Fitness questions and answers for September 6, 2004

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at...

Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com) is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Michael Smartt (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Power output
Erectile dysfunction
Lactic acid
Chronic fatigue
Supplements
Pedal width too narrow
Calf cramps at maximal efforts
Stretching as prevention
Creatine
Glycogen loading
IT band fix
Lower back pain
Post-ride knee pain
Seat height formulas
Weight loss and riding
Setback seat posts
Fear

Power output

I am a thirty year old road racer. An earlier answer detailed a rough idea of power at threshold for women, i.e. how much power the average female pro, cat. 1, etc, puts out at threshold. Could you give a similar breakdown for men?

Rob Mitchell
Slover City, New Jersey

Steve Owens replies:

Take a look at this spreadsheet that a fellow coach, Andy Coggan, came up with. It allows you to compare relative power (watts/kg) relatively well to American racing categories.

Eddie Monnier replies:

Please note that category comparisons were not the original intent of Dr. Coggan's work here. The sheet was originally designed to help athletes and coaches develop an understanding of a rider's "power profile"; namely, whether or not they have relative strengths or weaknesses in max effort power at certain durations relative to others. This can help identify areas to address in training as well as provide data that may be helpful in choosing certain racing tactics. In fact, in the latest incarnation of the spreadsheet, Dr. Coggan has removed the category brackets because people were focusing on them rather than the intended purpose. Additionally, he has replaced the 20-min power numbers with "FT" or Functional Threshold, which is the average power one can sustain in a max effort of about 40 - 60 minutes.

There are many issues associated with trying to tie power levels to competitive categories. For one, normalizing to W/kg is appropriate for climbs but in many cases inappropriate for flatland riding. Additionally, there are very successful Elite riders who do not generate the same power levels that their peers do. Similarly, there are riders in lower categories who generate huge power numbers but who do not do well in competition.

To read more about Dr. Coggan's Power Profiling and see the latest spreadsheet, see www.peakscoachinggroup.com/power/profiling.htm.

Dario Fredrick replies:

This may seem like a long answer to a simple question, but I think clarification of the numbers and their application is worthwhile. Here's the short answer to your request.

Maximal steady state (MSS) power to weight ratios for men's road cycling categories to be competitive in sustained climbing situations (>10min)*:

Cat 5: 3.0 - 3.4
Cat 4: 3.5 - 3.8
Cat 3: 3.9 - 4.3
Cat 2: 4.4 - 4.8
Cat 1: 4.9 - 5.3
Pro National-level: 5.3 - 5.8
Pro World Class: 5.9 - 7.0
(*Values expressed in Watts per kilogram of body weight)

These values are the result of hundreds of performance tests with various levels of competitive cyclists together with power meter data from road racing. To apply these ratios to a real power value, if we took a 160 lb ( 73 kg) male cyclist for example, to be a competitive climber as a Cat 3 he would need to produce an MSS power of 300W. If he wanted to climb with the leaders at the Tour de France, he would need to sustain 500W!

As I mentioned in my previous response which you referred to about power to weight ratios (P/W) for women's road racing categories, defining exactly what we mean by "threshold" is critical to accurate application of power data to training and in predicting performance. Maximal steady state (MSS) is a performance threshold of approximately 30 minutes, so when we refer to P/W here, MSS power is what we're talking about.

The reasoning behind using 30 min as opposed to 60 min is that the longer effort can be significantly affected by fluid intake and carbohydrate feeding, making it a less consistent standard by which to measure one's performance. Also, it is seldom that a cyclist would experience an uninterrupted effort of more than 30 min during competition, except perhaps when performing a long time trial (>20 km) or very long sustained climb. In the case of a longer TT for example, we can estimate power for a 40k as approximately 95% of MSS.

Our goal at Whole Athlete in developing the P/W numbers relative to racing categories was in response to athletes wanting to know where their MSS power output puts them relative to their racing peers and what it takes to be competitive climbing at the various racing levels. Eddie brings up an excellent point about the variability of power output within any particular racing category, and between climbs and flat terrain. During a post-test consultation, we always explain to the athlete that the P/W numbers are indicative of one's performance potential, and do not necessarily take into consideration how one expends energy during a race, mechanical efficiency, aerobic/muscular efficiency or mental tenacity.

Erectile dysfunction

My question relates to a very serious problem I have developed, I ride about 700 km a week on average, sometimes more.. I have been experiencing penile dysfunction and battle to maintain an erection. Swallowing a Viagra sorts me out but surely there is another solution. Please help

Kind Regards

Limp
South Africa

Scott Saifer replies:

Most likely you are compressing the relevant nerve when you ride. The most likely solution involves changing how you sit on the bike or perhaps the saddle itself. If you have not had a professional fitting by a competent specialist, start with that. If you have a position with which you are generally happy, the simplest solution is to lower the nose of the saddle just a couple of degrees. If that takes the pressure off the nerve and does not increase weight on your hands much, you're done. If you can't tilt the saddle far enough to remove the pressure without throwing weight onto your hands, you may be able to rotate your whole body position backwards: seat back and down, bars up, keep saddle level. If this does not solve the problem, try a different saddle, perhaps one with a soft or cutout nose. If you are currently using a particularly narrow saddle, try a slightly wider one. Good luck.

Lactic acid

I'm 19 years old, my weight is about 61kg, and my height is about 1,70cm. I've been riding bikes since I was kid, more frequently since 14 years old and more seriously since 18 years old. I started training with the help of a coach this year and I have already seen good improvement. I ride at about 31km/h at endurance intensity (140-150bpm). But my greatest weakness is when I have to keep a very high intensity for a short time, like when I do interval training (For example, 6 x 2km at max intensity). When I do such a thing, after less than 1 minute my legs start to burn a lot, a lot of acid and a lot of suffering. The same thing happens during criterium races where at the start, the pace of the peloton is very high, and I never can keep with it. I don't have such a difficulty when I need to keep a high intensity pace for long times (30 minutes or more).

I was wondering if is there any way to avoid acid lactic from raising so fast in the muscles, like specific diet or training. Or I just have bad genetics and my muscles easily produces acid, and it's time to stop dreaming of cycling racing. Another observation is that I have I little more fat in the legs than the other parts of the body, is there any relation with that and the lactic acid problem?

My training program has a total mileage of 370km per week in 6 days of riding.

Rodolfo Martin

Dario Fredrick replies:

The problem really isn't lactic acid. Have a read of this article.

Chronic fatigue

I am 44, male and have been wrestling with chronic fatigue for 2.5 years.

I have shown a huge improvement in the condition this year and resumed training (previously doing 300km per week average and racing A grade).

Over the last month my max heart rate has again begun to decline (typical of CFS and fatigue) and I have reduced my training to help my recovery (down to 200km per week and only 1 hard session).

Question - what is the most effective way(s) to remove/reduce lactic acid post ride.

Also any vitamins/minerals you suggest will help with recovery in general as this is the hardest thing to get right.

Alan Nelson
Australia

Dario Fredrick replies:

Chronic fatigue can be challenging to deal with, but there are ways to reduce its prevalence or its reoccurance in your case. Minimize the stress response in your nervous system and maximize the quality of your recovery.

The autonomic nervous system which governs many basic functions in our body (heart rate regulation, hormone production, etc.) has two halves, the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. The sympathetic division is an evolved survival response also referred to as the "fight or flight" or "stress" response, while its counterpart, the parasympathetic division stimulates recovery while "resting and digesting."

Although we may not face many natural predators these days, we do stimulate the stress response through intense exercise (i.e. racing or hard training) and in mentally stressful situations (even at the office!). The stress response stimulates the release of hormones that, while useful in survival situations, create damage in the body. If over-stimulation of the stress response occurs, or the parasympathetic division is understimulated, burnout or chronic fatigue can result. So how do we minimize sympathetic activity and maximize the parasympathetic response?

Keep intense training or racing to only one or two days per week at most during the racing phase of your training season. Minimize stress in other areas of your life as best you can. Practice relaxation techniques, massage, restorative yoga and breathing exercises.

You mentioned that your HRmax appears reduced. This is not always a sign of CFS, since HRmax can vary significantly during various periods of training. I wouldn't worry too much about HRmax but rather keep track of your rate of recovery from intense training or racing. I would be sure you are recovering well and in a similar time frame as before your CFS experience. Of course, maximize recovery with plenty of sleep, proper hydration and nutrition.

Regarding your lactic acid question, despite the common misconception, there is no lactic acid in your legs post ride. Neither lactate nor lactic acid are the causes of fatigue during cycling as well. Any ache or pain you feel in your legs is most likely a result of muscular damage. A flushing style of massage can help, cold bath, rehydrating sufficiently and lying on your back with your legs up a wall for a period of 5 min or more are possible solutions as well.

Supplements #1

I am 32, 5'10 and weight 155 lbs. I did my first triathlon a few weeks ago and will do a 1/2 Ironman in a few weeks. My question revolves around supplements. Does taking creatine, glutamine, etc help your body repair and recover from endurance training? Since, I am new to Triathlons I am spending a lot of time doing bricks to get my body used to transitions and just to get used to the amount of energy that will have to be expended over a 1/2 Ironman. What supplements, activities, or anything aids your body in recovery and repair?

Scott Evans
USA

Pam Hinton replies:

Two sure-fire keys to optimal recovery are an adequate diet and enough rest between hard workouts. I'll stick to my area of expertise and address the diet-related issues. After training for 2 hours, your glycogen stores will be running low. You need to replenish the carbohydrate you used to fuel your workout. The optimal way to do this is to consume 1.5 g carbohydrate per kg of body weight within 30 minutes after exercise and again every two hours for 4-6 hours. Exercise increases the rate of protein breakdown and synthesis in skeletal muscle and, with adequate nutrition, it will have an anabolic effect on skeletal muscle, i.e., it will result in a net increase in protein synthesis. Carbohydrate consumed post-exercise is beneficial because it reduces the rate of protein degradation. However, to increase protein synthesis and achieve a net increase in muscle mass, it is important to consume protein after exercise. Studies have shown that consuming about 0.2 g of amino acids per kg of body weight per hour during the first 2-3 hours post exercise results in net protein synthesis.

You asked about glutamine and it is a hot supplement right now. Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning that under normal circumstances the body can make what it needs. Skeletal muscle is the most significant source of glutamine in the body. When muscle is broken down in response to the stress hormone cortisol, glutamine is released from the muscle into the blood. During times of extraordinary stress, such as severe trauma, burns, or sepsis, the body's demand for glutamine exceeds its ability to make the amino acid and it becomes essential. In clinical studies of critically ill patients, providing supplemental glutamine has been shown to improve patient outcome and survival. This is in large part because cells of the immune system use glutamine for energy and during times of stress the immune system is activated, requiring more energy. Although not nearly as stressful as a burn injury or sepsis, exhaustive exercise (e.g., running a marathon) causes a short-term (

Because athletes competing in endurance events often experience a mild decrease in immune function and an increase in upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) post-event, the effect of glutamine supplementation on immune response has been studied in endurance athletes. One study found that runners who consumed glutamine immediately and 2 hours after a marathon had fewer self-reported URIs in the week following the race. Consuming glutamine for 3-4 weeks prior to competition also reduced self-reported infections in marathon runners and triathletes. However, numerous other studies investigating the mechanism behind the beneficial effect of glutamine found no effect of glutamine supplementation on immune cell functions.

I'll offer a few words of caution about glutamine supplementation, should you decide to do a self-experiment despite the lack of strong supporting evidence. Glutamine is not stable in solution and exposure to UV light degrades it as well. So once you've mixed your concoction, drink up right away. The effective dose (0.1g of glutamine per kg of body weight) should not be exceeded. Amino acids compete with each other for absorption in the intestine and consuming an excess of one amino acid can create a deficiency of another. High intakes of protein or amino acids puts undue stress on the kidneys. And, remember, amino acids that are not used for energy or to synthesize new proteins will be stored as body fat.

Creatine is a compound made from two amino acids in the kidneys and liver; it is also obtained from meat and fish in the diet. Creatine in skeletal muscle is used to make phosphocreatine, the fuel that provides muscle with ATP for all-out efforts that last only a few seconds. Supplementing the diet with additional creatine (20 g per day for 5 days, followed by 2-5 g per day) has been shown to improve performance in repetitive maximal efforts. Creatine supplementation has no benefit for endurance performance. Serious side effects have been reported in association with creatine supplementation, including weight gain due to water retention, muscle cramps and kidney dysfunction. There are a plethora of "recovery" beverages available and, if you read the labels closely, the majority are nothing more than a healthy dose of carbohydrate, a little protein, and some vitamins and/or minerals thrown in for good measure. Yes, these products are convenient, but they don't taste nearly as good as "real food".

Supplements #2

I read this forum regularly and appreciate the wealth of information provided here; you have helped me improve my athletic performance over the last few years. My question is regarding a couple of supplements I have heard of lately that sound applicable to cyclists, are available off the shelf, yet don't seem to garner much attention.

I'm a 26y/o amateur cross-country and road racer. I don't really use any supplements other than commercial carb-drinks, rather I generally take the perspective of good general nutrition and improved focus/volume of work combined with adequate rest as the method to achieving the goals I set for myself. At my level of development I still see vast improvement potential with this methodology. My mind derives great satisfaction from hard work, I haven't yet hit performance walls where I feel the need to buy products to get me to the next stage, even if I lose a race by 5 seconds. I enjoy reading about the science and/or pseudo-science behind many of these products, especially lately with the media focus surrounding pre-Olympic disqualifications for banned substances.

My intrigue stems from conversations with one of my muscular friends who seems to use any/every product available. Lately I've heard ravings about nitric oxide and "his best workouts ever" (meaning weightlifting). His product selection is designed to bulk people up and usually falls on my deaf ears, as I maintain a typical cyclist physique. However, from reading the product package and articles on the internet, it seems to function by boosting bloodflow to muscles. This would seem to have obvious benefits to endurance athletes yet I've never seen this product mentioned in the endurance sport context. Second product that has come onto my radar screen is cordyceps. My understanding is that this is a natural, legal plant product that, improves VO2 and lactate thresholds, and led to success for Chinese swimmers in the early 90's. High and/or improving VO2 and lactate thresholds are obvious goals for endurance athletes, yet I haven't heard much about this substance although it appears to have been around in sport supplement context for about a decade.

Can you offer any cycling related commentary on either of these?

Erik B. Bakke

Pam Hinton replies:

Your perspective on the potential benefits of supplements is a realistic one. Most of us would perform better by improving our diets, training to correct our weaknesses, and getting adequate rest. Many athletes, however, are more like your muscular friend-they've tried supplements and will continue to experiment with each new product that hits the market.

Recently, I was at Masters' Nationals and the US Criterium Nationals. At both events, the supplement displays at the product expos were exceedingly popular with the athletes. Maybe the free samples attracted the crowds, but I think it was more than that. Why are dietary supplements so appealing to athletes? First of all, the labels claim that they will enhance athletic performance and speed recovery. I mean, who wouldn't want to "tap into the source of stamina"? or have "increased energy and endurance, enhanced recovery, faster race times, and improved overall health"? Second, athletes are competitive individuals and don't want to concede an advantage to their competitors. So they may take a particular supplement just because that's what everyone else in the peloton is doing. Third, for some people, taking a supplement may offer a kind of insurance against the ups and downs of racing, including illness and injury. I even saw a supplement called, "Premium Insurance Caps" which was described as, "the premium 'insurance policy' for your health and athletic performance".

You are curious about two supplements that might appeal to cyclists, but don't get much attention. And rightly so.

Nitric oxide (chemical formula, NO) is made in the body from L-arginine (an amino acid) and oxygen. This gaseous signal-molecule plays an important role in many physiological processes, including smooth muscle contraction, immune function, and nervous system activity. Because NO is a potent vasodilator, it plays an important role in oxygen use during exercise. Exercise stimulates NO production in the blood vessels that perfuse the skeletal muscle, and causes increased blood flow to the working muscle. Interestingly, NO slows down oxygen use in mitochondria by inhibiting several key enzymes involved in synthesis of ATP. The net result is that NO release acts to increase the oxygen available to muscle by increasing delivery and decreasing the rate at which it is used. Because NO is a gas it is not commercially available in supplement form. The supplements that claim to increase NO levels contain arginine. However, arginine is not an essential amino acid. It can be made in the liver from other amino acids, so there is no reason that supplemental arginine will increase NO production.

Cordyceps sinensis, also known as Chinese caterpillar fungus, was popularized by the sudden success of the Chinese female distance runners in the early 1990s. When Wang Junxia shattered the world record in the 10,000m, her coach attributed her performance to a diet of turtle blood and caterpillar fungus. Needless to say, the success and running careers of the Chinese women were short-lived. Cordyceps is a black fungus that is a parasite for several species of caterpillar. The fungus kills the caterpillar and uses it for nutrients as it grows. Because cordyceps in nature is rare, a strain (Cs-4) which contains the active components is now cultivated for commercial purposes. Other than the success of the Chinese runners, there is very little evidence to support the claim that cordyceps improves performance. In fact, two recent studies of trained, male cyclists found no effect of cordyceps supplementation on VO2max, ventilatory threshold, or performance compared to a placebo. (See the articles in Medicine and Sciences in Sports and Exercise 36:504-509, 2004 and International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 14:246-242, 2004).

The truth about supplement labels is that as long as the active ingredient is identified and all of the ingredients are listed, claims related to performance are legal even if scientific evidence supporting them is lacking. The laws regarding supplements put the burden of investigating the benefits and harms of dietary supplements on the consumer. For example, the label on the bottle of one product claiming to increase NO levels reads, "...for anyone who wants to extend their muscle pump, signal muscle growth, speed recovery, increase their strength, enhance stamina and sexual vigor". But check the ingredients and you'll see arginine, vitamin B6, zinc, and pituitary extract listed. That's not a concoction I want to spend $32.95 on. A good place to get reliable information on dietary supplements is from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (www.nccam.nih.gov/health). A pharmacist or registered dietitian would also be able to provide information on the efficacy of a particular dietary supplement.

Besides being a waste of money, supplements have other potential downsides as well. Unlike food and drugs, supplements are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration for ingredient content or purity. In other words, the ingredients on the label may or may not be present and additional compounds not listed on the label may be included. Both of these practices are illegal, but without quality control of the supplement industry they take place. For example, small amounts of anabolic steroids have been found in supplements that claim to increase muscle mass. Many supplements that are evaluated by consumer protection groups are found to contain much less of the active ingredient than what is listed on the label. Information on whether a supplement contains what is on the ingredient list can be found at www.ConsumerLabs.com.

Pedal width too narrow

I am a little over 6'3" 215 pounds with size 14 feet. I have had some knee and lower back issues. I have been riding 21 years some of it competitively. I currently ride (road) 100-120 mikes /week at a fairly rapid pace. My feet just barely clear my chain stays with my cleats positioned as far out as possible and I feel as if I am pushing toward the outside of my shoes. It is as if my pedals are not far enough out but I am not aware the availability of variable widths of cranks/bottom brackets. In fact my little toes often hurt after a ride. Recently I became aware of a product called Kneesavers (http://www.bikescor.com/product/knee.htm) and I was wondering if anyone there has any experience with them or if you can tell me how other tall big footed riders deal with what seems to be narrow pedal width? It is my sense that a wider pedal width would provide a better power transfer and might alleviate some of the issues I have had with at least the little toe pain.

Brian Marron

Steve Hogg replies:

There are a couple of other possible explanations for what you are feeling that may be worth checking out before you fit Kneesavers. Firstly the little toe pain may because of a shoe that is too narrow across the forefoot, or your foot may need everting in the shoe to better spread the load across the whole of the forefoot. Any competent, and I say competent bike positioning person should be able to determine if either of these are indeed your issues.

Next, when you say "with my cleats positioned as far out as possible", I trust that is a typing error. With your cleats as far OUTWARDS on the shoe as possible you are moving your feet as far INWARDS as they will go. To move your feet further from the crankarm, move your cleats IN as far as possible. I am an Aussie and you are an American I suspect. I had not heard of Kneesavers till recently when they were mentioned by a Mike Valenti as having helped him with certain problems dissimilar to yours and cannot comment. On rare occasions in the past I have had to get fittings made up for a similar purpose but know nothing of them good or bad.

