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Avish P. Sharma, Adrian D. Elliott, and David J. Bentley

Context:

Road cycle racing is characterized by significant variability in exercise intensity. Existing protocols attempting to model this aspect display inadequate variation in power output. Furthermore, the reliability of protocols representative of road cycle racing is not well known. There are also minimal data regarding the physiological parameters that best predict performance during variable-power cycling.

Purpose:

To determine the reliability of mean power output during a new test of variable-power cycling and establish the relationship between physiological attributes typically measured during an incremental exercise test and performance during the variable-power cycling test (VCT).

Methods:

Fifteen trained male cyclists (mean ± SD age 33 ± 6.5 y, VO2max 57.9 ± 4.8 mL · kg−1 · min−1) performed an incremental exercise test to exhaustion for determination of physiological attributes, 2 VCTs (plus familiarization), and a 30-km time trial. The VCT was modeled on data from elite men’s road racing and included significant variation in power output.

Results:

Mean power output during the VCT showed good reliability (r = .92, CV% = 1.98). Relative power during the self-paced sections of the VCT was most correlated with maximal aerobic power (r = .79) and power at the second ventilatory threshold (r = .69). Blood lactate concentration showed poor reliability between trials (CV% = 13.93%).

Conclusions:

This study has demonstrated a new reliable protocol simulating the stochastic nature of road cycling races. Further research is needed to determine which factors predict performance during variable-power cycling and the validity of the test in monitoring longitudinal changes in cycling performance.

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Avish P. Sharma, David J. Bentley, Gaizka Mejuto, and Naroa Etxebarria

Purpose: Traditional physiological testing and monitoring tools have restricted our ability to capture parameters that best relate to cycling performance under variable-intensity race demands. This study examined the validity of a 1-h variable cycling test (VCT) to discriminate between different-performance-level cyclists. Methods: Ten male national- and 13 club-level cyclists (body mass, 67 [9] and 79 [6] kg; peak power output, 359 [43] and 362 [21] W, respectively) completed a VO2max test and two 1-h VCT protocols on 3 separate occasions. The VCT consisted of 10 × 6-min segments containing prescribed (3.5 W·kg−1) and open-ended phases. The open-ended phases consisted of 4 × 30–40 s of “recovery,” 3 × 10 s at “hard” intensity, and 3 × 6-s “sprint” with a final 10-s “all-out” effort. Results: Power output for the 6- and 10-s phases was moderately higher for the national- compared with club-level cyclists (mean [SD] 10.4 [2.0] vs 8.6 [1.6] W·kg−1, effect size; ±90% confidence limits = −0.87; ±0.65 and mean [SD] 7.5 [0.7] vs 6.2 [1.0] W·kg−1, effect size; ±90% confidence limits = −1.24; ±0.66, respectively). Power output for the final 10-s “all-out” sprint was 15.4 (1.5) for the national- versus 13.2 (1.9) W·kg−1 for club-level cyclists. Conclusion: The 1-h VCT can successfully differentiate repeat high-intensity effort performance between higher-caliber cyclists and their lower-performing counterparts.

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Erin L. McCleave, Katie M. Slattery, Rob Duffield, Philo U. Saunders, Avish P. Sharma, Stephen Crowcroft, and Aaron J. Coutts

