Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Research - The best type of Training

Ive always been interested about how things work. Ive often destroyed a perfectly functioning piece of gadgetry trying to determine the mechanisms of  its inner workings. I am now completing a PhD in exercise science trying to unravel the mysteries of the human body, and in particular skeletal muscle. I could talk all day about the mechanisms of how muscle responds to various nutritional and exercise stimuli, and am lucky enough to have the opportunity to document my understanding of such things in my forever expanding thesis. For scientists to understand these mechanisms we devise well controlled, meticulously planned research trials that require volunteers from the general public to perform various tasks within the laboratory so we can collect data and begin to draw conclusions. Who are these volunteers? They are people like you.. and often the hardest part of such research is generating interest and recruiting volunteers. Depending upon the study we will target a specific type of athlete. In general I use well trained cyclists or triathletes as they are familiar with the type of training and testing I use to measure adaptation and performance changes in response to specific interventions. My most recent study required 12 well trained cyclists to complete 4 different trials over 4 weeks to measure the effect of caffeine ingestion on cycling power output under conditions of normal or low muscle glycogen content  (I will make this the topic of an upcoming blog). Apart from being poked, prodded and yelled at to squeeze out every bit of performance possible  being a guinea pig in the research lab is often just a well catered for training session. And yet it has the added bonus of undergoing some physiological testing that if completed outside of a research scenario would possibly cost hundreds of $$$$$. So for a little effort and commitment you could actually be paid to train, yes... there is often financial reimbursement for your time and effort plus you get some very handy physiological feedback. By now I hope I have inspired a little interest in my readers. Although my intentions are to educate, they are also to open some avenues to help me entice a new batch of enthused athletes to volunteer for some up coming research. Next on the books is a study investigating the effects of a glucose mouth rinse on 40km TT performance. Although many athletes are aware of the benefits of carbohydrates during exercise many are unaware of the multiple mechanisms of its actions. Apart from being a substrate for muscle contraction it is also becoming evident that carbohydrates can be sensed by receptors in the mouth that ultimately send signals to the brain that enable us to work harder for longer. Our new study is targeting this action and testing it using four 40km TT performed 1/week over 4 weeks. For this I need 12 cyclists/triathletes to perform each of these sessions. So if you have an interest in research, want to dramatically improve your TT performance and have the luxury of a paid catered training session then here's your chance. For further information about participating send me an email at stephen.lane@rmit.edu.au.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Boundaries of Size and Speed

I do like to day dream. If you slip far enough away anything is possible. I find myself on occasion dreaming of being a genetic endurance freak with the ability to leave my competition gasping for air while I ride away into the distance. Unfortunately, no such luck occurred at my conception and I am left to only dream. Amazingly though such people do exist. Hard work and a little dash of super DNA rounds out the top 10 at most of the grand tours. But yet even beyond these supreme endurance athletes are a small group of actual genetic freaks. The images above, well in particular the rather large whippet dog and the bull of all bulls actually suffer from a disorder where the hormone that regulates muscle mass is not present. This mysterious hormone called Myostatin is produced in skeletal muscle and then circulates around the body to regulate muscle mass. In ordinary individuals no matter how many hours they spend in the gym eventually they reach a level where their muscle mass plateaus. In the case of a genetically modified mouse or a naturally occurring dog there is no Myostatin present to regulate muscle mass so it continues to grow even without any major stimulus. In human cases there are reports of young children with super human strength and a six pack to die for, but yet I am not overly certain of the life span of these fortunate or possibly unfortunate individuals. My day dreams slightly stray from the realms of huge muscles but rather dwell on a VO2max somewhere in the theoretical realms of the spawn of Lance Armstrong (no introduction needed) crossed with Chrissy Wellington (3 x Ironman world champion who goes as fast as most of the guys). So.... what does regulate our ability to uptake and utilize oxygen? Are there individuals who are unknowingly sitting on the couch with the potential to hold 800W for a 40km Time Trial, Possibly? We believe that this potential is partially regulated by the fact that the larger the muscle cross sectional area the further oxygen has to diffuse from the circulation to the center of the muscle and this process is ultimately dictated by the laws of physics. There are of course alternative ways to achieve superhuman performance. Doping is probably the most common and simplest of these forms of performance enhancement. If only they sold EPO at the supermarket, but yet I suppose then everyone would be on it and we would be back at square one again. All in all scientists are still yet to accurately define what exactly limits the boundaries of human adaptation, at the moment I believe the majority of it lies in our minds!!