‘Death to Cardio – Why Weight Training Rules’ – Ru Anderson

You know the importance of following a good nutritional programme and the benefits of doing so. You may also know that combining this with regular physical activity is going to bring the best results if you’re interested in a complete health and fitness routine.


The difficult bit is finding the right diet and ideal training programme for your goals. Tradition tells us to be fit and healthy we must cut out carbohydrates and go jogging. This is wrong.


So the purpose of this article is to show you some of the key benefits, fundamentals and considerations to adding more weight training to your existing exercise routine. No matter what your goals are, I strongly believe frequent weight training should play a key part of your routine.


When you combine this new approach presented here, you’ll discover a better way to eat and train, while progressing to your goals faster than ever before.


Let’s get to it…


The Benefits Of Weight Training


There are a number of health and fitness benefits associated with regular exercise and training.


We have two main forms of exercise, aerobic and anaerobic.


There are a number of similar benefits to both, but each also provides additional benefits not seen from the other. These have been summarised below: –


Aerobic Exercise


Walking, jogging, running, cycling and swimming are all forms of aerobic exercise.


Aerobic fitness can be defined as the ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen in the body to produce energy.


With long duration, sub maximal exercise such as walking and running the body uses a combination of fats and carbohydrates to produce energy.


Anaerobic Exercise


The term ‘anaerobic’ means ‘in the absence of oxygen’ or ‘without oxygen’. During anaerobic exercise, your body’s demand for oxygen is greater than the available oxygen supply.


While aerobic exercise is fueled by oxygen, anaerobic exercise is fueled by energy stored in muscles.


Most anaerobic exercise is extremely high intensity, short duration exercise lasting from just a few seconds to minutes. Weight training therefore falls into this category.


This is the direct opposite to aerobic exercise, which involves sustained activity of moderate intensity.


Check out below some of the great benefits to anaerobic training:


Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 20.26.43


Exercise Fundamentals


Having an understanding of the exercise fundamentals that apply to anaerobic training ensures that the desired benefits previously mentioned are produced. Also, it helps us further understand how these types of exercise affect the body and the nutritional demands to best support it.


Elements Of Training


There are a number of elements that should be considered when you undertake weight training.


It is these key elements that will produce the key benefits of the chosen exercise and force the body to make adaptations. From a nutritional stand point, your diet should reflect how your have set these training elements.

  1. Training volume

The volume of training is essentially the total amount of work completed.


Anaerobic training is typically calculated by recording the total number of repetitions per session or the total weight lifted (reps x weight).


This volume can then be used as a base for each training session, number of training sessions completed in a specific time or the training frequency.

  1. Training intensity

Intensity is described as how much ‘effort’ was applied to the session.


For weight training, intensity is typically measured as the percentage of the maximal weight that it is possible to lift for 1 repetition in that chosen exercise.


If you have a 1 rep max of 100 pounds in the bench press, yet you were only lifting 60 pounds, you are working with a training intensity of 60%.


In relation to this, intensity can also be matched to how close to failure you go. So if you push to absolute failure (meaning you can’t complete another rep), then intensity is considered much higher then if you stop short of failure by 2-3 reps.


What you need to understand is that the volume conducted and the intensity used are directly correlated. A change to one element will and should result in a change to the other. Furthermore, these two elements are strongly linked to the type of exercise that should be conducted to achieve this correlation, be it aerobic or anaerobic training.


The table below shows how these should be correlated: –


Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 20.28.07


As you can see, as volume is reduced the intensity can be increased, usually resulting in a transition between aerobic style training to anaerobic.


So with weight training, you will be working harder when training, yet you wont need to do anywhere near as much (or for as long) to see all the benefits previously mentioned. Now that’s awesome.


Responses To Weight Training


Next we must look at the physiological and psychological responses of the body to weight training.

  1. Muscular response

For weight training, it’s clear to say that skeletal muscle is one of the key factors designed to produce the required force to make it happen.


We should therefore understand its key factors and the response or adaptations we can go through as a result of exercise.


Long-term anaerobic training such as weight lifting will most probably result in increases in muscular strength and size. The primary way that muscle hypertrophy occurs is by growth of individual muscle fibres. Longer term increases in muscle strength result primarily from muscle hypertrophy.


