Our athletic potential is, in the end, limited by our genes. But what we actually will achieve is determined to a much greater degree by the training and the nutritional programs we choose to follow. So where does a new rider, committed to maximizing their performance, start? The first hurdler is getting past the anecdotes that are found on almost every training website - the recommendations and claims based on personal opinions and "experience" rather than firm factual information.
These are the most common sources of misinformation in online and lay journal articles:
How big is this problem? This NYT blog references a British Medical Journal article in which researchers examined 615 sports-related magazine advertisements. Of these, 54 contained claims that the product enhanced performance, but only THREE offered references. The 53 Web sites for these sports products contained an additional 141 references. Further analysis found only three studies offered by the manufacturers to support their claims were of high quality and at low risk of bias.... Two were studies of the effect of linoleic acid supplementation, and the other was a controlled trial of magnesium citrate in the treatment of leg cramps. All three had NEGATIVE results.
To help you sift through these claims and what I'll call "urban legends", it is the goal of the CPTIPS website to collect and present performance tips (nutritional, training, and equipment) that are supported by scientific evidence (controlled studies, published in the peer reviewed medical literature) or are based on well accepted principles of nutritional physiology. I will also make it clear when any content being presented is a guest post (that is may contain author bias) or is sponsor supported (again with the potential to contain bias).
It is my hope that understanding the basis of these tips will help you, the reader, to decide when and how to apply them to your own unique situations to improve your cycling performance and enjoyment.
But having just touted the power of controlled studies, published after a critical review by peers, I want to emphasize that it is important to remain skeptical even when it comes to claims in the medical literature about improving performance. This article offers a potential solution. "Science reporting would be much improved if we had a labeling system that made clear a given study's place in the scientific process.
And even if scientifically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, application of the findings to your training program and personal situation is essential. When I read this piece in the NYT, my initial response was "Wow, what a simple way to get a 2 or 3 % edge in a competitive event". Then I decided to read the supporting literature. The original study that had been referenced was peer reviewed. But as I got into the details I found the rub. In this specific case, even with what appeared to be a scientifically valid benefit, the design of the study implied a benefit that is probably not there in a real life situation. These were fasting riders. But if you are eating smart, you will most likely be topping off your carbohydrates before a ride, and you will probably start taking oral supplements early in the ride to maintain your muscle glycogen stores for as long as possible. And if you are, the benefits implied in the piece in the NYT, and the scientific study supporting it, are relegated to the interesting, but not applicable bin. The moral of this story (example) is that you cannot blithely believe all that you read and should always be a bit skeptical of the interpretation and application of even well done scientific studies.
It can be a long and tedious search to find useful tips that help you gain a competitive edge. It is more commonly the application of tried and true training basics, not shortcuts, that will get you to your goals. Hopefully this website will point you to the best training (and riding strategies) for you.
- Dick Rafoth MD