Purpose: To determine whether combining training in heat with “Live High, Train Low” hypoxia (LHTL) further improves thermoregulatory and cardiovascular responses to a heat-tolerance test compared with independent heat training. Methods: A total of 25 trained runners (peak oxygen uptake = 64.1 [8.0] mL·min−1·kg−1) completed 3-wk training in 1 of 3 conditions: (1) heat training combined with “LHTL” hypoxia (H+H; FiO2 = 14.4% [3000 m], 13 h·d−1; train at <600 m, 33°C, 55% relative humidity [RH]), (2) heat training (HOT; live and train <600 m, 33°C, 55% RH), and (3) temperate training (CONT; live and train <600 m, 13°C, 55% RH). Heat adaptations were determined from a 45-min heat-response test (33°C, 55% RH, 65% velocity corresponding to the peak oxygen uptake) at baseline and immediately and 1 and 3 wk postexposure (baseline, post, 1 wkP, and 3 wkP, respectively). Core temperature, heart rate, sweat rate, sodium concentration, plasma volume, and perceptual responses were analyzed using magnitude-based inferences. Results: Submaximal heart rate (effect size [ES] = −0.60 [−0.89; −0.32]) and core temperature (ES = −0.55 [−0.99; −0.10]) were reduced in HOT until 1 wkP. Sweat rate (ES = 0.36 [0.12; 0.59]) and sweat sodium concentration (ES = −0.82 [−1.48; −0.16]) were, respectively, increased and decreased until 3 wkP in HOT. Submaximal heart rate (ES = −0.38 [−0.85; 0.08]) was likely reduced in H+H at 3 wkP, whereas CONT had unclear physiological changes. Perceived exertion and thermal sensation were reduced across all groups. Conclusions: Despite greater physiological stress from combined heat training and “LHTL” hypoxia, thermoregulatory adaptations are limited in comparison with independent heat training. The combined stimuli provide no additional physiological benefit during exercise in hot environments.

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Avish P. Sharma, Philo U. Saunders, Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Brad Clark, Marijke Welvaert, Christopher J. Gore, and Kevin G. Thompson

Purpose: To determine the effect of altitude training at 1600 and 1800 m on sea-level (SL) performance in national-level runners. Methods: After 3 wk of SL training, 24 runners completed a 3-wk sojourn at 1600 m (ALT1600, n = 8), 1800 m (ALT1800, n = 9), or SL (CON, n = 7), followed by up to 11 wk of SL racing. Race performance was measured at SL during the lead-in period and repeatedly postintervention. Training volume (in kilometers) and load (session rating of perceived exertion) were calculated for all sessions. Hemoglobin mass was measured via CO rebreathing. Between-groups differences were evaluated using effect sizes (Hedges g). Results: Performance improved in both ALT1600 (mean [SD] 1.5% [0.9%]) and ALT1800 (1.6% [1.3%]) compared with CON (0.4% [1.7%]); g = 0.83 (90% confidence limits −0.10, 1.66) and 0.81 (−0.09, 1.62), respectively. Season-best performances occurred 5 to 71 d postaltitude in ALT1600/1800. There were large increases in training load from lead-in to intervention in ALT1600 (48% [32%]) and ALT1800 (60% [31%]) compared with CON (18% [20%]); g = 1.24 (0.24, 2.08) and 1.69 (0.65, 2.55), respectively. Hemoglobin mass increased in ALT1600 and ALT1800 (∼4%) but not CON. Conclusions: Larger improvements in performance after altitude training may be due to the greater overall load of training in hypoxia compared with normoxia, combined with a hypoxia-mediated increase in hemoglobin mass. A wide time frame for peak performances suggests that the optimal window to race postaltitude is individual, and factors other than altitude exposure per se may be important.

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Gyan A. Wijekulasuriya, Vernon G. Coffey, Luke Badham, Fergus O’Connor, Avish P. Sharma, and Gregory R. Cox

Purpose: The effect of acetaminophen (ACT, also known as paracetamol) on endurance performance in hot and humid conditions has been shown previously in recreationally active populations. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of ACT on physiological and perceptual variables during steady-state and time-trial cycling performance of trained triathletes in hot and humid conditions. Methods: In a randomized, double-blind crossover design, 11 triathletes completed ∼60 minutes steady-state cycling at 63% peak power output followed by a time trial (7 kJ·kg body mass−1, ∼30 min) in hot and humid conditions (∼30°C, ∼69% relative humidity) 60 minutes after consuming either 20 mg·kg body mass−1 ACT or a color-matched placebo. Time-trial completion time, gastrointestinal temperature, skin temperature, thermal sensation, thermal comfort, rating of perceived exertion, and fluid balance were recorded throughout each session. Results: There was no difference in performance in the ACT trial compared with placebo (P = .086, d = 0.57), nor were there differences in gastrointestinal and skin temperature, thermal sensation and comfort, or fluid balance between trials. Conclusion: In conclusion, there was no effect of ACT (20 mg·kg body mass−1) ingestion on physiology, perception, and performance of trained triathletes in hot and humid conditions, and existing precooling and percooling strategies appear to be more appropriate for endurance cycling performance in the heat.

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Amy L. Woods, Avish P. Sharma, Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Philo U. Saunders, Anthony J. Rice, and Kevin G. Thompson

High altitude exposure can increase resting metabolic rate (RMR) and induce weight loss in obese populations, but there is a lack of research regarding RMR in athletes at moderate elevations common to endurance training camps. The present study aimed to determine whether 4 weeks of classical altitude training affects RMR in middle-distance runners. Ten highly trained athletes were recruited for 4 weeks of endurance training undertaking identical programs at either 2200m in Flagstaff, Arizona (ALT, n = 5) or 600m in Canberra, Australia (CON, n = 5). RMR, anthropometry, energy intake, and hemoglobin mass (Hbmass) were assessed pre- and posttraining. Weekly run distance during the training block was: ALT 96.8 ± 18.3km; CON 103.1 ± 5.6km. A significant interaction for Time*Group was observed for absolute (kJ.day-1) (F-statistic, p-value: F(1,8)=13.890, p = .01) and relative RMR (F(1,8)=653.453, p = .003) POST-training. No significant changes in anthropometry were observed in either group. Energy intake was unchanged (mean ± SD of difference, ALT: 195 ± 3921kJ, p = .25; CON: 836 ± 7535kJ, p = .75). A significant main effect for time was demonstrated for total Hbmass (g) (F(1,8)=13.380, p = .01), but no significant interactions were observed for either variable [Total Hbmass (g): F(1,8)=1.706, p = .23; Relative Hbmass (g.kg-1): F(1,8)=0.609, p = .46]. These novel findings have important practical application to endurance athletes routinely training at moderate altitude, and those seeking to optimize energy management without compromising training adaptation. Altitude exposure may increase RMR and enhance training adaptation,. During training camps at moderate altitude, an increased energy intake is likely required to support an increased RMR and provide sufficient energy for training and performance.

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Gareth N. Sandford, Simon A. Rogers, Avish P. Sharma, Andrew E. Kilding, Angus Ross, and Paul B. Laursen

Purpose: Anaerobic speed reserve (ASR), defined as the speed range from velocity associated with maximal oxygen uptake (vVO2max) to maximal sprint speed, has recently been shown to be an important tool for middle-distance coaches to meet event surge demands and inform on the complexity of athlete profiles. To enable field application of ASR, the relationship between gun-to-tape 1500-m average speed (1500v) and the vVO2max for the determination of lower landmark of the ASR was assessed in elite middle-distance runners. Methods: A total of 8 national and 4 international middle-distance runners completed a laboratory-measured vVO2max assessment within 6 wk of a nonchampionship 1500-m gun-to-tape race. ASR was calculated using both laboratory-derived vVO2max (ASR-LAB) and 1500v (ASR-1500v), with maximal sprint speed measured using radar technology. Results: 1500v was on average +2.06 ± 1.03 km/h faster than vVO2max (moderate effect, very likely). ASR-LAB and ASR-1500v mean differences were −2.1 ± 1.5 km/h (large effect, very likely). 1500v showed an extremely large relationship with vVO2max, r = .90 ± .12 (most likely). Using this relationship, a linear-regression vVO2max-estimation equation was derived as vVO2max (km/h) = (1500v [km/h] − 14.921)/0.4266. Conclusions: A moderate difference was evident between 1500v and vVO2max in elite middle-distance runners. The present regression equation should be applied for an accurate field prediction of vVO2max from 1500-m gun-to-tape races. These findings have strong practical implications for coaches lacking access to a sports physiology laboratory who seek to monitor and profile middle-distance runners.