Have you come across Keywin pedals? They are a little known [in the US] New Zealand made clipless pedal. They are not suitable for people who need radically toe-out or toe-in foot-on-pedal placement, but do have enough freeplay to keep most riders happy. They do have one feature that would be of interest to you. They make a standard axle length as well as -3mm, -6mm, +3mm, +6mm lengths. The longer lengths may be what you are looking for.

[Editor's note - we reviewed Keywin pedals a couple of years ago. We liked them.]

Calf cramps at maximal efforts

I greatly appreciate the global discussions Steve Hogg is leading regarding bike fit: I've heard more fresh ideas well conveyed in the last 6 weeks than in the last 6 years!

I am writing about a particular problem I encounter at very hard race efforts (the last 5 minutes of a crit or the key hill or false flat in a road race): calf cramps (right in the "belly" of both muscles) that cause me to pedal squares. Initially I had thought these were symptomatic of a mineral imbalance, and so I have been liberally salting my sports drink. But based on Steve's recent posts, I wonder if the issue might be one of positioning, such as at very high effort levels having a tendency to drop my heel at the bottom of the pedal stroke, loading and stretching out the calf muscle more than it is prepared for.

Other data points:

I ride a fixed gear in the off season (and tend to note that going downhill at high cadences -- >130 -- I have a tendency to lock my ankle a little to allow other muscles to fire at that speed).

I ride at a relatively high cadence relative to my competitors at most times (though perhaps not during these problematic, near-maximal efforts).

This cramping is not accompanied by any fatigue or discomfort in the other muscles around the ankle.

It's hard to replicate this cramping problem in anything other than the most intense training.

Thanks in advance for any remedies you can provide!

Nathan Drake
Denver, CO

P.S. Your philosophy on fitting seems very similar to a critique of KOPS by Keith Bontrager:

Steve Hogg replies:

First let's eliminate a few possible causes. Are you tight in the calves in general? If so, an appropriate stretching regime should solve the problem. If you are not sure, find out. Next, read the cleat positioning posts for July 26. If your cleats are noticeably too far forward, calf problems can be one kind of fallout. Now let's assume that none of the above are the problem and that what you suspect is the problem is indeed so, that is, if I understand you correctly, that you are quite a pedaller but the problem occurs under severe load at lower cadences than typical [ for you] You describe fixed wheel training at high cadences and having a higher than average cadence generally. The typical response with this style of pedalling is to point the toes as the revs rise. This is an unconscious attempt to reduce the range of movement that the knee works through so as to fit more revs into a given period. There is nothing wrong with that and it is entirely natural, but the calves tend to be contracted with this style of riding, often not with any great force. What I'm guessing is the issue, is that when you drop your heels more during the severe efforts, the calf is being stretched forcefully and is probably eccentrically contracted forcefully. None of which your high cadence training prepares you for. The solution may be as simple as some uphill strength/endurance efforts in training to accustom you to the same type of loading, ie, dropped heel, high load.

Re the Bontrager stuff. I had heard of but not seen this article till I was in New Zealand last year. It is a little short on detail, he says by implication, if memory serves, that he doesn't want to reveal too much, but I think that the general thrust is on the money.

Stretching as prevention

Recently I submitted a question on finger numbness and was very pleased at your response. Thank you. I also noticed a related question this week about hip rotation. I did not mention this in my letter, but I also have significant left leg/foot numbness (same side as the problem hand) sometimes.

I believe I may have found a significant source of this problem, and the simplest of solutions: stretching my hamstrings and lower back before riding. The numbness in my leg is similar to the symptoms of sciatica, and I usually have lower back pain/tightness on my left side that accompanies the leg numbness. (this is all part of my feeling of being "crooked") The stretching has helped a lot. So it may just be a matter of being too stiff, and aggravating the sciatic nerve or similar.

Greg Kirkos
Boston

Steve Hogg replies:

I am happy that you got a result. You have realised a basic truth of cycling, indeed of all sports and that is 'function first'. Our prime interest should be in maintaining and improving structural fitness. Once we have achieved a reasonable level, then cycling is what we choose to do with it. What you have likely been feeling is the compressing of the sciatic nerve where it passes over, under or through the piriformis which is an external rotator of the hip that lies under the glute. Why only on the left side?

There is probably a thousand answers but all to do with asymmetric patterns of function and tightness. I know that I say this a lot on this site, but track down copies of 'Stretching and Flexibility' and 'Overcome Neck and Back Pain' by Kit Laughlin. They are published by Simon and Schuster [at least in Australia, may be a different publisher in the States] They are the best self books of their type that I have seen and should be in every cyclists library and be acted upon regularly.

Creatine

I'm a 40 year old road rider who is doing 8 to 14 hours a week on the bike and 2 hours a week in the gym. Will creatine help me recover or is it just crap?

Martin Keane
Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

You don't leave us much choice here. Creatine has advantages and disadvantages for participants in strength training and competitive cycling. The advantages have nothing that I've heard to do with recovery, so I guess creatine would be crap for you.

Some athletes do and some do not respond to creatine supplementation. One of the key factors seems to be the muscle creatine content before supplementation. Those who eat a lot of meat tend to have higher levels of creatine before supplementation than do vegetarians and low-meat consumers. This rule is not absolute, but only those with low starting creatine levels can increase muscle creatine content through supplementation and can experience performance changes. Researchers therefore divide subjects into two groups when studying the effects of creatine: responders and non-responders. Everything else I write here refers to responders.

Creatine supplementation among responders leads to small or large increases in low-repetition maximum strength in the gym. It also leads to improved peak and sustained sprinting speed (Wingate test results) in the first or first and second of several repeated sprints. In extremely highly aerobically trained athletes, creatine enhances aerobic energy flow and substantially delays fatigue during very hard cycling.

Creatine supplementation because it leads to substantial increases in low-repetition maximum muscle contraction but has no immediate effect on connective tissue conditioning, can be associated with connective tissue damage if athletes push their new limits with creatine without a good long conditioning period. Creatine supplementation also suppresses endogenous creatine production, so sudden cessation of supplementation can lead to a drop in muscle creatine, and several athletes have reported unusual cramping shortly after stopping creatine.

Creatine also draws water into muscle so most studies of creatine supplementation report that subjects gain 1-2 pounds shortly after starting supplementation. If you like to go fast up-hill and you are already lean, this can be a major disadvantage.

Glycogen loading

There are a number of regimes for loading glycogen before long races. One issue seems a bit confusing. Much advice would recommend low fibre foods the day before race -good advice. Advice is also given that (unless you are recovering from a workout) low GI food should be consumed so that your muscles can constantly load from blood supply. From my limited knowledge few foods meet these two criteria. My short list is Low GI yoghurt and apple juice. Has this been talked about within sports nutritionists?

Andrew Gannon
Australia

Pam Hinton replies:

It seems that you have the high-low GI pattern down pretty well. High GI foods and beverages are the best choices when you need a readily available glucose supply, during exercise and immediately afterwards, for example. Low GI foods are better choices the rest of the time because they cause a more moderate elevation in blood glucose levels and, thus, blood insulin levels. There are lists of GIs for foods and beverages available. A comprehensive list was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 76:5-56, 2002 (http://www.ajcn.org).

As you peruse the GIs of your favorite foods, keep in mind that effect of a food on your blood glucose levels may not be exactly that which is indicated by the published GI. Here's why. There are several factors that affect the GI of a particular food. The physical form of the food alters the glycemic index. Breaking down the food matrix increases the GI. For example, the GI of a potato can be increased by 25% if you mash it before you eat it. And, thin linguini has a GI of 87, but thick linguini is lower at 68. The ripeness of fruit also has an effect on the GI because as a fruit ripens the starch is converted into sugar. So, if you like your bananas really green the GI will be 30. If you prefer only slightly green, the GI is 40 and the GI of a ripe banana (my preference) is 50. Food processing and cooking methods also alter the GI. Heating, moisturizing, and pressing foods make the starch easier to digest, increasing the GI. Raw carrots have a GI of 20, peeling and boiling them increases the GI to 40.

The GI of a food assumes that only that food has been eaten. However, most of us do not eat single foods, we eat meals and snacks composed of several foods. Remember, protein and fat do not cause an increase in blood glucose--only foods containing carbohydrate have this effect.

However, the GI of a food eaten alone will be different than if the same food was eaten as part of a mixed meal of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. For example, a plain French baguette has a GI of 95. Spread some Nutella or butter and jam on your bread and the GIs decrease to 70 and 60, respectively. Meals that are high in soluble fiber or have a high acid content also lower GI because the rate of stomach emptying is decreased, slowing the increase in blood glucose.

Also keep in mind that net effect of a food on blood glucose depends, not just on the GI of that food, but on how much of it you eat. For example, jelly beans have a GI of 80, but if you only ate 5 of them, the overall increase in blood glucose would much less than if you ate a good-sized handful of peanut M&Ms which have a GI of 30.

At this point you may be wondering if the concept of GI has any practical value given the many factors that affect the response. Even if we cannot determine an accurate GI for a particular food, especially when it consumed as part of a meal, we can recognize which types of foods will be higher GI foods and which types will be lower GI foods. For example, a dinner of whole wheat fettuccine with chunky tomato sauce and sautéed vegetables will have a lower GI than Spaghettios because of the whole grain flour, size of the pasta, greater acidity of the tomato sauce, and the fiber in the vegetables.

In the long run, fad diets that require people to follow ridiculous rules like, avoid certain combinations of food, or, eat only raw foods, don't work. People just cannot live that way, and they go nuts trying to.

Stressing because your bananas are green or your noodles are thick or your potatoes are mashed will drive you nuts and take all the fun out of racing. Keep it simple--eat whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables as part of your regular diet, drink a commercial sports beverage or soda pop immediately after your race, followed by a mixed meal of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, and you'll be fine.

Cyclingnews editor Jeff Jones adds:

From my own experience of being a subject in GI experiments, I'd add that different people have different insulin responses to the same food. I found that my personal GI's were generally lower than the norm, perhaps to do with the fact that I was relatively fitter.

IT band fix

I've started reading your column and see a number of complaints re: IT band syndrome. I'd just like to share my experience.

My IT band was snapping across the outside bone on my left knee when I extended my leg while pedaling. I've had my left IT band operated on (cut) twice. I was advised both times that it would eventually grow back together, but hopefully in a manner that would not cause my symptoms. For the second operation, I stayed conscious so I could duplicate the symptom on the operating table and the surgeon could make an accurate cut.

