersion for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise.

Taking ice baths post-exercise seems to be the most popular method of reducing delayed onset muscle soreness for novice and elite athletes.  This method, known scientifically as cryotherapy, is growing to be more popular than traditional ones such as massage, stretching, or taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  The most popular forms of cryotherapy are cycling 1 min in ice water (5 degrees Celsius) followed by 1 minute out for a total of three times or a longer duration of 15 minutes at 15 degrees Celsius.  Now that you have the background, I’ve went out and found an enormous extensive review on the subject to make clear whether or not this technique is useful or useless at combating muscle soreness and aiding recovery.

The scientific claims:  You know that you treat sprains, strains, or any swelling in the body with ice.  The mechanisms for why cryotherapy works are similar; reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.  There is also vasoconstriction (decreasing the diameter of the blood vessel) which stimulates blood flow and nutrient and waste transfer as well as decrease in nerve transmission speed, which could alter the threshold of pain receptors.

The studies used:  The review included 17 small trials (published from 1998-2009) of 366 participants.  No restrictions were placed on age (16-29), gender female, or type of level of exercise.  Also, no restrictions were placed on duration or frequency of immersions or depth of immersion.  The studies were all of small sample size (20 participants or less) except for one that used 54.

The exercises used:  All exercise used were designed to produce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) under laboratory controlled conditions.  Repetitions for resistance exercise ranged from 50-100 of eccentric or alternative concentric and eccentric contractions.  The other studies used running or cycling in single bout efforts (for the bike) or steady state efforts.  Few actually included team sport exercise (basketball and soccer).

The cryotherapy used:  The most common for the studies was 10-15 degrees Celsius with an average immersion of 12.6 minutes.  This was employed in almost all of the studies immediately after exercise.  The different methods of cold-water immersion were compared to nothing/rest (the most common), cold-water immersion vs. contrast immersion (switching between hot and cold), cold-water immersion vs. warm water, and cold-water immersion vs. active recovery.

Enough with the technicalities.  Let’s go to the results. 

Cold-water immersion vs. nothing:  In terms of muscle soreness, there is no significant difference immediately between the two conditions but at 24, 49, 72, 96 hours later the cold-immersion group reported a significantly lower amount of muscle soreness than the group that just rested.  This effect seems to be more prevalent after running based exercises than resistance exercises but the authors not that due to the various types of exercises that were performed between all the studies, plus the sample sizes being small, it is difficult to find whether or not this is truly significant.  There were no significant differences in strength, power, functional performance, swelling, or biomarkers of muscle damage.

Cold-water immersion vs. contrast immersion:  In terms of muscle soreness, there was no significant differences between the groups.  Also, there was no significant differences in strength, power, functional performance (time to fatigue), swelling, range of movement, or biomarkers of muscle damage.

Cold-water immersion vs. warm-water immersion:  There was significant lower levels of muscle soreness reported only for the cold-water immersion group at time-point 96 hours with no differences in strength, power, functional performance, swelling, or biomarkers of muscle damage.

Cold-water immersion vs. active recovery:  There are no significant differences in reports of muscle soreness, strength, power, functional performance, swelling, or biomarkers of muscle damage.

Discussion/Conclusions:   Cold-water immersion did significantly reduce muscle soreness at time points 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours post-exercise.  However, it is important to note that these were all subjective reporting (self-reports) and the authors state it is hard to draw true conclusions from the data due to poor methodological quality.  There were high risks of bias due to the fact that blinding was performed poorly as well as concealment of group assignments (only 1 study did this effectively).  There were also large differences in the types of exercises used and subjects were a mix between trained and untrained.  The effectiveness very well may rely on the specificity of the exercise performed as well as the athletic level of the individual.

