Drop in Performance? Common Causes

1) The most common cause of a drop in performance in cycling, or any other sport, is overtraining: going hard when you should go easy. Hard-and- easy refers to intensity (speed and pressure on the pedals), not to total mileage. On one day, you ride very fast with your group, feel sore on the next day and go slowly for as many days as it takes for the soreness to go away. When the soreness goes away, you ride fast again. If you take hard workouts while your muscles are still sore you can cause chronic muscle soreness.

2) A second cause is a low-salt syndrome caused by sweat loss. The only mineral that you need in large amounts is sodium, common table salt. All athletes have to salt food heavily and use lots of salt. Your doctor can check for low-salt syndrome by having you take a very hard workout on one day, replenish your fluids, and then draw blood for sodium and chloride on the next morning. If you are worried about developing high blood pressure, check your blood pressure frequently.

3) The third most common cause is lack of vitamin D. Blood levels of vitamin D3 below 75 nmol/L can cause muscles to feel sore, particularly in the wintertime.

4) You can also fail to recover adequately from intense workouts if you do not carbohydrate- and protein-load within a half hour after you finish a workout. Your muscles are maximally sensitive to insulin during exercise and for up to a half hour after you finish exercising. Sugar taken within a half hour after you finish your intense workout will raise your blood sugar level enough to increase insulin levels. Insulin then drives protein into cells to help you recover faster.

5) Another cause of muscle soreness is not getting off your feet after intense workouts. Muscles recover fastest when they are not used. After intense workouts, lie down instead of sitting, standing or walking.

If you have had a marked drop in performance in your sport and none of these causes applies to you, you may need a medical evaluation.

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Muscle Soreness, Exercise Injuries and Vitamin D

When doctors don't know the cause of a patient's problem, they often give it a fancy name so you will believe they are giving you a useful diagnosis. A perfect example of this is "idiopathic inflammatory myopathy", which means you have chronic muscle soreness and your doctor doesn't know why. Researchers recently reviewed the effects of exercise on people with chronic muscle soreness and found that exercise is beneficial (Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 04/07/09):
• The muscles of many of subjects with this condition did not get a sufficient oxygen supply
• Exercise increases endurance-type fibers after a 12-week exercise program
• Creatine supplements plus an exercise program are more beneficial than exercise alone
• Intensive resistance training improves muscle strength and endurance
• Exercise reduces muscle soreness and possibly even muscle inflammation

I am now convinced that a leading cause of muscle soreness and slow-healing injuries is lack of vitamin D. All my life, I have suffered a series of baffling injures that usually occur in the winter and heal in the summer. For the entire winter of 2007-8, I was unable to exercise because of a non-healing hamstring injury and diffuse muscle soreness. Eventually I found that my vitamin D 3 level was 22 nmol/L (normal is greater than 75). I took the prescribed treatment of 50,000 IU of vitamin D twice a week and my muscles became so sore that I couldn't even walk. In the summer, the hamstring injury healed and the soreness disappeared. This winter I went to Florida and was able to train on my bicycle better than ever. In March I went back to wintery Maryland and the non-healing hamstring injury and soreness reappeared. This time I improved within 24 hours of taking 2000 IU of vitamin D twice a day. From my experience, I conclude that:
• my muscle soreness and non-healing injuries are caused by or worsened by low levels of vitamin D
• very high doses (50,000 IU) may increase muscle soreness
• lower doses of vitamin D (2000 to 4000/day) or daily sunlight exposure cured my muscle soreness and helped to heal my injuries

Dr. John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council quotes 14 studies that show that athletic performance improves in the summer months when sunshine is abundant, or with ultraviolet light exposure in winter.

If your muscles feel sore or you keep on being injured when you exercise, get a blood test called D3. If it is below 75 nmol/L, your problems may be caused by lack of vitamin D and be cured by getting some sunshine or taking at least 2000 IU each day of the very inexpensive vitamin D3.

Fructose More Likely than Glucose to Cause Diabetes

Sugared drinks are fattening because the human brain does not recognize liquid sugar as calories to make you eat less food. We get our sugar in drinks in three forms: glucose, fructose and sucrose (glucose and fructose bound together in a single molecule). Now a report from the University of California Davis shows that taking in too much fructose increases your risk for diabetes and heart attacks (Journal of Clinical Investigation, May 2009). Thirty-two overweight men and women drank 25 percent of their daily energy requirements in either fructose or glucose- sweetened drinks. In 12 weeks, both groups gained similar amounts of weight, but the people taking fructose-sweetened drinks had higher triglycerides and more abdominal fat, and were more resistant to insulin. All three factors precede diabetes which markedly increases risk for heart attacks.

The subjects were fed drinks that contained only glucose or fructose, so this study will not help you make good beverage choices. Virtually all sweetened beverages contain both fructose and glucose. Soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup have 55 to 58 percent fructose, while fruit juices and beverages sweetened with table sugar contain equal parts fructose and glucose. I recommend the following:

1) Take sugared drinks only when you are exercising or within a half hour of finishing exercising. All sugar-sweetened beverages increase risk for insulin resistance (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, April 2009). Contracting muscles are exquisitely sensitive to insulin and therefore help protect you from the high rise in blood sugar that causes the liver to make triglycerides, that block insulin receptors that cause the pancreas to release huge amounts of insulin that causes fat to be deposited in the belly.

2) When you are not exercising, quench your thirst with water or non-calorie beverages. Eat whole fruits rather than taking in your sugar in drinks. Fruit with its pulp does not cause as high a rise in blood sugar as do sugared drinks (including fruit juices). The higher your blood sugar rises, the more sugar sticks to the surface of cells, causing cell damage. An orange satisfies your daily requirement for vitamin C, has 2.8 grams of fiber and 64 calories from 17 grams of sugar. More on preventing diabetes

Caffeine Reduces Muscle Burning During Intense Exercise

Researchers at the University of Illinois report that 300 mg of caffeine (the amount in four cups of coffee) reduces muscle burning during intense exercise in both regular coffee drinkers and in those who do not drink coffee at all (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, April 2009). One of the researchers, Robert Motl, PhD, says that caffeine blocks spinal nerves that transmit pain messages to the brain. This means that people can exercise longer because they feel less pain.

Athletes take caffeine because they know it helps them to exercise longer. When muscles run out of their stored muscle sugar, they have to burn more fat which requires more oxygen. Lack of oxygen is the limiting factor in how fast and hard you can exercise over long periods of time. When you run low on oxygen, lactic acid accumulates in the muscles, which makes muscles more acidic, causing the burning that you feel in tired muscles. However, caffeine helps to delay the burning by causing muscles to burn more fat so they can preserve the sugar stored in muscles and you can exercise longer without accumulating large amounts of lactic acid.

Another interesting study from Iran showed that omega-3 fatty acids lessened delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs 48 hours after exercise in untrained men (Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, March 2009).