Delayed – Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)


DOMS are a common problem for weight trainers, and are the result of muscle fibre damage. This results in a muscular pain or discomfort approximately 16-24 hours after a training session. This soreness is usually located in the most worked muscles from that training session and can peak around 24-48 hours after.


This damage is readily repaired with adequate rest and recovery.

  1. Endocrine responses

You likely conduct exercise to elicit a response from the body, be it improved fat burning, muscle gain, strength or endurance.


What we forget is that the neuroendocrine system is also of primary importance to our exercise performance and the adaptations occurred from it.


Our neuroendocrine system is linked to a whole host of metabolic and hormonal regulations and responses. With weight training, the body responds by releasing a large number of anabolic and catabolic hormones that are triggered to deal with the remodeling and repair of tissue.


We not only see instant hormonal response patterns to exercise but subsequent adaptations as a result.

  1. Overtraining

Overtraining may have become an overused word, and some do not believe it can occur, as the body is a highly adaptable machine.


What does seem clear is that when we see intense and long lasting elevated responses to exercise, both on a physiological and psychological aspect, overtraining does appear possible.


The result is usually a short-term decrease in performance capacity, for which restoration may take several days to a few weeks.


Nutrition For Weight training


The previous section looked at the benefits of adding weight training to your exercise routine, how it works and how the body responds to it.


If you’re changing up your training routine, then you must always consider your diet at this point too. It’s important to understand how nutritional/supplemental strategies can indeed have an effect on all of this, and how we adjust our diet for increased amounts of weight training.


Below are a number of nutritional considerations if you are conducting regular weight training.


Energy Requirements


As an active person it is important to always calculate caloric needs based on your individual needs. Most likely this will need to be adjusted depending on your daily activity levels, so the standard daily recommendations should not be used.


Many people find exercise performance and recovery to be highly related to optimal calorie intake to balance their specific energy expenditure.


Carbohydrate Requirements


Exercise intensity and duration is a key factor when determining your carbohydrate needs. Carbohydrates are necessary to replenish and maintain muscle glycogen levels to optimise performance and reduce fatigue.


An effective strategy is a pre, during and post intake of carbohydrates when weight training, again to ensure adequate glycogen levels.


A further benefit to this is the hormonal response, as carbohydrates are potent activators of insulin, thus keeping the body in that anabolic environment, and reducing potential release of catabolic hormones.


Protein Requirements


Protein requirements for weight trainers will be higher than non-exercisers and this is to help boost protein synthesis, reduce recovery time and maintain a positive nitrogen balance.


It is suggested that protein intake be set to 1.5 -2g per kg per day for weight trainers, with protein sources being of high quality.


Fat Requirements


Healthy fats should always have a place in a weight trainers diet, but less may be required to ensure adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates are met.


A main benefit of including healthy fats in the diet is to help maintain testosterone levels which may be suppressed during periods of high intensity training.


Nutrient Timing


Nutrient timing may not appear to be as important as we once thought, especially when it comes to improving body composition. However, for the weight trainer, nutrient timing can and should have a place.


Programming and timing of adequate dietary ingestion can improve performance and recovery from exercise.


The following guidelines are typically used: –


Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 20.23.07


This has been considered ‘go-to’ protocol for weight trainers who want to enhance energy, anabolism and recovery from their training.




There are a number of supplements that may benefit the weight trainer, including: –

  1. Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s)


The ingestion of BCAA mixture before or after training has been shown to provide potential benefits to optimise performance and limit fatigue.

  1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce any issues of immune system suppression from exercise.

  1. Zinc

Regular exercisers have been reported to experience zinc deficits, supplementation can be used to enhance the immune status of these people.


You now understand the importance of weight training (and why cardio sucks), it’s various types and fundamental components. More importantly, you know how the body can respond to weight training and the nutritional recommendations required to maximise the results from it. So here’s to some AWESOME results.

About the author

Performance Nutritionist, Writer, Speaker, Competitive Athlete, Owner of Exceed Nutrition

Ru is a ‘performance’ focused nutritionist. He helps motivated and driven people to be at their best, to look, feel and perform better, all day every day.

