Study: Impact and optimal timing of performance supplement in elite cyclists

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Dmytro Aksonov
Getty | Dmytro Aksonov

Related tags Sports nutrition performance nutrition Muscle

Multi-ingredient performance supplements (MIPS) improve sports performance, reduce muscular damage, and control hormonal response in elite cyclists, especially when ingested post-workout, according to new research.

CHO and protein supplementation after exercise session facilitates recovery from strenuous training in athletes. In settings where training demands increase, however, additional nutritional ergogenic aids may provide additional support.

As such, performance-enhancing dietary supplements have gained popularity among athletes, with 37-89% of athletes reporting use of such products​.

Multi-ingredient performance supplements (MIPS), have become increasingly popular as they include branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine monohydrate, L-arginine, L-glutamine, L-taurine, caffeine, β-alanine, L-citrulline, L-carnitine, and black pepper fruit extract (piperine), and are intended for ingestion prior to or after exercise sessions.

There are two types of MIPS. The second MIPS is composed of strictly ergogenic substances that provide metabolic support by supplementing ingredients essential for bioenergetic or anabolic processes that allow attenuating skeletal muscle damage or regulating hormonal behaviour.

Some supplements have been used in dual combinations and have demonstrated a synergistic effect by increasing sports performance, testosterone concentration, and testosterone/cortisol ratio. In addition, these dietary supplements showed synergism in decreasing muscle damage and cortisol levels.

The authors of the current study argue there is a lack of studies concerning the combined effect of MIPS on cyclists and few studies have studied the effect of MIPS ingested pre compared to post resistance training.

Therefore, this study aimed to determine the efficacy of pre-and post-supplementation with MIPS associated with CHO (1 g·kg−1) maltodextrin, maltose, and fructose) plus whey protein isolate (0.3 g·kg−1) on skeletal muscle biomarkers, hormonal response, and sports performance in elite cyclists.

They say this is the first study that describes the effects of MIPS supplementation associated with CHOs plus whey protein isolate on muscle behaviour, hormonal response, and sports performance in elite cyclists. 

The study

Thirty elite male cyclists who were members of different professional cycling teams participated in this randomised, non-placebo-controlled trial to analyse the effects of the combination of oral CHO, proteins, MIPS supplementation for 10 weeks on muscle damage levels (creatine kinase (CK), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and myoglobin (Mb)), hormonal status, anabolic hormone testosterone, and testosterone/cortisol ratio, and aerobic (maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max)) and anaerobic (Wingate test) sports performance.

All athletes performed the same training sessions during the training-camp that consisted of 5–6 h per day, 6 days per week for 10 weeks. The study's dietitian-nutritionist also developed an individual diet, provided hydration recommendations and recorded the athletes’ daily food and fluid intake throughout the study. 

Participants were randomly assigned to three groups of 10 using a stratified block design. Control group (CG) was treated with 1 g·kg−1 CHO plus whey protein isolate (0.3 g·kg−1) in the form of a recovery shake within half an hour after exercise. They were then given placebo-flavoured water in the 30 min pre- and 30 min post-exercise.

Group 1 (PRE-MIPS) was treated with 1 g·kg−1 CHO plus whey protein isolate (0.3 g·kg−1) in the form of a recovery shake within half an hour after exercise. Also, MIPS in the 30 min pre-workout (PRE-MIPS) and a placebo-flavoured water in the 30 min post-workout.

Group 2 (POST-MIPS) was treated with 1 g·kg−1 CHO plus whey protein isolate (0.3 g·kg−1) in the form of a recovery shake within half an hour after exercise. Also, the placebo-flavoured water in the 30-min pre-workout and MIPS in the 30 min’ post- workout (POST-MIPS,).

Participants took the treatments during the 6 days of weekly training. A certified anthropometrist performed the anthropometric measurements of all cyclists at the start of the study.

All participants attended the lab for blood collection at the baseline of the study (T1) and the end of the study (T2).

For the aerobic and anaerobic tests, the researchers used a Swedish ergometer bike, model Monark 894E, equipped with continuous heart monitoring, a stopwatch and automated gas analyser to record respiratory parameters.


The resulting data indicate that supplementation with CHO plus proteins was not sufficient to attenuate EIMD (CK, LDH and Mb were significantly increased). Nor was it sufficient to modulate the catabolic response by significantly increasing cortisol and significantly decreasing testosterone and testosterone/cortisol ratio between T1 and T2. 

