Would it not be great if you could take a supplement that makes your training more effective? If you take this supplement alongside your normal training your training adaptations will increase and performance will be better after 10 weeks of training. But is this possible?
Nutrition can affect training adaptation: positive and negative
Well, we have discussed “training low” before and although this is of course not a supplement, this may be a way to increase certain training adaptations. On the other hand we also discussed antioxidants and antioxidants might be able to have the opposite effect: high doses of antioxidants may impair the training adaptation. So it seems that nutrition or nutrition supplements certainly have the potential to alter training adaptation.
In this blog we will not discuss train low, or any other diet manipulation, we are only looking mainly at how supplements could possibly enhance training adaptation.
There are 3 main ways in which supplements could enhance training adaptation. The first one is that the supplement will allow an athlete to training harder and this would over time result in greater training adaptation. The second one is that the supplement improves cell signalling which could then stimulates protein synthesis. The third way would be enhance protein synthesis.
Increasing the ability to train hard. Various supplements that might enhance performance could allow athletes to train harder (or recover faster). This could be the case for creatine, caffeine and bicarbonate. Also training with higher carbohydrate availability could enhance the quality of training. There are studies that support that training with high carbohydrate availability can enhance training adaptations (studies in rowers, cyclists, runners). But studies that definitively show that there is greater effect by training harder is lacking.
The ability to alter cell signalling resulting in stimulation of protein synthesis. This mechanism has more evidence. There are a number of compounds that can enhance (or inhibit) cell signalling. It has been suggested that signals could be enhanced by polyphenols like quercetin, resveratrol. EGCG and many others. And indeed some studies have provided evidence that these compounds may have an effect on cell signalling in certain conditions. It must be noted that there are no medals for more cell signalling! It is not always true that more signalling will also result in more protein synthesis and more training adaptation and thus we should look for studies that do not base their conclusions exclusively on cell signalling. We must base our conclusions on studies that ALSO show improvements in performance or at least improvements in physiology. There are very few of those studies.
Maximising protein synthesis. The third way to improve training adaptation is by making sure protein synthesis can occur at maximal rates. This means mainly following protein intake guidelines discussed here. Are there any supplements that can enhance protein synthesis? Maybe leucine? But probably only if leucine content in normal meals is low. BCAAs? A very popular supplement, but we discussed that effects are unlikely (check this link) Perhaps omega-3 fatty acids? But research is very limited.
So evidence is not convincing yet or have we missed something? Recently a review was published in Sports Medicine (1) by Jeffrey Rothschild and David Bishop who discuss a number of supplements that could affect training adaptation on one of the ways discussed above. The next blog by these authors will discuss the topic in more detail (click here).
From a practical point it is important to realise that any raining adaptation takes time (studies have typically used 10 week periods to observe relatively small effects in already trained individuals (larger effects in untrained). This also means that any intervention that aims to increase training adaptation needs to be consistently applied during this time. Thus any intervention must be sustainable, compliance must be good and only when an athlete can stick to the supplementation plan, or the train-low plan or whatever it is, will the effect be visible. Training is a long term process. There are no easy options and no quick wins.
1. Rothschild, J.A.; Bishop, D.J. Effects of Dietary Supplements on Adaptations to Endurance Training. Sports Medicine 2019, 1-29.