Can Pre-Workout Supplements Help Cycling Performance?

Every cyclist longs for that extra bit of help when in competition or intensive training. Though a good diet, plentiful sleep, and hydration are always vital to performance, evidence suggests that supplements can up your game. However, you might ask if pre-workout supplements really make a difference?

Pre-workout supplements can help your cycling performance if they’re of high quality. Many supplements lack scientific evidence to support their performance claims, and cyclists should ensure they have scientific-based efficacy and research their potential side effects and contraindications. 

Although clinical studies on the efficacy of supplements for sports performance are increasing every day, there’s still much debate about the true enhancement offered by pre-workout supplements. Here’s some help deciding which pre-workout supplements have a proven track record and can actually help your cycling performance. 

How Pre-workout Supplements Can Enhance Cycling Performance

Although there’s some debate regarding the efficacy of commonly used pre-workout supplements, some ingredients show scientific evidence in improving athletic performance.

These enhancements typically include:

  • Increased energy and focus, which are found in caffeine, promote performance, fat burning, and mental alertness.
  • Energy production and muscular strength are found in chemical compounds such as creatine.
  • Improved recovery time, strength, and exercise performance are also associated with supplements such as creatine.
  • Oxygen boosting and nutrient transporting action can be found in nitric oxide precursors enhancing compounds such as L-arginine, L-citrulline, and beetroot juice as a source of dietary nitrates

Due to the lack of consensus of the scientific community in the efficacy of pre-workout supplements, no conclusive evidence suggests that supplements can replace the benefits of a balanced diet, quality sleep, and proper hydration.

8 Pre-Workout Supplements That Help Cycling Performance

If you want to take some pre-workout supplements, look no further than this list.

1. Carbohydrate Supplements

Carbohydrates are the cornerstone of effective exercise performance before, during, and after intense and high-volume training bouts. Cyclists involved in moderate or high training volume need more significant amounts of carbohydrates to meet their macronutrient needs. 

The ISSN claims that athletes involved in a moderate amount of intense training need around 5-8g of carbohydrates per kilogram a day (2.2-3.6g/lb) or 250-1200g (0.55-2.65lbs) per day for 50-150kg (110.23-330.69lbs) to maintain their liver and muscle glycogen stores.

When cycling at high intensity, your body uses blood glucose and depletes a cyclist’s natural glycogen or stored carbs. Therefore ingesting a pre-workout supplement of carbohydrates can increase energy availability and cycling performance. 

2. Protein Supplements

Proteins are biomolecules and macromolecules that are made up of one or more chains of amino acid residues. 

Protein plays an essential role in cell regulation, nerve function, and muscle synthesis. Cyclists involved in intensive training may suffer from protein depletion, resulting in a negative nitrogen balance associated with slow recovery after exercise.

Clinica studies suggest that athletes such as cyclists engaged in intense training may benefit from taking twice the recommended daily allowance of protein in their diets to maintain a protein balance of 1.4-1.8g/kg (0.6-0.8g/lb) per day.

Protein is available in meat, eggs, and chickpeas, but high-quality protein supplements stimulate muscle protein synthesis before and after training. The general recommendations are 0.25-0.55g of high-quality protein per kilogram of body weight (0.11-0.24mg/lb) every three to four hours across the day. 

3. Creatine Monohydrate Supplements

Creatine is a naturally occurring organic compound found in humans and vertebrates in general that facilitates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) recycling in muscles and the brain. 

Creatine is stored in the muscles and is a source of energy, especially for high-intensity training. The ISSN lists creatine as the most effective nutritional supplement available to athletes such as cyclists. 

Numerous clinical studies show that Creatine supplements increase muscle mass, resulting in the improved ability to perform high-intensity exercise. The benefits allow cyclists to train harder and promote training adaptations and muscle building. 

It has the added benefit of being one of the safest supplements, with almost no side effects besides the occurrence of weight gain. To increase muscle creatine stores for cycling, the ISSN recommends the following dosage over four weeks to increase muscle creatine stores:

  • Use 0.34g/kg/day (0.15g/lb) of creatine monohydrate for 5-7 days.
  • Then use 3-5g/day (0.01lb) to maintain the creatine elevations.