About 2 years after the second surgery, the symptoms recurred. This time, I tried lowering my seat just about 1/8-1/4 of an inch and the symptoms disappeared. This was probably because now I wasn't extending my leg far enough during the pedal stroke to straighten the IT band. The risk in doing this is that with a lower seat height, I may be stressing the knee more. It's a compromise, I know. To offset this, I've consciously changed my pedal style to spin faster using a lower gear. So far, my cycling hasn't suffered and I'm pain free.

I just thought I would pass this on as it may help someone with similar symptoms.

Mark Falleroni
Ogden, Utah, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

Yours is an interesting story and without trying to criticise or rebuke you in anyway I would suggest that your ITB problem was probably a consequence rather than the root cause. Which is why it returned to haunt you post op. Given that you make no mention of a similar problem on the right side, an interesting test would be to raise your seat back to your old height but fit a spacer equivalent to the amount of seat height change under your left cleat. If you ever choose to try this I would be interested to know what happens.

Regards and thank you for taking the time to contribute.

Lower back pain

I am a 46 year old male veteran recreational rider/racer who also spends a little time at the gym. I have always been very active and have always noted that at times my lower back aches, especially after prolonged exercise. This scenario is no different with cycling, which I have only been doing seriously for the past 5 years. I am reasonably sure the pain is biomechanical - there is no history of trauma, etc and medical test of various sorts, physiotherapists, etc, have found no abnormality. I am in the process of having a local expert perform a proper setup for my bike, but my question is as follows: given that most people neglect the need for stretching for whatever reason, can you help me with a useful series of stretches for my lower back? In fact because the back is related to pelvis, hamstrings. etc, what about recommended stretches for all areas. Should I spend some/more time developing "core" strength? Magical answers would be appreciated.

John Zoanetti

Steve Hogg replies:

There are others on this forum better equipped to answer you in specific terms but here is my two bob's worth. Buy three books: 'Overcome Neck and Back Pain' by Kit Laughlin; 'Stretching and Flexibility' also by Kit Laughlin; and 'Pilates For Dummies' by Ellie Herman. Read those three excellent publications, put what you learn in them into practice and I would be surprised if you still have a problem in 12 months time.

If, as background, you want one of the seminal works on low back pain which is accessible for the layman try ' Low Back Disorders' by Stuart Magill, a Canadian biomechanist who has done a fair bit of back to first principles type research.

Remember, there are 3 sports in cycling: sleeping, stretching [ or other structural maintenance] and cycling. And that should be their relative order or priority too. Not of time but certainly of priority.

Too many of us who are athletically inclined have our priorities wrong. We think of fitness as the acquisition and maintenance of cardiovascular efficiency and/or muscular strength. That is only one aspect of fitness, and probably the least important, simply because it is the easiest to come by. Neurological fitness is fundamental if we want to perform well. Structural fitness is what allows us to perform to potential,ie the ability of our bodies to perform optimally mechanically. Structural fitness is also the prime determinant of neurological fitness. If our posture, both statically and dynamically is good, then the signals tend to get through without a lot of 'static' in the lines. Remember, age is not the measure or our years but rather the measure of our structural neglect.

Post-ride knee pain

I'm a 34 year-old female road cyclist, 5'7", 134 lbs. I ride most days, usually about 200 total miles a week. I have for a couple years now experienced knee pain after riding, but only when going up or down stairs. The pain sets in about 10 minutes after the ride, and lasts most of the rest of the day. Both knees hurt, underneath my kneecap, as I put weight on a bent leg going up or down stairs.

I don't have knee pain while riding, and my bike has been fitted correctly (I think!). Interestingly, I have sometimes have this same post-activity knee pain after snowboarding, XC skiing, and hiking in mountains, which makes me suspect it may relate to loading weight on bent knees---the one thing I can think of that these all have on common.

Do you have any idea what this could be from? I have never heard anyone complain of this before. It is not a debilitating pain, but I ride almost daily, and it is annoying to have it every day!

Jody Schmidt
Ashland, OR

Steve Hogg replies:

Your problem could be as simple as having your seat too low and/or too far forward. Many women pedal in a more toe down fashion than is generally the rule for men. If this sounds like you, and if whoever positioned you used a mathematical basis for setting seat height, you are probably too low and this is the source of your problem. Set your bike on an indoor trainer, warm up thoroughly, and then while riding in a gear that is reasonably hard [ requires effort but does not cause you to sacrifice technique] raise your seat in increments of 3mm till you are obviously too high. This will be when your pedalling starts to feel a little jerky. Once this happens, drop your seat height 5mm from that point and you should be pretty close.

If that process leaves you with a seat height higher than when you started, I would be interested to hear what happens with the frequency and severity of your post ride pain.

If this is better but not better enough, you will probably need to move your seat rearwards. The further forward the seat, the greater the load on the quadriceps, all of which narrow down to the tendon just above your kneecap. Moving the seat back will mean that the hamstrings and calves working together in eccentric contraction will be able to play a greater part in extending the knee. This aids the quads and means the load is spread over a greater area of musculature at the front and back of the leg. You will note that this reply is laden with 'if's. That is because this is a guessing game and there are other possibilities. Has anyone ever had a good look at your feet? If you have particularly varus or valgus [inward or outward rolling] forefeet without rear foot compensation or a high degree of pronation or supination, then lateral and/or rotational loads can be placed on the knee.