Ru is the founder and owner of Exceed Nutrition which has become the industry’s ‘go-to’ online nutrition coaching website in just a few short years.

Using this platform, Ru personally coaches his clients through the fundamentals of achieving the body and health they’ve always wanted, with nutrition being the cornerstone.

He also created the Exceed Nutrition Certification for elite and ambitious personal trainers to excel their coaching business and get better results with their clients using the power of nutrition.

Find out more here: www.Exceednutrition.com

References and Further Reading

  1. Joseph Chromiak & Jose Antonio – Skeletal Muscle Plasticity – Essentials of Sports Nutrition & Supplementation – ISSN
  2. Kraemer et al – The Endocrinology of Resistance Exercise & Training – Essentials of Sports Nutrition & Supplementation – ISSN
  3. Mike Greenwood – Aspects of Overtraining – Essentials of Sports Nutrition & Supplementation – ISSN

SFN EXPO Nominated For ‘Glasgow’s Favourite Business’ In The Glasgow Business Awards 2015 (VOTE Within)

After just over a year in business, we’re extremely proud to announce that we’ve been nominated by you, the public, into the top 6 finalists of the ‘Glasgow’s Favourite Business’ Award at The Glasgow Business Awards 2015.




Voting is easy and takes 2 seconds; simply email businessawards@eveningtimes.co.uk with the subject title “SFN Expo” for 1 vote!

The Story In The Press – Evening Times Article


To hear our start-up story, please visit the article: SFN Expo Nominated For Glasgow’s Favourite Business – Evening Times


Thank you for all of your on-going support and we’ll see you in little more than a month for the HUGE SFN EXPO 2015!

VIDEO: Robert Whiteford Pre-UFC Scotland Interview

This weekend is the first EVER UFC Scotland and over the last 3 months, we caught up with Scotland’s first ever UFC fighter, Robert Whiteford, to get to the nitty-gritty of what makes him who he is, where he came from, his training and what it’s going to be like fighting in front of 11,000 Scottish fans in The SSE Hydro this weekend!

Filmed in his childhood neighbourhood (Fauldhouse), MXP Training Centre in Stirling and in an empty, atmospheric SSE Hydro ahead of this weekends action, by Andrew Usher of October Leaves Media; this is an incredible insight into the life, struggles and triumph of Robert “The Hammer” Whiteford!



We are delighted that just 6 weeks after UFC Scotland, Robert Whiteford will be at The SFN Expo 2015 along with hundreds of other inspirational athletes for you to meet, get photos and take advice from!


Get your early booking benefits now: SFN Expo 2015 Tickets

5 Ways You Can Immediately Become a Better Coach – Chris Burgess

1) Seek Criticism.

Praise and positive reinforcement is a massive part of career satisfaction, and it always feels great when our clients give us praise, but the problem with praise is that it confirms you are doing a good job. So if you want to get better, send a survey that your clients can fill in anonymously – ask them “What do I need to improve upon to become a better coach for you?” or “What would you change about my service?” – The results will give you the best indication possible of your shortcomings, because the answers will come from the only people who are allowed to judge you – those who pay you.

Do This: Setup an anonymous survey in Survey monkey and send it you your clients and ask:
‘What do I need to do in order to become a better coach for you?’

2) Down tools to upskill

All of the technical expertise we gain in training and nutrition are all tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. The art of what we do as coaches will always come from understanding what tool to use at the right time for the right outcome for the right person – and in order to do that, all tools have to stay in the box until you have spent the necessary time getting to understand your client, what makes them tick, what they value, and why the journey matters to them.

Do this: Book a coffee date with each of your clients to just ask them how life is. Bonus points for turning your phone off and genuinely listening to your client. 2 ears, 1 mouth…

3) Role Reversal

Want to know if your coaching is working? Invite a client in to put YOU through THEIR session. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about where your technical coaching is missing the mark. It’ll also give you a stronger bond with the client!

Do this: Make it a part of your programme design that once every 12 weeks the client needs to train you.

4) Lead from the front

Nothing makes you an authority quite like standing up and presenting, and nothing will make you really delve into the consistency of your teaching than having to present to your client base, especially if many of them haven’t met before.

