ARTICLE: Pre-Race Supplementation 1

I've been out for the whole week with a weird, slightly debilitating virus, but have started to feel slightly better. Tomorrow's race is still a big doubt, but I've started my usual pre-race routine anyway.

Today, I'd like to talk about pre-race supplementation, go "beyond food" as they say.

What You Should Eat
Most runners probably know by now that high-quality carbohydrates are essential to keep your glycogen stores high. They may also now that good lean protein, those with Branched-Chain Amino Acids in them (BCAA), is also essential for on-going repair and maintenance.

There other ways to help you perform, however, and these are called ergogonic foods and supplements, things that help you perform better on race day, without falling victim to a drug test.

Sodium Bicarbonate
The main theme today will be Sodium Bicarbonate, more commonly known as Baking Soda. This substance, if used in the correct dosage, can reduce the acidity levels in your blood and muscles.

While studies are not without contradiction, fairly reliable research has shown a 27% increase in exercise duration to exhaustion with Sodium Bicarbonate as compared to a placebo.

Due to the science behind this (which I will explain below), Sodium Bicarbonate is only effective in the anaerobic and max aerobic capacity training zones (zones 3-5, usually 170 and above for most people, but this is individual).

This means it will not aid you for the full duration of longer events, but any race where you will spend the majority of the time in the anaerobic zones (for me this would be most races below 10k, even hill races), you can extend your time to exhaustion by 27%. This is massive. If you run for 50 minutes, this is almost 14 minutes extra! (of course, you wouldn't run the whole race anaerobically most likely, but even if you get 3-5 minutes, wouldn't it be worth it?).

How to Drink It?
Dosage is the alpha and omega with this supplementation. You need exactly 300mg of sodium bicarbonate per kilogram of bodyweight (as an example, I weight 65kg x 300mg, that is 19500mg or 19.5g). This is a small dose from a standard 500mg bag.

It roughly corresponds to 4-7 teaspoons depending on your size.

Also, this must be mixed with 32 ounces of water or sports drink (0.94l). A different dose will be more likely to lead to stomach upset, which is a very common side-effect of this supplementation.

Also be wary not to buy normal baking powder, you need the pure product (I buy it in Dunnes Stores, the Shamrock brand). Normal baking powder contain diophosphate, maize starch and other ingredients that will only add to the challenge of taking it in. (normal soda merely tastes very salty).

When to Take it?
Baking Soda must be taken 1-2 hours before exercise/racing. have I tried it? No. But as we speak I'm drinking a jar to test my body's reaction to it.

If it works well I will test it on tomorrow's race course, unless, of course, I'm still too ill to race.

The Science Behind - The True Story of Lactate
Ok, nerds, lean back, here's why this thing is supposed to work.

Remember lactic acid? Or lactate as it should be called? I've mentioned before that most people think lactic acid causes you too slow down (this is not the case, as we'll see). Many also think it causes the pain in your muscles on the following day, this is likewise a fallacy, but unfortunately a topic for another day.

Lactate is still the key indicator for physiologists when studying your body's ability to cope with increased intensity. What happens is this:

When you start working out, you still have enough oxygen, and your body works away happily, activating the slow-twitch fibres, who contain the magical little factories called Mitochondria, the only thing in your body that can eat the big sweet juicy fat molecules.

The fat molecules create a lot of energy, but they are big molecules, and once you start to run faster, the body has no more time to break them down. Instead faster fibres kick in, and start burning your glycogen (carbs) stores in your muscles and blood, and force the liver to produce even more glycogen.

Glycogen requires oxygen to burn, and thus you also need more air. Fat burning continues for a while, as the intensity of your workout increases, but eventually, it fades altogether.

Problems Arise
You've got two problems when running at high intensity: 1. Your glycogen stores don't last forever, 2. Your body can't fusion glycogen and oxygen quick enough. A biproduct of this burning process is what we know of lactate. This is generally a benign substance, in fact, the body can burn it off as fuel (that is why it's created), and your slow-twitch fibres are especially adept at "eating up lactate", which is why people with good base fitness can recover quicker from hefty exercise than those who have a poor base fitness.

So if lactate is good, why do we use it to measure how much you suffer? Well, the process that creates lactate has a side-effect: It increases acidity levels in your blood and muscles, and this causes havoc with your whole supply system, messes up the firing of neuron signals to muscles, and much much more. All in all, this raise in acidity makes you feel crap, and sooner or later, it'll grind you to a halt.

The body craves equilibrium. Another nasty side-effect of high acidity is that the body will draw calcium and other substances out of your muscles and bones to neutralise the acid build-up, further disrupting the operation of your muscles, and creating damage that need to be repaired later (which is also the reason a diet heavy on meat, bread, and milk, all alkaline substances that raise acidity levels in your body is very bad if not balanced with loads of fruit, vegetables and other acidic foods that raise alkalinity).

So Why Does it work?
Well, you've probably guessed it by now. High acidity in body = Bad. And what is sodium bicarbonate? You guessed it again: A strong alkaline source, you're basically increasing the pH value of your internal system so that the acidity that hits you later will be staved off from a dangerously low level for longer.

Let's see how it works...