I was recently offered the chance to try a supplement with assurances it would enhance performance. The claims were backed up with references and importantly the product was certified free of banned substances. I’d receive this expensive supplement for free and in return just have to write about my experience using it. I’m skeptical of anything that claims to boost performance whether it’s a pill or a form of training. Before I could make a decision I needed to do some research of my own.
Searching with Google and Pub Med produced a set of anecdotes and peer reviewed research to read through. Inevitably results were mixed suggesting that if present the benefits were not clear cut. It’s hard to assess the body of data from abstracts, especially when dosages and methodologies varied across the tests. I weighed up the evidence and felt there were strong hints of its potential; it might improve performance. Hardly definitive.
Legal, possibly effective and at no significant cost; the choice was simple. I wasn’t happy. Taking a product to improve performance didn’t sit well with me, it was worse if it actually worked! Knowing my results come from the hard work I’ve put in is deeply satisfying; a powder or pill seemed like a shortcut. It may only be worth an extra percent in performance, but I wanted to be certain the results were one hundred percent mine.
There are inconsistencies in my choice. I’m happy to consume large quantities of caffeine or use guarana in training and racing; I’ve no issue with something that helps me push. In the past I’ve tried herbal extracts with claimed fitness benefits, products intended to directly enhance performance. Counter-intuitively my doubts about their effectiveness made me willing to use them: I didn’t really believe they’d work. I’d happily waste money on sugar pills, but wouldn’t touch a genuine drug!
I’m not willing to take something that might actually work. The research suggested those using the product experienced greater improvements in fitness than others on the same training regime; you achieve better performance without extra work. This idea unsettled me, it didn’t represent the approach I want to this sport. It edged too close to the boundary of performance enhancing drugs for me to feel happy.
It’s an arbitrary choice, you can find the active ingredient naturally. Everything I consume affects my performance however minuscule that may be. Should the initial research prove true drinking beetroot juice on a regular basis would enhance my endurance. Consuming a foul tasting vegetable juice is one thing, but taking a huge dose of a mass synthesised chemical is another. The intent in the latter case feels like the first step towards ‘performance at any cost’.
There’s no right or wrong. Each of us has to choose the steps we’re willing to take to achieve our goals. I made that decision: I don’t want shortcuts or quick fixes for me the process is as important as the results. I’ll get faster by training better.
From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.