My input:  Did you know that in the 1920s, cyclists in the Tour de France would smoke during the race because they believed that smoking opened up the blood vessels and oxygen transport machinery of the lungs?  Ridiculous, right?  I’m not saying ice-baths are as crazy as this, but are they truly beneficial to aid recovery in the muscle?  I’m not so sure.  From the most basic laws of chemistry, we know that when something is heated up the molecules in it move faster and when something is cooled down the molecules in it slow down.  If you are exposing your muscles to cold, all of the molecular processes will slow down.  You need enzymes (which function effectively at specific temperatures) and proteins moving post-exercise to begin the repair process and signal inflammation, and if you’ve read my previous posts on muscle hypertrophy, you know inflammation is necessary.  It is the same reasoning to avoid NSAIDs in hopes of reducing muscle soreness.  For this reason, I’m always heading for the exact opposite after training, a hot shower.  The reason I do this is not only to continue normal biochemical processes in the muscle but also to incorporate the activation of what are called heat shock proteins.  Heat shock proteins are proteins in the body that respond to stress or elevated temperatures.  They function as chaperones for other proteins by aiding them to conform to a certain shape and stabilize proteins that are not shaped properly.  Basically, they can clean up the mess inside of the muscle cell and help with repair.  This is another reason why I’m not on the ice-bath bandwagon.  You might feel that it has helped you before in the past and it possibly could have helped, but I just want to let you know there is no scientific evidence supporting it.  The studies are low quality studies.  If you truly want a good study on this, take a group of at least 35 people, train their legs or their arms simultaneously with the same protocol and put one limb in the ice and one limb not in the ice or in warm water, take muscle biopsies, and see the differences between the conditions (Anyone want to take this on as a nice Master’s or PhD project? I’ll be glad to give advice for it).  To my knowledge this has not been done and this would be the best way to see if cold-immersion truly helps.  Although there was some evidence in a decrease in self-reported muscle soreness, I’m still not convinced and higher quality studies are necessary before I’ll be convinced.

Bleakley et al Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2:CD008262.

September 15, 2011
Does Hemoglobin Mass Increase from Age 16 to 21 and 28 in Elite Endurance Athletes?

This one is for the runners, age 16 to 21 and 28 (who writes a title like that?), or for those that like blood (Twilight and True Blood fans, maybe)

Introduction:  Hemoglobin is responsible for the transport of oxygen to muscle which is toted as the rate limiting factor of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max).  It is well known that adult top endurance athletes have higher levels of body weight-related HBmass compared with either nonendurance athletes or untrained persons.  However, it is not known whether this can be attributed to genetics or years of training.

Purpose:  "To compare absolute and relative levels of HBmass and RCV in adolescent and adult top endurance athletes at different age categories (junior, U23, and elite) with age-matched controls to compare plasama and blood volume (PV and BV) between the aforementioned groups, and, finally, to compare aerobic capacity (VO2max) between the groups."

Results:  HBmass was lower in the athletes age 16 group than in older athletes age 21 and 28.  There were no differences in HBmass between the older athlete groups or control groups.  Athletes age 16 had lower BV than athletes age 21 and 28.  Athletes age 16 had lower relative VO2max than athletes age 21 and 28.

Conclusion:  "HBmass increases with endurance training between ages 16 and 21 years old but the potential to increase further past this point is limited.  There is an assumed genetic predisposition that could play an important role for high HBmass in elite athletes."

My input:  Sure it is easy to play the genetic game and assume this is the sole reason for an athletes success but I feel that is not the case in this situation.  There were some discrepancies in this study, one being that some of the athletes were not in season during the testing.  As the authors state, a longitudinal study of following the same athlete from age 16 to age 21 would be more practical to see if there truly is a difference in hemoglobin rather than age-matching sedentary individuals with athletes.  For now, there seems to be a “set” amount of hemoglobin that a person has when they have reached their twenties.

Steiner and Wehrlin, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb 8.

June 17, 2011
Phosphorus-31 spectra acquired  from an MRI before the start of exercise (a), at the cessation of exercise (b) and at the end of the measured recovery period (c). All postexercise spectral amplitudes are shown normalized to the pre-exercise phosphocreatine peak amplitude.

This is an example of one of the tests we perform on our subjects in the lab.  Creatine, as you may know, is the first energy source used by the muscle to drive contraction.  This is why it is such a popular supplement for strength athletes.   However, this energy source does not last that long and even reps as high as 12 you may be relying on other metabolic pathways in the muscle.  Although it is ephemeral in nature, note in this picture how fast it recovers back to normal after exercising (240 seconds or 4 minutes).  This is part of the reason why resting a long time in between sets, which is mainly what powerlifters and strength athletes do, is beneficial to those wishing to increase their strength on exercises.  That way, you can ensure your maximal effort on each lift.

