Dr. Allen has a long history with the sport of cycling going back as far as 1932 when his father raced in the LA Olympics. His dad turned pro shortly after and did the 6 day circuit in America and overseas. As a pro he was not eligible to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but when the Olympics returned to LA in 1984, Allen’s was inspired to get back on the bike and rode consistently until a few years ago.
Dr. Allen’s interest in supplementation began when he noticed that the athletes he was working with were experiencing severe oxidative stress from intense training which they were not able to recover from. As Allen explains, when we came out of the water and started breathing oxygen, one of the unfortunate side effects was the creation of free radicals. In the mitochondria where energy is produced, there is a big turn over of oxygen. For athletes, this results in a wall or a certain point in our training where we fatigue and cannot continue.
At the time, most of the focus in terms of the study of fatigue was on the level of sugar in the cells but not much attention was being paid to the role of anti-oxidants. Eventually they discovered that supplementing with anti-oxidants gave the mitochondria some protection from exercise induced stress. Athletes were able to train in longer blocks without experiencing as much long term damage to the cells.
Before you run out to the local GNC and pick up every anti-oxidant on the shelf, you have to think about your biochemical individuality. Dr. Allen explains that every person is just a little bit different in the way that they create energy, fatigue, and recover so what works for one person might not work for another. One athlete may be able to produce enough CoQ10 so that only a small amount of supplement is necessary while another athlete might need 100 times that amount just to keep themselves at a base level.
As opposed to normal blood testing which indicates the base amounts of enzymes in your system, Allen used functional testing which actually measures enzymatic reactions. For instance, the B12 level in one of his athlete’s blood might look fine, but if the enzymatic reaction is not fully functioning then it indicates depletion. From here, Allen could create customized supplementation programs for all of his athletes.
Now, through genetic testing, doctors can get even more specific about their supplementation programs by using something called a SNIP or a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism. These are small mutations that might cause a certain enzyme system in the body to work inefficiently. This can play a part in the need to detoxify the body from lactic acid build up due to exercise or simply from the impact of living in a modern world, breathing in pollution, consuming pesticides and heavy metals and dealing with high levels of daily work stress. Some people are very good at detoxifying from these stresses and will recover very quickly and some people are not. If you’ve ever noticed that some cyclists develop much more quickly than others, this could be one of the reasons.
One of the most common misconceptions amongst athletes, according to Allen, is that a good, healthy, well rounded diet eliminates the need to supplement with vitamins and minerals. Allen points out that this would be true if you lived in Tahiti, ate food grown in your own garden and did nothing but sit in a hammock all day. However, that is not the world we live in. The body is subjected to a tremendous amount of stress each day and the food we eat is often depleted of it’s nutrients due to chemical processing and the amount of time it takes to get from the source to our table (studies show that as much as 50% of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables are lost by the time we consume them).
Supplementations for Athletes
Since most of us don’t have access to the kind of genetic testing that could tell us precisely what supplements we should take, I asked Dr. Allen to outline a basic supplementation program for the Adageo Energy Pro Cycling Team that would cover the typical cyclist. As with all things involving training, every athlete is an individual and you will have to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.
We started with a basic daily vitamin without iron. This is a simple one a day multi-vitamin that covers our basic vitamin and mineral needs. The next layer in our team’s vitamin routine is the anti-oxidants. The key anti-oxidant supplements we focus on are NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine), Corvalin (ribose), Alpha Lipoic Acid and CoQ10. CoQ10 is an anti-oxidant that naturally occurs in the body but can be depleted through intense exercise. CoQ10 levels also deplete with age so older athletes especially should consider this supplement. NAC is an amino acid that is important for production of the free radical fighter, glutathione. NAC is used by the liver and lymphocytes to help detoxify the body. NAC also helps boost protective enzymes in the body. Alpha Lipoic Acid is another important anti-oxidant.
Dr Allen also recommends Corvalin (Ribose). Ribose is a sugar, the fuel that is used to produce energy in the cells and can be easily depleted. Ribose is also used with chronic fatigue patients. Dr. Allen often combines magnesium with ribose to prevent cramping and muscle tightness.
One word of warning before you whip out the credit card. If you do decide to use some of these supplements, be careful. Make sure to get the vitamins from a trusted source to avoid the chances of cross contamination. Also, don’t let the cost and the stress of a rigorous supplementation program get in the way of what is most important, riding your bike. Stay healthy, stay strong.
To learn more about Dr. Allen and to purchase some of his custom vitamin supplements visit www.davidallenmd.com
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.