Open access

Avish P. Sharma, Philo U. Saunders, Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Brad Clark, Jamie Stanley, Eileen Y. Robertson, and Kevin G. Thompson

Purpose:

To determine the effect of training at 2100-m natural altitude on running speed (RS) during training sessions over a range of intensities relevant to middle-distance running performance.

Methods:

In an observational study, 19 elite middle-distance runners (mean ± SD age 25 ± 5 y, VO2max, 71 ± 5 mL · kg–1 · min–1) completed either 4–6 wk of sea-level training (CON, n = 7) or a 4- to 5-wk natural altitude-training camp living at 2100 m and training at 1400–2700 m (ALT, n = 12) after a period of sea-level training. Each training session was recorded on a GPS watch, and athletes also provided a score for session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE). Training sessions were grouped according to duration and intensity. RS (km/h) and sRPE from matched training sessions completed at sea level and 2100 m were compared within ALT, with sessions completed at sea level in CON describing normal variation.

Results:

In ALT, RS was reduced at altitude compared with sea level, with the greatest decrements observed during threshold- and VO2max-intensity sessions (5.8% and 3.6%, respectively). Velocity of low-intensity and race-pace sessions completed at a lower altitude (1400 m) and/or with additional recovery was maintained in ALT, though at a significantly greater sRPE (P = .04 and .05, respectively). There was no change in velocity or sRPE at any intensity in CON.

Conclusion:

RS in elite middle-distance athletes is adversely affected at 2100-m natural altitude, with levels of impairment dependent on the intensity of training. Maintenance of RS at certain intensities while training at altitude can result in a higher perceived exertion.

Open access

Alannah K.A. McKay, Peter Peeling, David B. Pyne, Nicolin Tee, Marijke Welveart, Ida A. Heikura, Avish P. Sharma, Jamie Whitfield, Megan L. Ross, Rachel P.L. van Swelm, Coby M. Laarakkers, and Louise M. Burke

This study implemented a 2-week high carbohydrate (CHO) diet intended to maximize CHO oxidation rates and examined the iron-regulatory response to a 26-km race walking effort. Twenty international-level, male race walkers were assigned to either a novel high CHO diet (MAX = 10 g/kg body mass CHO daily) inclusive of gut-training strategies, or a moderate CHO control diet (CON = 6 g/kg body mass CHO daily) for a 2-week training period. The athletes completed a 26-km race walking test protocol before and after the dietary intervention. Venous blood samples were collected pre-, post-, and 3 hr postexercise and measured for serum ferritin, interleukin-6, and hepcidin-25 concentrations. Similar decreases in serum ferritin (17–23%) occurred postintervention in MAX and CON. At the baseline, CON had a greater postexercise increase in interleukin-6 levels after 26 km of walking (20.1-fold, 95% CI [9.2, 35.7]) compared with MAX (10.2-fold, 95% CI [3.7, 18.7]). A similar finding was evident for hepcidin levels 3 hr postexercise (CON = 10.8-fold, 95% CI [4.8, 21.2]; MAX = 8.8-fold, 95% CI [3.9, 16.4]). Postintervention, there were no substantial differences in the interleukin-6 response (CON = 13.6-fold, 95% CI [9.2, 20.5]; MAX = 11.2-fold, 95% CI [6.5, 21.3]) or hepcidin levels (CON = 7.1-fold, 95% CI [2.1, 15.4]; MAX = 6.3-fold, 95% CI [1.8, 14.6]) between the dietary groups. Higher resting serum ferritin (p = .004) and hotter trial ambient temperatures (p = .014) were associated with greater hepcidin levels 3 hr postexercise. Very high CHO diets employed by endurance athletes to increase CHO oxidation have little impact on iron regulation in elite athletes. It appears that variations in serum ferritin concentration and ambient temperature, rather than dietary CHO, are associated with increased hepcidin concentrations 3 hr postexercise.