Could these natural performance enhancers make you a faster tower runner?

Posted: September 20, 2019 in Training
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Tower races are often won and lost by the narrowest of margins, so finding ways to make small gains can make a big difference to where you finish in a race.

Ergogenic aids, or performance enhancers, are one easy way to potentially get ahead. Alongside proper training, these simple and natural additions to your race day prep could see you clocking faster times on the stairs.

Read on to find out the three natural performance enhancers that could change your tower running.

Caffeine

Caffeine

There’s a good reason why the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had caffeine on its list of banned substance up until 2004. Its performance enhancing qualities are well established.

Up until that point you had to be ‘caught’ with a dose of 1,200mg (somewhere around 10-12 cups of coffee) in your system close to competition to be considered doping. To be fair, if you were necking that much before an event, the chances were you were probably utilising it disingenuously as a performance enhancer.

But since coffee and energy drink usage in particular have become more mainstream, WADA has softened its stance on caffeine. It’s no longer banned, but since 2017 it has been put on WADA’s Monitoring Program.

That means caffeine levels in athletes can be monitored for patterns of use, or abuse, but there’s no longer a set limit as to how much you can have in your system before competition. If caffeine intake is a normal part of your dietary routine, you’re OK; but if you’re specifically ingesting loads just before a race you could potentially be flagged for a violation if it doesn’t fit in with your regular pattern.

Of course, WADA regulations haven’t found their way into tower running yet anyway, but it’s worth noting the official position adopted by them.

Interestingly, the NCAA (the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the USA) still has caffeine on its banned list. Ingest 500mg of coffee within three hours of the start of one of their sanctioned competitions and you run the risk of a positive drug test.

Although the advantages of high levels of caffeine for performance have been established by multiple studies, you don’t need to go anywhere close to 1,200mg to reap the benefits of this centuries old performance enhancer.

Some studies have shown that caffeine can still have a significant impact on performance at much lower doses. In one test, trained runners cut an average of 4.2 seconds off their 1,500m time after taking 150-200mg of caffeine in the form of coffee (roughly two cups of instant) an hour before exercise.

In another study, cyclists extended their time to exhaustion by nearly 15 minutes while caffeinated with 330mg caffeine one hour before exercise.

Some of the established positive effects of caffeine include:

• Enhances endurance exercise performance
• Improves reaction time, concentration, and self-perceived energy levels
• Low doses increase energy expenditure and oxygen uptake without changing perceived effort, exercising heart rate, or fuel usage
• Delays feelings of fatigue, and lessens sensations of exertion and pain

That last point is probably most significant for tower runners. Delaying the onset of pain and fatigue by just a couple of floors could potentially see you clocking PBs at a bunch of towers.

Caffeine isn’t for everyone and it should be used judiciously, because at high doses it can be dangerous. The potential benefits will vary depending on a bunch of other factors, but even if you’re not a coffee fan, it’s probably worth experimenting with it in some form to see if it can work for you.

Research shows the effects peak around one hour after consumption, so make sure you time it before your climb to maximise the benefits.

Peppermint oil

peppermint oil

The evidence on this one is less well established than for caffeine, but results from studies have shown that inhaling peppermint oil prior to exercise, or taking it orally as a supplement, can produce some positive effects on performance.

In a 2013 study, ’12 healthy male students every day consumed one 500 ml bottle of mineral water, containing 0.05 ml peppermint essential oil for ten days.’ The results of a series of exercise tests on a treadmill taken one day before and one day after the supplementation period showed ‘significant increases’ in power output, time to exhaustion and energy output.

Additional studies have examined the ergogenic benefits of peppermint oil when inhaled as a vapor. A 2000 study concluded that there was an ‘association found between administration of peppermint odor during near-maximum treadmill exercise with a reduction in RPE (rate of perceived exertion) and increase in perceived performance.’

A further test, although this one done on rats, showed that the inhalation of peppermint oil ‘powerfully relieved the indicators of exercise-induced fatigue’. There was also a reduction in blood lactate (BLa) and blood urea nitrogen (BUN), which is another sign of reduced fatigue.

Tower runners work at the edge of exhaustion for significant parts of their races. A reduction in the signs of fatigue and the rate of perceived exertion are exactly the sorts of effects they could benefit from.

Yes, you may look a bit odd standing in the lobby before a race, rubbing essential peppermint oil across your top lip and smelling like a sickly child who’s been slathered with Vicks vaporub. But who’ll care when you’ve taken 10+ seconds off your personal best time at the top? Worth a shot, for sure.

Beetroot juice

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Beetroots, like many vegetables, are high in nitrates. When ingested, the nitrates in these items go through a set of conversions within the body until they become nitric oxide.

Increased levels of nitric oxide in the body have been shown to increase blood flow, improve lung function, and strengthen muscle contraction.

For example, a test on masters age competitive swimmers found they significantly increased their anaerobic threshold after beet juice supplementation compared to testing without. This means increased oxygen capacity allowed them to swim longer before reaching exercise failure after drinking beet juice.

In another study, ‘competitive cyclists who supplemented with beetroot juice improved their performance by 0.8 percent in a 50-mile test. Significant improvements were observed during the last 10 miles. Both oxygen efficiency and time to exhaustion were greatly improved after beet juice consumption.’

The ideal way to supplement with it is still a bit of an unknown. In some studies, the best results came from drinking beet juice 90-150 minutes before commencing exercise. But other findings suggest supplementing for as long as 15 days in the run up to a race.

Perhaps the best approach is to regularly boost your nitric oxide levels by including nitrate dense foods in your diet, such as celery, rocket, spinach and lettuce. Then you can top up on race day with beet juice.

If beetroot juice is not the one for you, you can up your nitric oxide levels with other supplements. Terry Purcell, one of the top stair climbers in the USA, makes use of the Kiyani Nitro Xtreme supplement which is derived from the noni fruit.

It’s worth keeping in mind that findings from one study indicated that caffeine can interact with beetroot juice and mask its ergogenic benefits. So you’re better off choosing one or the other, instead of doubling up with both before a race.

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