The report states: "In conclusion, our MIPS supplementation could offer a practical and convenient way to improve recovery and athletic performance in elite cyclists who compete and/or train on consecutive days. Nonetheless, more longitudinal, and experimental studies with longer follow-up are needed to unravel the association between MIPS on exercise-induced fatigue-related parameters and performance improvements.

"This research could be of interest to sport physicians, nutritionists, and coaches who want to improve sports performance, muscle recovery after exercise, and the hormonal status of their athletes.

"Considering the described optimal timing, the composition of our MIPS: Creatine monohydrate (5.0 g); L-Citrulline malate (6.0 g); L-Glutamine (4.0 g); L-Taurine (2.0 g); L-Arginine (6.0 g); β-Alanine (4.0 g); L-Ornithine (3 g); L-Tyrosine (1.0 g); Bioperine (black pepper extract (10 mg); and their combined long-term effects, supplementation for ten weeks, as a strategy in critical phases of supplementation during periods of intense and strenuous training.

"Most high-performance athletes ingest different supplements simultaneously at different times and doses. Multi-ingredient formulations such as the one presented in this study may provide a convenient way for athletes in particular settings where logistics may be more complicated.

"These encouraging results represent an important improvement in supplementation strategies intended to improve markers of muscle damage, hormonal responses, and athletic performance, while improving adherence, cost-reduction, and minimizing errors in dosage. The dose and duration of supplementation should always reflect individual requirement, and it should be always monitored by a dietitian and/or nutritionist."

Mechanisms of action

β-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that significantly increases carnosine concentrations in skeletal muscle. Improvement of exercise performance, at doses of 4–6 g/day for at least 2–4 weeks potentially improves muscle contraction, increases the sensitivity of myofibrillary calcium in fast fibers (IIa and IIb), and acts as a buffer of the intracellular pH against the accumulation of protons in the muscle, reducing the performance-limiting effect related to acidosis.

β-Alanine supplementation improves cyclists’ performance by improving the maximum power​. As in the current study, which significantly increased the Wingate test. Other studies reported a synergistic effect when combining β-alanine plus creatine on improved recovery capacity, delaying fatigue, increased cardiorespiratory endurance improvements, and, overall, improved the stimulus for training​.Creatine improves recovery​ by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, increasing testosterone levels, reducing post-training lactate concentration, and modulating CK, Mb, and LDH (muscle damage markers) in highly trained athletes.

Nitric oxide (NO) production is enhanced by some of the components most used by MIPS, such as L-Arginine and L-Citrulline. It stimulates vasodilation by improving blood flow, is involved in skeletal-muscle energy metabolism via stimulating mitochondrial oxidation, and has restorative properties in EIMD​.

Supplementation with L-Citrulline has a dual effect by simultaneously increasing plasma levels of L-Arginine and L-Citrulline​. Alternatively, arginine is attributed to a growth hormone (GH) and insulin stimulating effect, while acting as a creatine precursor​.

Another potential synergism is through the simultaneous supplementation of three ingredients, such as L-Citrulline, L-Arginine, and L-Ornithine, which have shown a decrease in plasma ammonia values, which increases the tolerance of the organism to intense exercise and accelerate recovery processes​. Moreover, L-Citrulline, L-Arginine, and L-Ornithine increase muscular glycogen and glutamine synthesis while decreasing post-exercise blood lactate levels and improving overall sport performance​.

L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in skeletal muscles and plasma, constituting approximately 60% of the total free amino acids in the former skeletal and 20% in the latter. L-Glutamine might play a role in the synthesis of other amino acids (alanine and aspartate), proteins, and a number of other biological molecules such as nucleotide (purines, pyrimidines, and amino sugars), nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH), glutathione, and antioxidants.

L-Glutamine also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties​. It has a synergistic effect​ on various MIPS by fatigue delay and accelerated elimination of fatigue-related metabolites. L-Taurine has antioxidant effects, which allows the reduction of biomarkers of muscle damage and DOMS. Regular L-Taurine supplementation improves time to exhaustion, and one-time ingestion improves muscular efficiency in endurance athletes​. 

Source: Nutrients

Fernández-Lázaro, D., et al

"Impact of Optimal Timing of Intake of Multi-Ingredient Performance Supplements on Sports Performance, Muscular Damage, and Hormonal Behavior across a Ten-Week Training Camp in Elite Cyclists: A Randomized Clinical Trial" (registering DOI)

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