Physiological Ergogenic Aids
There is a range of physiological aids available to athletes for improving their performance, including:
- Herbal Medicines
- Sports Massage
This ancient Oriental art is used as a physiological aid by many athletes to control nagging injuries, or to help their body relax after a competition or intensive training session.
Many herbs have been found to have a positive physiological effect on an athlete’s body during training, including ginseng, Siberian ginseng, tribulus, astragalus, ephedra (ma huang), ginger, turmeric, arnica, caffeine, and bromelain.
Popular with many athletes, homeopathy is a system of medicine dating back to the ancient Greeks and developed in the nineteenth century by German doctor Samuel Hahnemann, which treats ‘like with like’ by dosing a patient with a similar substance to the one causing illness or discomfort in the body.
A physiotherapist often works with athletes who have injured a muscle, or who have a particular problem area in their body that is prone to irritation and pain. Regular physiotherapy sessions can help repair injury and get recurring physical problems under control.
One of the earliest forms of physical therapy, massage has been practised for over 3000 years by many different cultures. Athletes subject their bodies to gradual and controlled overuse in order to train to a competitive level, and this over-use can create problems in the body’s soft tissue which massage can help rectify by releasing muscle tension.
Saunas have several benefits to athletes; they induce perspiration, to rid the body of toxins, they increase circulation, and they raise body temperature, which relieves muscle tension. Saunas also prepare the body for hot weather, so are useful for preparing for competition in hotter climates.
Many nutritional aids are regularly used by athletes to improve their performance, including:
- Bicarbonate of Soda
- Carbohydrate Loading
- Sports Drinks
Bicarbonate of Soda
Athletes take bicarbonate of soda as a nutritional aid in order to delay the build up of lactic acid in the muscles (a by-product of anaerobic metabolism), and consequently delay fatigue.
Carbohydrate loading works as a nutritional aid for endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, by boosting the amount of glycogen in their body before a competition. The process starts six days before a competition: for three days the athlete eats as little carbohydrate as possible and exercises heavily to use up all the stored glycogen in the body. This tricks the body into thinking there is a problem with its glycogen stores and it should store more glycogen than normal. For the next three days the athlete eats mostly carbohydrates and reduces the level of exercise. The body not only refills its glycogen stores, it also stores extra. Athletes using this method need to ensure they eat enough carbohydrates in the first three days to keep their body systems functioning (about 60g per day), and in the last three days they should avoid overeating, and also make sure they consume enough protein, minerals and fluid. They will need to drink more fluid than normal – if their urine is clear, they are drinking enough.
Dehydration through sweating is a key factor that can limit your body’s ability to exercise, and sports drinks are designed to help keep your body hydrated. Sports drinks can also help your body take in the carbohydrates it needs before, during and after exercise, in liquid form. Many sports drinks also contain electrolytes, which encourage your body to retain more water.