THE OPTIMAL FUEL FOR CYCLISTS? | INTERVIEW WITH DR. TIM PODLOGAR part 2 of 2

One of the things greatly advertised are electrolytes, and magnesium is supposed to be their king.

Electrolytes are essential to the functioning of the human body, which is why it’s crucial to keep their concentration at normal levels.

When we look at an athlete, we must consider three different environments. One is the drink, the other is the blood, and the third is the sweat. Most people focus on blood, but in regard to physical activity, we should focus on sweat. We must replace what is lost in the sweat. Sweat is mostly composed of regular salt, which is not surprising considering we consume a lot of salt each day.

izotonični napitek za biatlonce

Image 1: Top-level biathlete Nina Blaženić already uses Ndure - prototype version

"I often hear that magnesium prevents muscle cramps and is an essential ingredient of an athlete’s drink. To be frank, that’s idiotic. It’s a fact that the concentration of electrolytes rises with dehydration, which means that their availability is higher rather than lower. And no recent study pointed to a connection between muscle cramps and the intake of electrolytes. The only possibility to get muscle cramps because of electrolytes is if you drink only water and dilute your blood".

The presence of other electrolytes in the sweat is actually extremely low. There is almost no need to replace them. I often hear that magnesium prevents muscle cramps and that it has to be present in a sports drink. To be frank, that’s idiotic. It’s a fact that the concentration of electrolytes rises with dehydration, which means that their availability is higher rather than lower. And no recent study pointed to a connection between muscle cramps and the intake of electrolytes. The only possibility to get muscle cramps because of electrolytes is if you drink only water and dilute your blood.

mišični krči izotonični napitek

Image 2: The myth of magnesium is so rooted among cyclists that many people insist on buying magnesium effervescent tablets – only after we ask that person in what part of the training session or race the muscle crumps occur, they understand there’s some truth to the fact they are riding without proper nutrition.

Magnesium is sold everywhere as a universal way to prevent muscle cramps. In your opinion, what is the most effective way to prevent them?

First, let me explain what a muscle cramp is.

It is an involuntary muscle contraction in which we are not able to consciously relax the muscle. The only way to relax the muscle from the cramp is to stretch it, which deactivates the nerve fibres connected to the problem muscle. We can see that it is some sort of a failure in the transport of nerve impulses and definitely not an electrolyte imbalance, as stretching could not affect the level of electrolytes.

Muscle cramps generally appear during heavy strains, in heat, and at the end of activities. This happens mostly because of reduced availability of energy, mainly carbohydrates, and partially because of micro tears in the muscles. These usually appear when we overdo with the intensity, that is, we do more than the muscle is actually capable of.

"A muscle cramp is an involuntary muscle contraction in which we are not able to consciously relax the muscle. The only way to relax the muscle from the cramp is to stretch it, which deactivates the nerve fibres connected to the problem muscle. We can see that it is some sort of a failure in the transport of nerve impulses and definitely not an electrolyte imbalance."

Video 1: Did you know that muscle cramps are actually caused by insufficient levels of glucose in the blood, which leads to the disruption in the communication of numerous neurotransmitters, among them acetylcholine? The best way to prevent cramps is to find an isotonic drink or energy gels which we can absorb following the golden rule of 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

Magnesium and other electrolytes are therefore not part of the equation. Yes, they are absolutely necessary in the sense that we need them for normal functioning of the organism, but they are of no assistance as far as muscle cramps go. The best cure for cramps is sufficient energy intake and following the advice not to indulge in excessive physical activity.

So, magnesium does not play a considerable role in rehydration, but other electrolytes do?

Sodium is the most important electrolyte for rehydration, the others not so much.

Another important role of electrolytes is to take care of the volume of cells in the body.

If we increase the concentration of sodium in the blood, water from cells, including muscle cells, will start to flow into the blood. This happens if we are dehydrated, and we know this negatively affects body functions.

If the concentration of sodium in the blood starts falling, water will enter into cells, and the cells will start to swell. This would not be problematic if the brain wasn’t in the skull. What happens is that water enters the cells, the cells want to swell, but they can’t do it because of the skull. The cells start to break and in the worst case this can lead to death. We call this exercise-related hyponatremia, and it is not such a rare occurrence.

izotonik in elektroliti

Image 3: It must be stressed that we lose a lot less magnesium than shown on the symbolic image. The actual amount would barely be visible with the naked eye – magnesium is so important for the body functions that during strain the body actually increases its concentration within cells.

So, during physical activity we lose salt and water.

