Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Pain, More Gain?

Before you carry on reading, I'll like to get this straight right from the start. If you choose to take high doses of pain medication before your races, there may be a potential risk of higher injury as pain may be an important warning of impending muscle or joint damage. Large doses of pain medication taken often, too may have harmful effects on your liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal (stomach) tract & lining.

I am saying that I do not recommend the chronic & frequent use of analgesics (pain medication) to help enhance your athletic performance. So if you insist, don't say I didn't warn you.

Now you're ready to read what this is all about. A group of British scientists have found a novel way of for elite endurance athletes to go even faster. Since the "pain" of high intensity exercise affects our performance (meaning if racing hard & fast is too painful, we slow down), one way to improve performance is to then lower our pain levels to enable us to go faster.

In their randomized double-blind study(meaning both participants & researchers don't know which cyclist gets the meds or a placebo), they gave the elite cyclists a dose of 1.5 grams of acetaminophen (the active ingredient found in Tylenol) or a dummy tablet before a 16km time trial - (distance like a prologue stage of the Tour de France).

The results were astonishing to say the least. Cyclists were 2% (or 30seconds over 16km) faster while on the pain medication while recording a higher heart rate and producing more lactate (meaning they were able to push themselves harder) and rode faster while rating the effort easier. What's more, the authors also hinted that this actaminophen effect could be even more dramatic in longer duration events.

Before all of you run out to get hold of some even stronger pain medication (I shan't tell you what) than acetaminophen (as acetaminophen is actually quite mild, which makes the research even more remarkable) similar research has been done with stronger pain medication. The subjects in that study felt super and went out too hard in the first half of the time trial and slowed down big time in the second half. Now you wouldn't want that in your race would you. Please see this. Previous studies using aspirin or ibuprofen returned conflicting results.

Now I can hear some of my readers and patients asking me already, so what did I take while I was still racing. I didn't take anything in the "small" races, I only took them in my goal races. What did I take and what was the dosage? Come speak to me and I will reveal all.

Mauger AR, Jones AM & Williams CA. (2010). Influence of Acetaminophen on Performance during Time Trial Cycling. J Appl Physiol Jan 108(1): 98-104.

*Picture from Flickr

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