Do this: Run a seminar or webinar for your group on the subject you struggle with most

5) Show you care.

Alwyn Cosgrove once told me ‘People won’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care’ and as far as advice goes, it really doesn’t get better for coaches than that.

Going out of your way to show that you appreciate your clients and value their journey will set you apart from 99.9% of Personal Trainers who generally tend to see their clients as transactions, not people to share a journey with.

Do This: Send each of your clients a hand written card in the post, telling them how much you appreciate the work they put in, and how much you support their journey.

Which Supplements are actually proven to work? – Ben Coomber

Every single year, millions of people worldwide spend hundreds of millions of pounds on supplements. They may be for general health, illness prevention or cure, fat loss, muscle gain or athletic performance. With so much choice available it’s important to know what ACTUALLY works and what is nothing more than fancy snake oil in a shiny bottle.

Of course it’s important to mention that supplement’s are supplements. They exist to supplement a diet and lifestyle which should already be tailored towards a goal and therefore the actual effect you get, even from a well researched and proven product, is going to be minor. There is nothing you can buy over the counter which will dramatically and radically alter your results or the time it takes to get them, but there ARE some gems on the market which could give you an edge.

Supplements are a growing research topic and there are a few things, therefore, which I can say we more or less KNOW are going to help you in some way. Their mechanism of action and therefore efficacy are understood (at least partially). Then there are ‘grey area’ supplements – products which have some small amount of evidence behind them, or a good deal of empirical backing. I’m going to mention these because they ‘might be’ worth looking at and if you have the spare money it could be a worthwhile purchase.

In short, I feel comfortable recommending you try them, but I would never claim that I KNOW they are going to work.

First, I’ll cover what I know works and why you should use it. Remember, just because something works doesn’t mean it’s actually going to be of benefit to you, specifically, so it’s always important to look at it in context.

Supplements that work

Nutrient-Based supplements

I’m going to make this a sub-category of its own because this covers a great number of different things. These products exist to cover ‘holes’ in your nutrition in the most convenient way possible. You could get any benefits they carry from whole foods or other lifestyle interventions but this may be inconvenient or expensive enough that a large amount of people won’t do it successfully. If you have a small supplement budget, this is where you should spend it depending on your individual circumstances and needs.

1. Whey protein

Whey protein is one of two proteins found in milk (the other being casein) and is potentially the cheapest form of protein, gram for gram, available on the market today. It’s incredibly high in the BCAA Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine; a quality which means that on a scale of bioavailability (how useful it is to the body), it rates at 100-159 out of 100 meaning that using it to supplement a diet which is falling short on protein needs, or containing a lot of ‘incomplete’ proteins can help you reach your desired intake in a much more convenient fashion.

That said, almost all of whey protein’s benefits are benefits simply because of the fact that it’s protein, so if you wish to use whole food sources, please do so as you are likely to consume a higher level of micronutrients.

One heralded benefit of whey protein is that it is ‘fast digesting’ and therefore perfect for recovery, but this has never been shown to make it superior to whole foods post training. The only time I could make the claim that this quality is useful is if you were going to train on the morning and wished to consume protein before a workout when you only have limited time before getting to the gym.

2. Fish Oil

EPA and DHA are two fatty acids without which your body cannot function. By consuming adequate amounts, you reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, increase cognitive function, speed up muscle protein synthesis and a HUGE list of other benefits to boot. The vast majority of people would do well to get around 2-3 grams of the two combined every single day. This would work out at around 250g wild salmon daily, or 3-5 capsules of a quality fish oil.

While I love salmon as much as the next guy, budget and convenience will win for many people when it comes to fish.

To choose your fish oil, check the back of the tub for the nutrition information and look to get one which provides around 600-700mg of the two above acids per capsule. Cheaper products will have these in a far inferior ratio and you could find yourself eating 10-12 capsules!

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that is depleted during intense exercise, so athletes require far more than the average sedentary person. Magnesium has a ton of benefits including testosterone regulation, sleep improvement, depression prevention, recovery from training and even abdominal fat loss – it is found in a huge variety of foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, yoghurt and even chocolate.

