as you read this the greatest athletes on earth are going through the final stages of a life-long preparation to ensure they stand the best chance possible of peaking at the 2016 Rio Olympic games.
Having grown up watching every four years, and having been fortunate enough to work for the Chinese Olympic squad in 2008, the Games has always been close to my heart. It is a celebration of athletic ability, dedication and determination, and provides a global platform for athletes of any shape/size, from any corner of the globe, to come together and compete for a place in history. But with so many wide-ranging disciplines is it possible to decide who is the ‘best’?
For me, to be the greatest athlete, you need to be strong yet flexible, powerful yet graceful, aggressive yet respectful and explosive yet capable of endurance. Most importantly, there needs to be a risk – a sport where physical harm is a real danger. A truly great athlete is as strong mentally as they are physically – allowing them to perform highly skilled movements, make potentially lifethreatening decisions and maintain elite level techniques under the fatigue of a chaotic and combative environment…all with humility, grace and respect for their opponent irrelevant of whether they win or lose. In my opinion, by the smallest margin possible, the greatest athletes of all will be seen in the Judo dojo.
If you don’t believe me and are too young to remember ‘Superstars’ then search for Brian Jacks and get back to me…
What’s that? You don’t have the right equipment? You don’t know the rules? Well follow my five-step guide and at your next barbecue you can challenge all your mates to a duel…
Safety is paramount so we don’t want any sharp edges. Speed and agility are key, so you don’t want a heavy weapon. I suggest getting a brush/broom handle, which will be made of wood/plastic. You can keep the head on it for comedy value if you like….
Fencing takes place on a ‘piste’, which is 46-feet long. There is a centre line and six feet either side of this is each players ‘on-guard’ line. Basically, find a nice straight part of the garden and start 12 feet away from your mate…
To win a point you need to strike your opponent with the tip of your weapon, whilst avoiding being hit by them. For our rules we will say no shots below the waist, above the shoulder or to the hand. Strike your opponents arm or torso and you get one point. But don’t celebrate too quickly as they might strike back …
There are numerous techniques for both attacking and defending but the most important thing is that you are light on your feet and can move forwards or backwards very quickly. Use this to your advantage if you know your opponent doesn’t move too well. Get in some Ronaldo-style dummies to suss out your opponent’s vulnerabilities and then strike when the time is right. Attack is the best form of defence, so get Kevin Keegan in your corner and hope for a 4-3 victory.
Olympic participants will have three three-minute rounds. The winner is either the first person to 15 points or the person with the most points after the three rounds. Your barbecue will get pretty boring pretty quickly if Gary and Big Dave are slogging it out for nine minutes. I suggest you play a one minute round and winner stays on. The loser might even face a forfeit. You are on the ‘piste’ after all.
Round three, ding ding! Ben Coomber continues to look at the various protein powders. this month: beta-alanine
beta-alanine (ba) is a modified version of an amino acid called alanine which, when digested and processed, is converted it into a substance known as carnosine.
The generally accepted daily dose of BA is around 3-4g per day and it can be taken at any time of day. Carnosine levels in your muscles (where it is stored) improve incrementally over a few weeks upon starting to supplement with BA, and top out after a month or so. It is these stored levels you ‘use’ during a training session, and not the BA you take on that specific day, meaning that specific timing isn’t beneficial, and that constant use (rather than only taking on training days) is heavily advised. BA is a popular supplement found in many pre and intra workout products, as well as those promising to improve performance, recovery and endurance. Sounds amazing, but does it hold up?
To clarify here we’re not talking about the kind of activity that lasts between one and four minutes, so a high rep set in the gym, the kind of running involved in team sports, or a round of a combat sport like MMA. There is a lot of data backing up the efficacy of BA for this purpose, with a strong trend for improving time to exhaustion. During exercise lasting around 1-5 minutes, you experience a build up of lactic acid, which quickly breaks down into lactate and positively charged Hydrogen ions. The lactate is actually a good thing, and it’s fed back into your cells to be used as a secondary energy source. The H+ ions, however, are a different ball game. What they do is decrease the local environment’s pH and make it acidic. This is why you feel ‘the burn’ during a high rep set of lateral raises, or one reason your shoulders burn when throwing punches for a long time. Carnosine is able to ‘buffer’ these ions, increasing your time to exhaustion and decrease subjective feelings of fatigue.
BA shows promise at improving anaerobic performance because of the above mentioned improvements in muscle endurance. While an improvement is seen
in time to exhaustion, there doesn’t appear to be an improvements in VO2 max, which would have indicated otherwise.
BA shows some potential at improving body composition, in that supplementing it appears to increase muscle mass while decreasing fat mass, but we must be careful here. BA can allow you to train with higher volume, which can lead to these kinds of improvements all by itself. Though BA supplementation may have been the catalyst, these body comp changes are almost certainly down to the subjects being able to train harder, rather than because of any inherent effect of the supplement itself. So, BA shows great promise in improving performance over 60-240 seconds and for conditioning, fighting, spinning, sports and higher rep body-building. It can also help to improve body composition. It probably won’t help you during resistance training sessions six reps or below (strength training), or during long duration exercise. Ideally BA would be taken alongside creatine due to their similar effects at enhancing intense training, and there is a great product on the market, ‘Performance Blend’ from Awesome Supplements, which can be taken as a convenient daily drink. A word of warning, BA can cause a harmless but unpleasant tingling sensation called paraesthesia upon ingestion in supplementary doses. This can be mediated by taking BA with food, and spreading your daily dosage out over three or four sittings.
Ben Coomber is a performance nutritionist, speaker and writer. Ben runs Body Type Nutrition, an online nutrition coaching and education company, running online nutrition courses. Ben has the UK’s #1 rated health and fitness podcast on iTunes ‘Ben Coomber Radio’ with regular Q&A’s and expert interviews. Ben also owns Awesome Supplements, a brand offering clarity in the confusing world of supplements.
Connect with ben over on facebook, twitter, youtube, or instagram. for everything else visit: www.bencoomber.com