4. Essential Amino Acids and BCAAs

The human body can’t synthesize essential amino acids at a rate to supply a body’s demands, and thus we need to supplement these amino acids by our diet. 

Of all the 21 amino acids, only nine are essential, and these include:

Research suggests that essential amino acids stimulate muscle protein synthesis. 

Data indicates that 6-12g (0.01-0.03lbs) of essential amino acids in the place of food taken before resistance exercise stimulates protein synthesis. However, these essential amino acids (EAAs) are typically contained in high-quality protein sources. 

As well as the nine different essential amino acids, studies have highlighted some specific EAAs for their potential for protein translation and muscle protein synthesis.

These branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs contain three important molecules called:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine

A Cyclist may access the BCAAs in high protein foods, particularly in animal-based products such as dairy, meat, and eggs. 

However, research suggests that BCAA supplements offer added benefits such as:

  • Endurance during exercise
  • Reduction of mental fatigue
  • Reduction of muscle soreness after training

Healthline lists BCAA dosage at 5-20g (0.01-0.04lbs) with typical leucine isoleucine and valine ratio at 2:1:1.

5. Caffeine Supplements for Cycling Performance

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant found naturally in the seeds, fruit, and leaves of several plants native to Africa, Asia, and South America. We are most used to accessing this stimulant in coffee and tea and are familiar with its effects on alertness and reduction of fatigue.

It reduces the symptoms of fatigue by blocking the action of adenosine on its receptors by mimicking the shape of adenosine molecules. Adenosine slows the activity of neurons and builds up in our bodies to prompt the human body to rest. 

However, evidence supports the fact that caffeine improves sports performance, and the benefits include:

  • Increased power output
  • The ability to produce force quickly.
  • Spurs carbohydrate use during exercise and enhances endurance.

A scientific study on the effects of caffeine on time trial performance in trained cyclists found that caffeine improved:

  • Speed
  • Peak power
  • Mean power

A further study also showed that cyclists who ingested a caffeine drink before a time trial exhibited improvements in overall performance.

Studies suggest an additional benefit of caffeine is that the stimulant significantly improves mood states during exercise with lower levels of perceived tiredness and reduced perception of muscular pain. 

The studies regarding this benefit of caffeine in exercise administered 5mg/kg (2.2mg/lb) before maximal resistance exercise. Healthline lists the recommended dose of caffeine for exercise at around 3-6mg per kg (1.3-2.7g/lb) of body weight. 

However, caffeine may be toxic at high doses that exceed 20-40mg per kg (9-18mg/lb) of body weight. Caffeine above 9mg/kg (4mg/lb) may also surpass the doping threshold for many sports organizations. 

6. ß-Alanine Supplements

β-Alanine or Beta-Alanine is a type of amino acid that your body uses to produce carnosine. Carnosine is a molecule produced by the liver and offers several benefits for sportspeople such as cyclists.

Carnosine is a buffer for the pH range of muscles to reduce acidity build up during exercise and combats muscular fatigue, especially short-term exercise intensity of one to four minutes at a time. 

Studies demonstrate that taking 4-6g (0.01lb) of oral beta-alanine in divided doses over 28 days effectively increases carnosine levels. 

Further studies have linked beta-alanine to several exercise benefits, including:

  • Increased lean body mass.
  • Increased knee extension torque.
  • The increased training volume.

Healthline suggests the recommended dose of beta-alanine for improved exercise performance is roughly 4-6g (0.01lb) per day. 

7. Sodium Bicarbonate To Improve Cycling Performance

Sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda, is a chemical compound with the scientific formula of NaHCO3. During high-intensity exercise, acid and carbon dioxide accumulate in the muscles and blood. 

The body converts the acid and carbon dioxide into bicarbonate before their subsequent removal in the lungs.

Bicarbonate loading taken before intensive exercise is an effective way to buffer the acidity created by high-intensity exercise. The burning sensation in your muscles during intensive cycling responds to the acid accumulation in the muscles.

Studies show that bicarbonate improves 3km (1.86mi) long cycling trial performances and enhances short-term performance improvements. A further isolated study on extended duration sports activities found increased power output during a one-hour cycling test. 

However valuable the benefits of sodium bicarbonate are, it may cause stomach upset to those sensitive to its chemical composition. It’ll also not be an option for those with a limited salt intake.

Healthline suggests the recommended dose of bicarbonate of soda is around 300mg/kg (136mg/lb). 

8. Nitrate Supplementation

Nitrates are a type of molecule acquired in humans’ diet via leafy green food such as spinach. Inorganic nitrates are an active component found in beetroot juice and certain other vegetables. Nitrates aid exercise performance by converting into nitric oxide, which increases blood flow.

Other benefits of nitrates include:

  • Vasodilation
  • Effects on blood pressure
  • Modulation of force production
  • Reduced creatine degradation

Cyclists often source nitrates from beetroot juice or sodium nitrate consumed three hours before exercise. Although the efficacy of nitrates as a sports performance is debated, a specific study has linked beetroot juice to reduce resting blood pressure and oxygen expenditure in high-intensity cycling. 

Healthline lists the optimal nitrate dosage of approximately 6-13g per kilogram (2.7-5.8g/lb) of body weight.

What Are Pre Workout Supplements for Cyclists?

Pre-workout supplements for cyclists fall under the scientific category of ergogenic aids. Ergogenic aids such as supplements improve exercise performance or enhance training adaptations. 

Pre-workout supplements may have several benefits to cycling performance, including:

  • Improving efficiency in exercise.
  • Enhance and improve recovery from exercise.
  • Helps prevent injuries during intensive training. 

Although the title ergonomic aid seems simple, there’s a continuous debate regarding the ergonomic value of the many nutritional supplements available on the market today. 

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition or ISSN experts consider a supplement ergonomic if its efficacy is supported by peer-reviewed studies and should show both short-term and long-term efficiency.

Furthermore, the ISSN defines the ergonomic value of pre-workout supplements by the availability of human-based clinical studies. 

Human studies on the supplement must support the effects of increased muscle building or performance while exercising. Preclinical data such as rodent-based studies aren’t included in the ISSN-defined ergonomic value category. 

The ISSN has clearly defined parameters, including research to support a limited number of nutritional supplements that Improve energy availability, including:

  • Sports drinks
  • Carbohydrates
  • Creatine
  • Caffeine
  • Β-alanine

They also include nutritional supplements that enhance or promote recovery after exercise, such as cycling, including:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Amino acids

However, many cyclists find great benefits in pre-workout supplements, and there’s no reason to avoid third-party certified supplements. One should always remain mindful of proper dosage intake, contraindications, and potential side effects. 

Are Pre-Workout Supplements Safe and Legal?

Not all pre-workout supplements are safe or legal for cyclists to consume in competitions. Various athletic associations have banned cyclists from using certain supplements such as prohormones and ephedra that contain ephedrine.

When considering a pre-workout supplement before cycling, one should exercise due diligence regarding the supplement’s term safety data. You should also be aware of any potential side effects of potential performance-enhancing supplements that exist in scientific literature. 

Additionally, informed users should ensure that they don’t have a pre-existing medical condition that may contraindicate the supplements used.

The ISSN also recommends that those considering specific supplements consult the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) to ensure that the herbal or nutritional supplement has any reported side effects and drug interactions. 

A concern exists that the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) doesn’t regulate pre-workout supplements as rigorous as pharmacological drugs. The best guarantee that a product contains its packaging claims is to look for third-party certification such as the NSF or Informed Choice.

Conclusion

Although there are supplements with strong scientific support, many supplements lack evidence for their purported efficacy. Cyclists should ensure that their supplement source is third-party certified and ensure against contraindications and potential side effects.

When used in the correct dosage and sourced from high-quality products, there’s a good chance the supplements listed above may improve your cycling performance.

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