Unfortunately though, like I mentioned above, athletes require more magnesium than most folks because we use up our stores during intense training sessions, and a supplement is a cheap and convenient method of covering your bases, as despite our best efforts with magnesium enhancement from food, we don’t seem to be getting enough.

4. Vitamin D.

This is the big one. You know how you just feel better during the summer? More energy on holiday? And you even feel energised after using a tanning bed? That’s the magic of vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3 is a powerful secosteroid with almost innumerable benefits to athletes including hormone production, increased mood and focus, improved strength gains and improved body composition. While it is technically possible to get it through dietary and lifestyle management, the main source is the sun and unless you live in a more tropical climate, it is almost guaranteed that you will be deficient for some part of the year. Not good.
To cover myself and my clients, I recommend a dose of around 3,000iu per day at least during the darker months, or year round for those who don’t get outside much. This moderate dose seems to give the maximum results without breaking the bank or having any deleterious side effects – quick note – Vitamin D is fat soluble so it should be taken with food, ideally in an oil capsule.

5. Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals which carry an electric charge, examples being sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and hydrogen phosphate. We require a precise balance of intra and extra cellular electrolytes (essentially stored and in our blood) in order to regulate nerve and muscle function along with hydration – insufficient electrolyte intake can lead to cramps, weakness and difficulty in getting adequately hydrated.

This system is kept under tight control by our kidneys and various hormones but acute overhydration and acute or chronic dehydration create a situation which cannot be fixed internally with a great deal of ease.

For people who train for extended periods or simply sweat a lot, it’s generally a good idea to supplement with an electrolyte powder or gel during sessions lasting over an hour. These products are specifically designed blends in the correct balance to replenish what you will sweat out during your workout. This cna improve hydration status and increase post-exercise recovery. 

If you are training for a long time and consuming only ‘naked water’ with no elextrolytes added you risk diluting your body’s stores and eventually struggling to become adequately hydrated at all. Left unchecked this can lead to serious illness and even death in extreme cases, so it’s not to be taken lightly.

Away from training I recommend a large amount of green leafy vegetables to ensure you get a good amount of minerals, but also to salt your food. Athletes and people who typically eat healthily consume very low levels of sodium which is a prime constituent of table salt, which can cause problems. Active and otherwise healthy people have nothing to be concerned about when it comes to a moderate to high salt intake, and eating salt will only cause water retention or bloat if you suddenly consume an unusually (for you) high amount. Chronic and steady high intakes are harmless and in individuals who exercise regularly potentially very beneficial.

Then, as mentioned, a supplement during a training session can be helpful.

6. Carb Powders

With the dawn of the low-carb era, carb powders and gels have fallen out of favour. Similarly because sugar is now being vilified, people tend to opt for more expensive starch-based carbs over the cheaper sugar forms in the hopes that it will be more beneficial for health.

First, carbs in general are the primary fuel for any anaerobic activity, and also a useful fuel for long-duration aerobic activity. When an athlete ‘hits a wall’ or ‘bonks’ they have depleted their glycogen stores severely (you can only store 400 grams or so, a little more if you glycogen deplete then overcompensate pre-run) and will struggle to maintain any kind of performance. In fact, because the brain requires carbohydrates, specifically glucose, to function optimally when an athlete isn’t in ketosis (Which I’m not going to talk about here. Suffice it to say I don’t typically recommend ketosis to athletes looking to maximise performance) it can even cause hallucinations or blackouts.

In the case of an activity done for maximising performance (not weight loss, that’s a different kettle of fish) I recommend 50g carbs per hour after the first hour in order to maintain glycogen stores and avoid ‘the wall’. During an event your digestion is impaired because bloodflow is being redirected to working muscles and not the gut, and this means that whatever you consume needs to be as easy as possible for your body to use, keeping it liquid just makes that a whole lot easier.

The other situation where I recommend a carb drink is in the event of an athlete competing or performing twice in quick succession, such as a Crossfit athlete at a throwdown or a decathlete. For these athletes rapid glycogen replenishment is essential in order to keep their performance going strong throughout a long day, and in this case the same rule applies to the one above. Supplements here are a far more effective method than eating a wholefood meal which contains fibre and fats to slow down digestion, and they also typically contain electrolytes which are beneficial as mentioned above.
But which carb powder to pick?