Greenman & Smithline Acad Radiol. 2011 Jul;18(7):917-23. Epub 2011 May 4.

Phosphorus-31 spectra acquired  from an MRI before the start of exercise (a), at the cessation of exercise (b) and at the end of the measured recovery period (c). All postexercise spectral amplitudes are shown normalized to the pre-exercise phosphocreatine peak amplitude.

This is an example of one of the tests we perform on our subjects in the lab.  Creatine, as you may know, is the first energy source used by the muscle to drive contraction.  This is why it is such a popular supplement for strength athletes.   However, this energy source does not last that long and even reps as high as 12 you may be relying on other metabolic pathways in the muscle.  Although it is ephemeral in nature, note in this picture how fast it recovers back to normal after exercising (240 seconds or 4 minutes).  This is part of the reason why resting a long time in between sets, which is mainly what powerlifters and strength athletes do, is beneficial to those wishing to increase their strength on exercises.  That way, you can ensure your maximal effort on each lift.

Greenman & Smithline Acad Radiol. 2011 Jul;18(7):917-23. Epub 2011 May 4.


June 4, 2011
Train in the morning to sleep better at night, study suggests.

"Aerobic exercise at 7 a.m. invoked significantly greater improvements in quality of sleep compared to exercise at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. When subjects exercised in the morning, they spent more time in light sleep by 85 percent and more time in deep sleep by 75 percent. Exercising at 7 a.m. also caused a 20 percent increase in sleep cycle frequency."

-2011 American College of Sports Medicine National Conference 

May 5, 2011
"'Free your mind and your body will follow.' My life is based on this quote. The mind is everything. The mind creates the reality that you will see manifested in your life. A lot of times, we get up in the morning and go through the same sequence of events every day, which is fine if you're content with that. When you're striving to realize the ideal image of yourself, you have to train your mind into shaping your day because each moment of every day is the path that leads to the end result you see in your mind. You're training your body to become this new entity, so you have to train your mind, too."

Kai Greene

April 19, 2011
Flexibility and running: a gene to improve your endurance performance?

For those of you that are runners, maybe you have heard before that being unflexible is actually favorable and improves your running economy?  Well new research suggests this could be due to a gene responsible for flexibility.  COL5A1is a gene which encodes for the alpha1-chain of type V collagen and is found to associate with measures of flexibility.  Out of 313 participants who completed in an Ironman triathlon, the ones that were homogeneous for a variant of this gene (TT for those of you who remember your Punnett Squares from biology) completed the running component of the triathlon significantly faster than those who were not (tt).

Posthumus et al MSSE 43;4(584-689) April 2011

March 29, 2011
Effect of increased dietary protein on tolerance to intensified training.

A brand new study published in MSSE studied the effect of protein intake during high-itensity training for endurance purposes.  The researchers found that increased dietary protein intake led to a possible attenuation in the short-term decrement in time trial performance after a block of high-intensity training compared with normal training.  This study was a counterbalanced crossover experimental design in which the cyclists participated in all three of the different experimental protocols.

CONCLUSIONS:  Additional protein intake reduced symptoms of psychological stress and may result in a worthwhile amelioration of the performance decline experienced during a block of high-intensity training.

 

Witard et al Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Apr;43(4):598-607.

March 24, 2011
Carbohydrate ingestion during endurance exercise. How much?

A meta-analysis from 50 studies was conducted for this review.  Time to exhuastion as well as submaximal exercise followed by time to exhaustion improved on average of 15.1 and 54.2% with the ingestion of carbohydrates.

Conclusion: The data support that ingestion of CHO between 30 and 80 grams/hour enhances endurance exercise performance in adults.

Carbohydrate Ingestion during Endurance Exercise Improves Performance in Adults.
J Temesi, NA Johnson, J Raymond, CA Burdon, and HT O’Connor
J. Nutr., March 16, 2011; .

January 22, 2011
Hypertrophy Recommendations

Frequency:  3-4+ days per week

Intensity:  67-85% 1RM

Reps: 6-12

Sets:  3-6

Rest: 30s-1.5min

-Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning