Mike Kueber's Blog

February 23, 2012

Performance-enhancing drugs

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 2:49 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

For several years of riding bike and lifting weights, I have worked at a maintenance level (i.e., not trying to get better).  Although I had long aspired to ride a bike 20 miles in an hour, I eventually realized that I could accomplish that goal only by training harder or losing weight, and I didn’t have the discipline to do either.

Then a couple of months ago, I decided to take my conditioning to another level.  Maybe this changed mindset was prompted my enforced layoff following knee-replacement surgery in November.  Or perhaps I was motivated by my friend Rebecca’s decision to start training for a marathon.

Whatever the prompt was, I started.  On the bike, I tried to take advantage of the ten pounds that I had lost since the surgery.  With the weights, I started lifting two sets a day instead of one.  Obviously, I was applying old-fashioned strategy of working harder, not necessarily smarter. 

Then one day, a group of friendly weightlifters who regularly lift at 10am at Lifetime Fitness decided to socialize at StoneWerks for a Happy Hour.  The time was exceedingly well spend, because in addition to getting to better know some wonderful people, I learned an important weightlifting insight – i.e., everyone at the table used a post-workout protein supplement, even the women who weren’t obsessed about building muscle mass.

Although I am not a lemming who always follows the crowd, I decided to try a protein supplement, and loved it.  Not only does it taste great (like a low-calorie vanilla shake) when mixed with a clear soda, but it works – to help avoid getting run down from your day-to-day workouts.  That has been especially helpful with my daily bike rides.  Caveat – some studies report that protein supplements are not as effective with senior citizens, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

The danger with supplement usage, however, is that it can be a slippery slope.  In addition to a protein supplement, half the people at the StoneWerks happy hour used a pre-workout supplement, which usually creatine, caffeine, etc.  So naturally, because the protein supplement worked so well, I decided to give a pre-workout supplement at try by picking up some samples this past weekend at a local supplement store.  All I can say is “wow!”  I immediately could life more weight and ride a stationary bike much faster. 

But not all is good.  Recently there was an article in the NY Times reporting that the U.S. Army had removed several pre-workout supplements from their bases pending an investigation of the heart-attack deaths of two soldiers potentially related to their supplement usage.  This is a bit disconcerting because I have noticed on a stationary bike at Lifetime I can get my heart rate to 160 in ten hard minutes of riding after using the supplement, but my rate goes to only 150 if I didn’t use the supplement.  Of course, I am pedaling much faster with the supplement because I have so much more energy.

I think I will discuss this with my internist when I see him about another matter next month.

Incidentally, Wikipedia defines performance enhancing drugs as “substances used by people to improve their performance in the sports in which they engage. The term may also refer to drugs used by military personnel to enhance combat performance.”  I wonder why the term hasn’t been extended to include “enhancing academic performance.”  There have been a plethora of news articles in the past few years reporting on college kids taking Ritalin or Adderall to sharpen their focus prior to taking exams.  Apparently, those drugs are so effective that the non-abusers taking the same exams believe they are at a distinct disadvantage.

A key difference is that Ritalin and Adderall are FDA-approved drugs, whereas the supplements are able to evade much scientific scrutiny.