If we replace only water, the concentration of sodium in the blood starts to decrease, and that leads to problems.

If we ingest too much sodium, it causes stomach issues. We would also feel very thirsty during exercise because the level of sodium in the blood would be too high, which is a sign of thirst.

Regarding other electrolytes, it is a very unexplored area. It is a fact that it makes sense to preserve the concentration of electrolytes in the blood. There is a hypothesis that says the body replaces the loss of calcium in the sweat by breaking down bones. Of course, we don’t want that.

Is the isotonic drink appropriate for children?

I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. If it includes caffeine or substances other than sugar and salt, then I’d question if it makes sense. Otherwise, yes. Children are human beings, too, and we all know their need for energy is very high due to their constant activity.

You participated in the development of the new Ndure, which is actually a result of your knowledge. But I remember that even beforehand you were constantly dealing with sugars, oxidation, the basic things we keep forgetting while looking for some magic formula.

It’s clear I’m a freak when it comes to sports nutrition. My flat is full of bags of carbohydrates in all possible forms. I discovered there is no product on the market that works for me. Or rather, no product is in line with the current scientific discoveries. This is one of the reasons I was eager to help develop Ndure. I solved my own problem and helped others doing so.

I wanted the drink to have an optimal ratio between maltodextrin and fructose, which not only elevates energy availability but also reduces the chance of digestive issues. Research shows that the ratio 1:0.8 between maltodextrin and fructose is best in this regard.

We added electrolytes in the amount similar to the composition of most people’s sweat, which gives a person what they need and only what they need.

The drink is simple. It contains no unnecessary sweeteners and is in my opinion the best product on the market. It’s also made by a reputable manufacturer. I might be biased, but I actually didn’t find any other product with such a ratio of maltodextrin and fructose.
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mateja roglič ndure izotonik

Image 4: Ndure prototype was tested by many – Mateja Roglič, two-time Slovenian time trial winner and winner of numerous other medals (on the photo); Matej Lovše, former time trial world champion; Dejan Bratuš (Tuš Team); Koper Handball Club; Nika Blaženić, Croation biathlete; NK Slaven Belupo; Italian Eppinger Team; and many others.

What's coming next? 

The next thing we wanted to optimize is regeneration. The research I participated in revealed the importance of ingesting the right type of carbohydrates during the process of regeneration.

We developed a regeneration drink which optimally fills liver and muscle glycogen, takes care of muscle regeneration, and obviously provides adequate rehydration. I know I may sound promotional, but what can I do. We are pioneering this area as well (laughs).

We are also developing an energy gel to complement Ndure and compatible with it. The idea is that during a race a top level athlete would consume two units in one hour - one gel and one Ndure drink (as preferred), while a recreational athlete would choose between one Nrgy gel or one Ndure drink.

Other things are a drink for low-intensity sessions (base drink), which are possibly performed on an empty stomach, a regeneration drink without carbohydrates, and a few dietary supplements with scientifically proven positive effects – for example, beta-alanine and caffeine.

polona batagelj ndure
Image 5: We often feel professionals use miraculous supplements mixed by biochemists – unfortunately (or luckily) all it takes is a lot of sweat and good fundamentals. The nine-time Slovenian National Road Cycling Champion Polona Batagelj is a regular visitor of our store – she needs regeneration drinks, energy gels, and isotonic drinks, and caffeine and adaptogens for races. 

To conclude. I heard you haven’t been on a vacation yet. Are you flying somewhere ... I mean, riding somewhere?

Ah, I don’t even know what a vacation is.

Let’s say I was on vacation for a few days in Austria in Zell am See, so I could ride on the famous Großglocknerhochalpenstraße.

I had a goal for this year to ride up as many Slovenian hills as I can. Such a thing wasn’t possible while living in the UK for the past few years.

At the end of September I have to fly to Belgium where at the end of the year we will perform a study of ketones in simulated height. But it’s all up in the air because of the virus.

I also have a plane ticket for Spain for the end of October, as there should be a scientific conference where I am supposed to present one of my studies, but the conference was changed to an online conference, which means the plane will fly there without me.

Tim, I hope you manage to ride outside of institutes as soon as possible. See you next time, when we will talk about the regeneration of endurance athletes.

I'm looking forward to both things (laughs).

"Ndure Prototype  comes in three natural flavours without artificial sweeteners (orange, pineapple, and watermelon) and due to your feedback (especially regarding flavours, but we are always happy to get any kind of feedback) offer at a 40 % discount: 900 g for €14.99. 

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