Like I said, in recent years there are a lot of expensive carb powders being made available for athletes who wish to have ‘the best of the best’. Vitargo and more recently, highly branched cyclic dextrins have been produced which claim to keep insulin stores down through virtue of not being sugars, but when studied this is simply not true (1). These powders have fast gastric-emptying (leaving the stomach) rates and therefore by necessity increase insulin levels (not that this really matters much in exercisers, but that’s for another article).

HBCD’s and vitargo, in fact, have slightly faster gastric emptying rates than other carbohydrates and that is why they are recommended so highly during training, but the actual difference is minimal. I recommend people use either dextrose, maltodextrin or a mixture of the two if they choose in order to keep the cost down and still get the same result. The only time I’d say to go for a ‘fancy’ carb powder is if you suffer some kind of gastric upset, in which case the faster digesting carbs may be of some benefit to you.

For anyone else, you should be able to consume more than enough carbohydrates through your regular diet.

7. Creatine

Creatine is a protein, meaning it’s made of amino acids (Long chains of molecules that from the basis of living things). It’s found in meats and fish in small amounts, but can be supplemented in far higher doses than one would realistically ever get through your diet, and at this dose can have huge benefits to the athlete, as well as to those just looking to be healthy because it helps with ATP cycling (2) and cold potentially improve other markers of health.

Creatine is absorbed and stored in muscle cells as Creatine Phosphate which also carries molecules of water with it. This gives the benefit of muscular hydration and ‘fullness’ which makes you look better (don’t worry, the water doesn’t go under your skin and make you look bloated), helps prevent cramps and actually makes your muscles respond better to nutrients). The real interesting thing is to do with the phosphate bond, though.

Your body needs fuel, and we can get it through many sources – although the main one is carbohydrates consumed through our diet. These carbs are converted into glucose and stored as glycogen in muscle cells for later use. Likewise fatty acids can be stored in adipose tissue or intra muscular triglyceride stores for use, but eventually BEFORE actual use all energy gets turned into the body’s fuel ‘currency’ called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

As the name suggests, ATP is formed when one molecule of adenosine binds to three phosphate molecules. When a unit of ATP is used in the body, it loses one phosphate bonding and becomes useless ADP (Adenosine diphosphate). This Phosphate bond needs to be replaced before it can be used again.

In steps creatine phosphate.

By holding a phosphate bond in the muscle cell, it is far more readily available for ADP re-synthesis, effectively increasing the amount of work you are capable of doing. This could add a few extra press-ups, an extra sprint, or make you recover faster between rounds of exercise, indirectly improving your results!
The final benefit to energy production is much simpler to explain – creatine can actually be used as a fuel source itself, meaning that supplementation can increase the amount of fuel you have to play with.

Add to this that creatine has been shown to improve carb tolerance and even potentially help reduce risk of degenerative brain diseases, it’s well worth the small investment. A dose of 3-5g per day is more than sufficient, and a bag of the most effective kind of creatine, creatine monohydrate, will cost you around £10 and last for months.

You don’t need to cycle or ‘load’ creatine (It was once suggested that you had to take loads for a week to ‘load’ the muscle but this has been disproven) and you can take it at any time of day to benefit as the effect accumulates over time rather than being an acute ergogen (an ergogen or ergogenic aid simply improves performance). Of course, if you DO wish to load it, a dose of 20g per day for a week will ‘saturate’ your muscles faster, giving you the total benefit earlier.

8. Caffeine

Caffeine is the world’s most used drug, and can be massively beneficial to both performance and fat loss. Research suggests that caffeine can improve power output (3), reduce perceived effort with a given workload (4) and increase alertness, drive and focus. This means you are in the zone, able to train harder, and you’ll even feel like it’s easier.

Couple this with the fact that habitual coffee drinkers show an increased calorie burn throughout the day and I can imagine you are sold!

A dose of around 3-9 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight is shown to be highly effective at aiding sports performance, so this is a good place to start.


