If you're not getting the physique results you want from your training, you're doing one of two things wrong, strictly from a workout perspective. You're either taking it too easy on yourself or you're reaching your ultimate fatigue threshold too quickly to do enough work to make gains.
Now if you're ending your workout fresh as a daisy, there's not much we can say to you. You've got to invest some effort if you want to earn a sizable reward. No one's going to wave a magic wand over you and grant your physique wishes. Early-onset fatigue, on the other hand, is a problem you can address in a number of ways.
First of all, let's answer a question. What exactly is fatigue? At the cellular level, fatigue is the result of acid build-up in muscle tissue during exercise. Specifically, your muscles produce lactic acid in the process of converting glucose into the energy that is used to power muscular contractions. This lactic acid in turn breaks down into lactate and hydrogen. The build-up of hydrogen ions in muscle tissue generates stress that you feel as the "burn" of fatigue.
Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to limit the production of lactic acid. Your body can and will, however, attempt to increase muscle capacity and time-to-failure by buffering the hydrogen ions in muscle tissue. It does this by employing a hydrogen scavenging di-peptide molecule called carnosine, which buffers the pH levels in muscle cells during periods of oxidative stress. Carnosine is composed of the amino acids beta alanine and histidine. Which brings us to Strategy #1 for bumping up muscular endurance.
Take Beta Alanine
Beta alanine plays a rate-limiting role in carnosine production by interacting with histidine. High muscle carnosine improves muscle performance through its ability to buffer skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during high intensity, fatiguing exercise. Thus, it should come as no surprise that beta alanine supplementation and subsequent increased muscle carnosine levels would help to support increased workout volume and intensity.
How does this play out in the real world? In a report that appeared in the American College of Sports Medicine’s flagship journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers from the United Kingdom investigating nutritional means to help ameliorate the consequences of lactic acid build-up had healthy men supplement for four weeks with either beta alanine (6.4 grams per day) or a placebo. Before and after supplementation they performed a cycling test to exhaustion at an intensity that caused them to fatigue in about two minutes. After four weeks of beta alanine supplementation, they ingested either maltodextrin or sodium bicarbonate before the cycling test. Results showed that four weeks of beta alanine supplementation allowed subjects to exercise for about 17 seconds longer when they ingested maltodextrin and 23 seconds longer when they ingested sodium bicarbonate. Translated, this means that four weeks of beta alanine supplementation increased performance by about 15%.
Is this study an outlier? Hardly. On the macro level, a recently published article in the journal Amino Acids took the approach of summarizing a large group of studies already published on beta alanine. This article considered several different patterns of supplementation and involved over 350 research subjects. When all of these measures were considered, the authors concluded that beta alanine significantly improved outcomes when compared to a placebo. In particular, beta alanine improved and maximized the capacity to perform exercise.
Add Some Caffeine
Ah, caffeine. Your morning eye-opener has been researched and studied more than any other performance-enhancing compound on earth. Among those studies are many that measure caffeine's capacity to alter and mitigate the perception of fatigue-generated pain.
For instance, researchers at Kent State specifically addressed this effect in an experiment designed to show the effects of caffeine on perceived pain during an endurance activity. They had healthy college students perform a grip task that consisted of holding on to a metal block with their arm extended and resist dropping the weight. During one trial they chewed gum containing caffeine and during another identical trial they were provided gum with no caffeine. Subjects were able to hold on to the metal for an average of about 100 seconds. During this time they reported their level of pain on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 = no pain, 5 = moderate pain, 10 = worst possible pain. During this grip to exhaustion test, the pain was perceived to be significantly less during the caffeine trial (3.5) versus the placebo (4.8). Similar to other studies, this study supports the use of caffeine as an analgesic to reduce the perception of pain during strenuous physical exertion.
Eat an Apple
No, seriously, eat an apple. It turns out, an apple a day won't just keep the doctor away. It may also help support endurance. Apples are particularly rich in the dietary flavonoid quercitin, which has been linked to increases in endurance by way of its beneficial effect on blood flow. In a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies conducted on quercitin, performance and endurance, researchers found that quercetin provides a statistically significant benefit in human endurance exercise capacity (VO(2max) and endurance exercise performance. Quercitin has also been associated with modulation of inflammation and improved immune function. So consider tossing an apple into your lunchbox!
One of the most common causes of fatigue has nothing to do with trace elements of one micronutrient or another. It's all about the most common element of all: water. Our bodies are made up of 70 percent water and comparatively minor fluctuations in that content can lead to major declines in both cognitive and physical function. Given that intense physical exercise over the course of sixty minutes can lead to the loss of as much as 4% of bodily fluid through sweat, that's a problem. It's a problem made worse by the fact that most of us are dehydrated before we even get to the gym floor.
Researchers suggest that that the average non-training person should consumer about eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you're engaging in high-intensity exercise, it is suggested that you need about twelve ounces of water for every 30 minutes of exercise you do. You'll perform better and longer and you'll get the added benefits of keeping your skin healthy and vibrant and more efficiently removing toxins from your system.
Carb Up and Allow Time For Proper Recovery
The rest period after exercise is the interval in which you accrue all the gains you've worked so hard for during your workout. Fatigue is a sign that that recovery hasn't taken place yet. If you shortchange yourself on rest by, say, resistance training six days a week or stacking up morning and evening workouts on the same day, you're robbing your body of the opportunity to adapt positively to training. Remember also that exercise will rapidly deplete available glycogen stores. Restoring those levels via carbohydrate supplementation post-exercise will kickstart protein synthesis and enable the muscle growth that will support future increases in muscle capacity and endurance.
Sale C, Saunders B, Hudson S, Wise JA, Harris RC, Sunderland CD. Effect of β-alanine plus sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity cycling capacity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Oct;43(10):1972-8. PubMed PMID: 21407127.2012. 22(5): p. 331-7.
Hobson, RM, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids, 2012. 43(1): p. 25-37.
Bellar D, Kamimori GH, Glickman EL. The effects of low-dose caffeine on perceived pain during a grip to exhaustion task. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1225-8.
Kressler J1, Millard-Stafford M, Warren GL. Quercetin and endurance exercise capacity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Mar;44(3):558-9.
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