When we’re training, we want to bring our best. We want to make sure we’re giving it our 110% each and every time we’re going into our training sessions. You make sure that your diet is on point as well, always hitting your calorie and macronutrient targets for the day. With all those set in proper working order, is there anyway else that we can increase our endurance and power during our training sessions? The answer to that is yes. 

Enter supplementation… And no, I’m not going to try to sell you on some magical formula that has even been shown to give the slightest benefits in the scientific literature. I’m going to present you with only what’s worth your investment. These supplements that I’m about to present to you have actually demonstrated their worth in the literature. And to top it off, they’re quite affordable as well. Let’s get right into it. 

Beta-Alanine

An amino acid that is the building block of another amino acid called carnosine, this supplement has proven its merit time and time again for being a fantastic endurance builder. 

A meta-analysis on beta-alanine showed a median increase of 2.85% in exercise bouts that lasted between 60-240 seconds [1]. This was primarily measured by a variable called “time to exhaustion.” The subjects who took beta-alanine were able to last 2.85% longer than those who didn’t during exercise bouts that lasted 60-240 seconds. Although it may not sound like much, this figure is quite impressive for a supplement working on its own accord. 

An important thing to note here is that the benefits of beta-alanine greatly diminish when utilized either below or above the preceding time frame. So bouts under 1 minute or over 4 minutes won’t see too much of an improvement. 

Dose: 5 grams pre-workout

Creatine

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to support that creatine is all that effective for muscular endurance performance. But, what we definitely do see is a dramatic increase in anaerobic power.

One study took recreationally active men and took them through 5 sets of 2-minute bouts with 1-minute rest in between on a cycle ergometer. After multiple testing sessions, it was shown that the creatine group increased by 6.72% compared to the placebo and control groups, which, again, is quite dramatic for a supplement protocol [2]. 

This next study fits in perfectly with our previously discussed supplement beta-alanine. They tested for strength via bench press and squat, power output via Wingate anaerobic test and 20-minute jump test, as well as body composition measures [3]. They observed a mild but significant increase in testosterone, which was attributed solely by creatine. The researchers also saw positive adaptations in fat mass and lean body mass as a result of the synergism between the two supplements. And as for the power testing, the increase was mostly attributed to the effects of creatine. Remember, beta-alanine is only effective for bouts in the 60-240 second range, so that can be hypothesized as the reason why we didn’t see a contribution from it here. However, as future research is released, we will most likely see the benefits of supplementing with both of these ingredients together. 

Dose: 5 grams pre-workout

Caffeine

A staple in many people’s lives already, whether it be through diet such as coffee or supplementally through pre-workout products. This timeless stimulant has proven time and time again that it is a major player in increasing both endurance and power.

As it pertains to power, subjects witnessed increases in their power output on the squat and bench press when given a dose of 3mg/kg of body weight [4]. However, improvement was not seen when subjects only consumed 1mg/kg of body weight. So it’s important to experiment with the dosage, as tolerance to this stimulant is widely variable among individuals. 

As far as endurance performance goes, it shows us its magic as well. This is illustrated in a study with 16 elite cyclists; where both 3mg/kg and 6mg/kg doses were given. Both doses showed improvements over the placebo group [5]. What’s interesting about these dosages are that the higher dose didn’t create any greater of an increase in performance than the 3mg/kg dose did. In fact, the 3 mg/kg dose showed a 4.2% improvement while the 6mg/kg dose showed only a 2.9% improvement. Again, as mentioned earlier, this is most likely due to differences in tolerances between individuals. Plus, this proves to us that more is not always better. 

Dose: Experiment with what works best for your body, but 3mg/kg seems to be the sweet spot for most athletes.

Sodium Phosphate

You don’t really hear much about this one, at least in the sports supplement world anyway. But it works quite well for increasing endurance performance, so take notes.

Talking about elite cyclists once again, one particular study used this supplement to test their performance on a 16.1 km cycling time-trial performance [6]. They took 1 gram 4 times a day before the time-trial. What they saw was a slight elevation of VO2 max and mean power output. The researchers believe this supplement works by enhancing the red blood cell’s ability to get oxygen to the working muscles, in this case, primarily the quadriceps. 

Other studies have noted in maximal oxygen uptake; between 6-12%! [7]. Again, what we must remember here is that although these figures may appear small, these are not drugs! Supplements on their own that show improvements even above 1% above normal are something I’d keep in my arsenal for sure! 

Dose: 4 grams per day split into separate doses throughout the day about 1 week before your endurance event.

Conclusion

There you have it. Four supplements that are definitely worth a try if you haven’t given them a shot already. Remember, proper training and diet comes first! Then, and only then, you should add in these supplements. When all that is in order, then you’ll see that these supplements will give you that marginal gain you need over your competition.

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References

  1. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: A meta-analysis. Amino Acids, 43(1), 25-37. doi:10.1007/s00726-011-1200-z
  2. Kendall, K. L., Graef, J. L., Fukuda, D. H., Smith, A. E., Moon, J. R., Beck, T. W., . . . Stout, J. R. (2010). The Effects Of Four Weeks Of High-Intensity Interval Training And Creatine Supplementation On Critical Power And Anaerobic Working Capacity In College-Aged Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24, 1. doi:10.1097/01.jsc.0000367145.78325.43
  3. Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Kang, J., Mangine, G., Faigenbaum, A. D., & Stout, J. R. (2006). Effect of Creatine and β-Alanine Supplementation on Performance and Endocrine Responses in Strength/Power Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(Supplement). doi:10.1249/00005768-200605001-01454
  4. Coso, J. D., Salinero, J. J., González-Millán, C., Abián-Vicén, J., & Pérez-González, B. (2012). Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: A repeated measures design. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1). doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-21
  5. Desbrow, B., Biddulph, C., Devlin, B., Grant, G. D., Anoopkumar-Dukie, S., & Leveritt, M. D. (2012). The effects of different doses of caffeine on endurance cycling time trial performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(2), 115-120. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.632431
  6. Folland, J. P., Stern, R., & Brickley, G. (2008). Sodium phosphate loading improves laboratory cycling time-trial performance in trained cyclists. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 11(5), 464-468. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2007.04.004
  7. Czuba, M., Zając, A., Poprzecki, S., & Cholewa, J. (2008). The Influence of Sodium Phosphate Supplementation on VO2max, Serum 2,3-diphosphoglycerate Level and Heart Rate in Off-road Cyclists. Journal of Human Kinetics, 19(1), 149-164. doi:10.2478/v10078-008-0012-z

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About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) Certified Coach, a level 2 certified Training Peaks coach, a USA Cycling certified power based training coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a licensed physical therapist assistant. He is also the creator of Zwift's "Build Me Up" Flexible Training Plan. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com for any cycling or training related questions.

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