Caffeine isn’t all roses. Caffeine increases your stress hormone levels, can interfere with blood pressure and heart rate and can interrupt the sleep which is vital for both health and brainpower as well as fat loss and muscle gains.

It also has a long half life of over 6 hours (Meaning that if you took 200mg at 12pm, come 6pm there would still be 100mg in your system, then come 12am there would be 50, and so on) so it’s deleterious effects hang around for a long time.

My suggestions with caffeine are and always will be to use it but use the minimal effective dose as infrequently as you can. A single coffee in the morning before training, or a coffee in the morning then another lower dose of caffeine pre workout in the evening.

9. Beta Alanine

Beta Alanine is another amino acid which we can get in small amounts from food: Chicken and turkey being examples, but when we supplement it we are able to ingest huge amounts more than we ordinarily would.

Beta alanine is a precursor to carnosine which is stored in the muscles. It’s stored there because it is vital for preserving muscle PH levels.

As mentioned in the section on creatine, activity such as running, sprinting or lifting uses stores of ATP and this results in ADP and one other thing – lactic acid. Lactic acid was once thought to be a bad thing which causes muscle fatigue, but this is not actually true(5). Whilst it is true that lactic acid production increases along with training intensity and duration, the same can be said about heart rate – but it is correlation and nothing more.

Lactic acid quickly dissociates into lactate and hydrogen ions which carry a positive electrical charge. Lactate itself is actually a fuel source which your body can use to perform exercise. The H+ ions, however, remain in the muscle and lower the pH to create an acidic environment and cause ‘the burn’. Carnosine effectively buffers this acid buildup, converting it to C02 and allowing it to be exhaled.

This effect isn’t just acute or ‘per set’, either. During a workout H+ ions build up slowly (especially true for long distance events) and beta alanine can help mediate this. This means that you might get a few extra reps per set, but you might also get a few extra sets per workout!

BA is typically dosed in the 3-6g rep range, with a gradual buildup occurring over 5-10 weeks before you experience the full benefit. Because of this long ‘loading phase’ I generally recommend you use beta alanine year round.

As a final note, acute bolus dosing of BA can result in a mildly unpleasant tingling feeling called parasthesia. This can be mediated by splitting your dose up over 2-3 servings during the day with food for the best absorption rates.

Stuff That Might Work

10. Leucine

Leucine is an essential amino acid which is vital for the activation of muscle protein synthesis (6). The dose required to gain the optimal effect is around the 3gram range in any given meal which translates to around 180-240g of various meats, or 27g of protein from a whey protein powder (which is different to 27g of whey, incidentally).

For a lot of vegetarian protein sources, getting this 3g dose is very difficult or at least impractical. These foods are considered ‘incomplete protein sources’ for the most part due to the fact that they are low in one or more of the essential amino acids needed by the human body. Added to this is the simple fact that some people just don’t want to eat that much meat per meal One way to mediate this is to supplement meals which are low in ‘complete proteins’ with leucine.

This falls under the ‘stuff which might work’ category because there has been a large amount of hype surrounding leucine in recent years with people taking it in between meals whereby you can actually negatively affect protein synthesis by preventing ‘peaks and troughs’ throughout the day which are actually beneficial, or alongside meals that contain enough protein already and therefore wasting money. Leucine is a useful supplement but it has very specific applications.

11. Adaptogens

Adaptogens, as the name suggests, help our body to adapt to stressors by mediating the physical and chemical effects thereof. Stressors include training, dieting, daily work and family stress and anything else which causes increases in stress hormones or puts your body in a ‘fight or flight’ mode. They also show potential for improving mood and concentration as well as increasing the beneficial effects of stimulants without increasing the dose you use, and therefore incurring further side effects.

Common adaptogens are Rhodiola Rosea or Ashwagandha but there are a large number of them available today; largely herbs and extracts common in Ayurveda medicine. Interestingly, although they all share the same purported benefits, when studied their potential mechanisms for action do not necessarily all line up.

Most research done on adaptogens is located in old Soviet journals which are very difficult to acquire or translate well enough to analyse the methods and results thoroughly, and there isn’t a lot of modern human trial data to go on, and therefore I cannot say with certainty that they work.

