Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Muscle fibres grow faster with 40 g sugars during strength training

Strength athletes who consume a small amount of easily absorbed carbohydrates during their training grow faster than athletes who don't. In 2001, sports scientists at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles published the results of an experiment they did, which showed that as little as 40 g sugar had an effect.

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The researchers got 15 men aged between 18 and 25, all of whom did fitness regularly, to follow a 12-week training regime. The subjects went to the gym three times a week and trained their main muscle groups, doing bench-press, seated rows, shoulder-press, lat pull-downs, triceps extensions, biceps curls, leg-press, leg extensions and leg curls.

The men did 3 sets of each exercise, using a weight at which they were just able to complete 10 reps. [75 percent of the 1RM] the subjects rested for 1 minute between reps, and for 2 minutes between the different exercises.

Half of the men drank water during the training sessions. The other half were given a sports drink containing 6 percent sugars. The drink that was used was Gatorade, and the men drank 8.5 ml per kg bodyweight during the workout. The subjects also took a slug between exercises. For someone weighing 90 kg, it amounted to drinking 750 ml, 46 g sugars or 184 kcal.

In an earlier experiment the researchers had got the men to train at four o'clock in the afternoon, four hours after their last meal. The cortisol level in the men who drank only water rose by almost 100 percent. In the men who drank Gatorade the rise was only 6 percent.

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After 12 weeks the sports drink group had lost more fat than the water group, although the difference was not statistically significant. The water group had lost some lean body mass, whereas the sports drink group had gained a little lean body mass. Again though, the effect was not significant.

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After 12 weeks, the muscle fibres of the men in the sports drink group had grown by about 20 percent more than the muscle fibres of the water drinkers. The effect was greatest in the fast type-II muscle fibres. These grew 23 percent faster in the sports drink group.

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The increase in growth was probably the result of the cortisol-inhibiting effect of the carbohydrates consumed during the training sessions. The more the sports drink lowered the cortisol level, the faster the subjects' muscle fibres grew.

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Strength athletes could naturally conclude that it's worth consuming a sports drink during their training sessions, or better still: fruit or fruit juice. Sounds like a good idea.

But you could also conclude that a strength training session will be more effective if you plan it after a full meal. The nutritional value of a complete meal is greater than that of a sports drink, so the effect will be even greater.

The test subjects in this study trained between 15:00 and 16:00 h, and most of them hadn't eaten since lunchtime.

J Sci Med Sport 2001 Dec; 4(4): 431-46.

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