How tight are you in the hips and lower back?

Restriction in these areas can also indirectly load up the knee. One last one to check; look at the cleat positioning posts for July 26. Cleats that are too far forward tend to cause problems in whatever is the most susceptible link in the pedalling chain.

Seat height formulas

I know -- and fully agree with -- Steve Hogg's stance that bike fit should be based on your position while riding, not stationary. BUT . . . just wondering, based upon your experiences in fitting customers for bikes, if either of the 2 common formulas for seat height tends to be more "accurate:" the Hinault method (.885 X inseam, BB to seat), or 1.09 X inseam = pedal to seat. I ask, because I tried both, and ended up with nearly a 4 CM difference between the two. Should there be such a large discrepency, or did I calculate and/or measure incorrectly? (I also heard of the method whereby the cyclist streightens his leg, locking his knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke, which should result in the foot being parallel to the ground if height is correct . . . is this anymore "accurate?")

Paul A Kossa

Steve Hogg replies:

Interesting question. Essentially you are saying that you agree that seat height is not based on a formula but you want one anyway. I don't think that I can oblige, but here is an answer of sorts. I suspect that you have made a mistake with your calculations to have such a marked discrepancy in results. By way of example, I'll use myself as a guinea pig as I know my own proportions well.

My inseam is 864mm with a shorter than average femur. My cycling shoe size is Euro 45/British 9.5/US 10.5. If I multiply my inseam by 1.09 my seat height should be 942mm [rounded up] as measured from the centre of the pedal axle. If I multiply my inseam by 0.885 and add my crank length of 172.5mm to the result, then my seat height should be 937mm [rounded down] measured from the centre of the pedal axle. That is a 5mm difference. Between the two methods I find it hard to understand how you can get 40mm of difference unless your inseam is over a metre and you are using ridiculously short cranks for your leg length. Both of these things are possible, but unlikely. But if you are a really tall, long legged bike rider of over 2 metres [6' 7"] using 165 - 170mm cranks then it is possible to get a 40mm difference between the two formulae. I don't place any reliance on formulae of this kind.

The majority of my time at work is spent positioning riders. Every so often I find someone with my length inseam, upper and lower leg proportions and foot size.Over the years there has probably been a couple of dozen or more. The seat heights they have left with have varied from somewhat above the formulae answers to somewhat below. The range has been a little over 30mm, and this is for people with the same legs, leg segment proportions and foot length. This can be accounted for by differences in shoe sole thickness, pedal and cleat height, amount of heel lift in the last of the shoe,pedalling technique[ heel down vs toe down], and degree of flexibility in hips, lower back, hamstrings,calves and ankles. The formulae you quote don't attempt to account for any of these variables and I think are of marginal usefulness, if at all.

And yes there are other 'rules' for setting seat height such as the one you quote, but all are static. Here is a dynamic method that works. Find a moderate grade hill a kilometre or so long. Ride up it forcing the gear. By this I mean one gear higher than you are comfortable with. Typically this will be at 70 rpm working hard. Repeat this raising your seat 3mm between repeats and with sufficient active rest between to allow recovery. Anyone with any self knowledge will realise as soon as their seat is too high. They will become jerky at the bottom of the stroke, they may have to roll your hips to each side alternately or there will be a feeling of having a noticeable gap between the power phase of each leg. When this starts, and I mean starts to occur, drop your seat 5mm and you will be close to an ideal height.

If any of the negatives happen in your first attempt then you are probably too high to start with. In this case drop the seat in 3mm increments until you feel smooth and controlled.

What ever height you end up with may differ from the formulae substantially. Perhaps it may not. Either way it is likely to be an effective seat height for you.

Weight loss and riding

I weigh 100kg and am 183cm tall and 32 years old. Yes I know I'm at least 15-20kg overweight although I do have a large frame. Riding is my exercise of choice and I am interested in slowly training up enough to be able to at least go on shop rides if not compete. At the moment I'd be lucky to maintain 26km/h for an hour. 2-3 times a week. Although a few years ago I was doing 29km/h for an hour 4-5 times a week. I'm fairly dedicated so riding more and for longer is not a problem. I should be able to ride for 60-90minutes 4 times a week and a 2-3 hour on the weekend. (yes I know this isn't much compared to 350miles a week etc.)

I've read a lot on your site about the 6-10g/kg/day of carbs etc and to drink carbs while riding and before and after etc. If my initial goal is weight loss and I'm riding first thing in the morning (5am) should I have breakfast first or after. ( I know you have said to eat before to carb load but I don't think this was in the context of weight loss) Surely if I'm trying to loose weight I should deplete myself of carbs to make my body burn fat. If I eat carbs first won't I just be burning those and no fat.

When I go on a longer ride (over an hour) I - what do you call it - Bonk, and feel really tired. Is this because I only drink water and no carb supplements and have run out of carbs? Does this mean I'm then burning fat or am I just doing damage if I push through this

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