That said, there is a reasonable amount of data to suggest that Rhodiola potentially improves mood and that it alongside Holy Basil, Schisandra chinensis and Tribulus terrestris can reduce the effects of chronic stress and even boost libido. Because of this I recommend them for use during heavy training cycles or during periods where sleep is necessarily reduced to allow for study/work which is unavoidable in the short term.

On a personal note – I do use them myself and recommend them to clients who have been dieting hard for a long time or are in an overtrained state, almost invariably to good results.

12. Citrulline Malate

CitMal is another dietary amino acid. When supplemented, its role is to speed up the ammonia recycling process associated with fatigue and increase nitric oxide concentrations. Because of this it is thought to reduce fatigue and improve endurance in both aerobic and anaerobic activity alongside boosting recovery rates.

Users report an increased ‘pump’ which of course increases anabolism to some degree because of cellular swelling (7) and also a reduction in DOMS. Unfortunately there are only two studies to date which back up the ergogenic properties of CitMal and therefore I cannot conclusively say that it works. 

Again, though, I use it personally and feel a great benefit, so I will recommend it today. Dosing is 6-8 grams (for endurance and strength training respectively) according to the two studies available (8,9) and due to its acute effects, it should be taken around an hour pre workout with or without food.

13. Transdermal Minerals

Transdermal means ‘through the skin’ and some minerals may be able to be absorbed in this manner to increase your body’s serum levels without needing to digest them through the gut. I’m going to focus on Magnesium and Zinc here, but there may be significantly more minerals which can be used this way.

Your skin is a semi permeable membrane which can selectively absorb various things via your pores in a manner similar to osmosis – things which are highly concentrated cross over a barrier into an area of low concentration in order to ‘even things out’. They then cross into your capillaries and enter the bloodstream where they are used as needed. This is how creams and patches work and we can potentially exploit it for mineral supplementation.

Minerals such as magnesium and zinc, as mentioned above are needed for hundreds of different functions in the body, one of which is in the mechanism to create a muscle contraction. Simply, without these two you cannot contract your muscles as effectively as you might want to, which has obvious drawbacks to athletes. Oral supplementation of magnesium and zinc is an excellent way to increase total serum levels of these minerals (although some magnesium forms have terrible gut absorption rates and a large dose can cause diarrhoea) but this of course requires passage through the digestive process and then distribution to numerous places in the body.

If you’ve just performed a bench press workout, you might not want the bulk of these minerals to end up in your legs.

Another issue is that absorption is slow, and (similar to carbs) if an athlete is to perform multiple times per day then acute recovery needs to be on point, and this is where a Transdermal method can help.

By applying these products to the affected area (or indeed bolus dosing by soaking in a bath), you can effectively improve magnesium status directly and improve recovery.

Now, unfortunately this is currently theoretical with no solid research backing, but Epsom salt baths have been considered beneficial for hundreds of years and empirical evidence surrounding magnesium oils and sprays is building up at a rate which cannot be ignored.

For this reason, although I cannot definitively say ‘it works’, I do recommend Transdermal supplementation to those who are interested to try it.

Takii H, Kometani T, Nishimura T, Kuriki T, and Fushiki T (2010). A Sports Drink Based on Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin Generates Few Gastrointestinal Disorders in Untrained Men during Bicycle Exercise. Food Science and Technology Research
JD Branch (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism:198-226
JH Williams, JF Signorile, SW Barnes and TW Henrich (1988). Caffeine, maximal power output and fatigue. British Journal of Sports Medicine
M. Doherty and P.M Smith (2004). Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta-analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
Norton and Wilson (2009). Optimal Protein intake to Maximise Muscle Protein Synthesis. University of Illinois.
Brad Schoenfeld (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Perez-Guisado, J and Jakeman PM. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
JA López-Cabral, A Rivera-Cisneros, H Rodríguez-Camacho, JM Sánchez-González, I Serna-Sánchez, M Trejo-Trejo (2012). Modification of fatigue indicators using citrulline malate for high performance endurance athletes. Rev Latinoamer Patol Clin, Vol. 59, Núm. 4, pp 194-201