I read with fascination on Twitter and Facebook, both highly credible sources of information of course, athletes and weekend warriors espousing the benefits of their chosen supplement or energy potion. Now I am a big believer in correct, calculated and careful supplementation but let’s be honest here, most of you are getting a little carried away by the effect of your mootie.
The key to a good supplement is in fact, to not feel anything. So no slump, no surge just a good, natural feeling of being able to deliver the performance that your current state of conditioning allows. This level of performance is a result of your training and recovery. It may have been aided by the pills and potions that you are lobbing down your throat but without the training you’re not going to be troubling any leader boards or personal bests.
OK, now that I have had my little dig at everyone who has felt the need to punt their Placebo-effect driven runner’s high on social media, I will make an admission… I, like everyone else it seems, have looked for some sort of edge to improve my performance beyond where sweat and determination could take me. Now don’t get excited, this is no tearful doping admission, fortunately, I have never taken this search that far but maybe my first experiments in kitchen science scared me straight.
My first attempt at gaining an edge through my pie-hole was while I was still at school. It might surprise some, based on my strengths and weaknesses in triathlon, that I was quite a keen swimmer before discovering cycling. As the day for our annual inter-house gala approached (I said I was keen, I never mentioned the level I competed at) I read that carrot and celery juice would help me swim faster. Now I can’t exactly remember what the supposed gains were from this combination but when googling it now, I found it is high in vitamins A and C and potassium. Not sure how that would have helped me in a 50m breaststroke race? Ironically, I discovered this information on the Livestrong site. I wonder if, to paraphrase Paul and Phil, a certain rider named Lance Armstrong ever drank carrot and celery juice?
Now in the mid-80s Liquifruit only had one or two flavours. So, what was a teenager with a Spandau Ballet fringe and sporting aspirations to do? I bought what seemed like a whole crop of celery stalks and a bunch of carrots and got to chopping them down to size. After hours of chopping and grating I stuffed this messy mush into my mother’s blender (no such thing as juicers back then) and finally, in more time than I had actually spent training, I had reduced the crop of a small farm into about two litres of pulpy sludge.
As you can imagine, without adding anything else to my concoction, it tasted vile. Still, I was anything if not determined and I managed to chug most of this in the day preceding and the morning of the gala. The result… well, let’s just say I was never required to report for drug testing as a result of my performance.
My next attempt at kitchen pharmacology was after a few years of fairly serious training and racing but I hasten to add, I was still young. Again, I read somewhere that lactic acid in the muscles impaired performance and that consuming something alkali would help to buffer this effect. Now this became quite the trend in sports drinks and is still a principle employed today. Unfortunately I was a bit ahead of the game here and my only access to anything that I concluded to be suitable was bicarbonate of soda.
So armed with my limited knowledge of such things I proceeded to add a few spoons of bicarb to the grape juice in my water bottles. Now, as we all know, more is always better, so I added as much as I could while keeping the mixture palatable. A little aside to this story – grape juice, as well as being very good at masking the taste of the bicarb, was also reputed to have the highest carbohydrate content of the readily available fruit juices. I clearly read too much.
Now all was going well. I had added my ‘secret weapon’ to my juice and I was ready to go and ride like Miguel Indurain. At least I had the sense to try this in training first… my regular training route started with a small climb and after a few pedal strokes out of the saddle, swaying the bike from side to side, both my bottles exploded simultaneously, showering me and my bike in a sticky mess. No-one had told me and the ‘carbonate’ never lead me to the conclusion, that you shouldn’t shake a liquid containing bicarbonate of soda.
Nowadays I use supplements made by those that know far more than me about their manufacture but I’m still searching for something that will make me swim faster.
by Donovan van Gelder
The Don has been swimming, cycling and running since the days of stove-pipe jeans, luminous shirts and Flock of Seagulls hairdos. He likes to think that not only has he been around this multisport block countless times, but that he contributed to it being built – and therefore refuses to get off it until he is good and ready.
Originally published in the September/October 2013 issue 61.