In a land of secrecy where elite athletes don’t share their secret workouts, let alone their “supplements”, it’s refreshing to see a some elite athletes open up their day to day lives of success and failure. And not about what their dog had for breakfast.
Craig Pickering, who could be the next “Great White Hope” is no stranger to the Elite 100 meters. He broke into the scene way back in 2003 at the IAAF Youth Championships in Sherbrooke (10.53), and was part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic UK’s 4x100m disaster where he took the blame for leaving too early as the anchor leg.
In any case, his PB is 10.14 from 2007, and his Blog is rightly named Craig Pickering 10.14 at Blogspot. His current SB is 10.23 from Hengelo.
Back in January, he wrote a nice 5 part series on his diet and explains his science behind his choices.
It all starts with Part 1 where he starts off with Patrick Holford’s "Optimum Nutrition Bible" as your starting point. Part 2 looks at the general supplements that I take. Part 3 looks at the sport specific supplements, and Part 4 puts everything together, and shows you his complete diet plan. Part 5 will look at special circumstances, such as race day nutrition, and areas of experimentation with his diet. The entire series is an excellent read.
If you want more information on nutrition, hare are the following 6 books Craig recommends:
- Optimum Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge by Michael Coglan
- Sports Nutrition Guide: Minerals, Vitamins & Antioxidants for Athletesby Michael Colgan
- New Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford
- Power Eating, Third Edition by Susan Kleiner
- Advanced Sports Nutrition by Dan Benardot
- Amino Acids and Proteins for the Athlete: The Anabolic Edge, Second Edition by Mauro Di Pasquale
Below is a relevant section on General Supplements.
I use the term “general supplements” to apply to non-sports specific supplements, that I use to add specific vitamins and minerals to my diet. The general consensus among nutritionists seems to be that it is very hard for most people to get adequate intakes of some vitamins and minerals from their diets. If it is hard for a normal person, it will be even harder for a sports person, who places their body under greater levels of stress and wear and tear than your average person. Two books on this subject that really opened my eyes to the supplementation needed were “New Optimum Nutrition Bible” by Patrick Holford, and “Sports Nutrition Guide: Minerals, Vitamins & Antioxidants for Athletes” by Michael Colgan.
To start with, I take a multivitamin twice each day, to ensure that I cover most of my bases. I also supplement this with 500mg of vitamin C in both the morning and evening. Vitamin C is useful as it can improve immune function, and also acts as an antioxidant. I used to take a higher dose, but after reading some research papers last summer, which found that continued high levels of Vitamin C supplementation (i.e. over 2000mg) might decrease mitochondrial changes to exercise. I also take 400iU of vitamin E, which again is an antioxidant, and acts as a cell membrane stabiliser. Some vitamin E studies have found no positive effect in athletes, whereas some have found that vitamin E can prevent DNA damage caused by oxidative stress, and improve glucose and insulin sensitivity. Overall, I couldn’t find a study that pointed to a negative effect of vitamin E supplementation, and so I decided to supplement. I also supplement with a B vitamin complex, which help immune function and energy production. From time to time, particularly in the winter, I also supplement with vitamin D. Quite a few studies are coming out regarding this vitamin and athletic performance, with a pretty consistent finding that low vitamin D levels affect type II muscle fibre contraction. I get my vitamin D levels tested regularly, and if they are low I go on a supplementation cycle.
So, that the vitamins covered, next up are the minerals. I take both Glucosamine and Chrondritin for bone/joint health. In 2007 I was diagnosed with some disc issues in my back, and I am aware that training puts quite a bit of load through my knees, so I began looking at joint health supplements. I came across quite a few studies on these minerals, which were mostly positive. One looked at US Navy SEALs with knee and back pain, and found that glucosamine / chrondritin supplementation alleviated the symptoms. Another study found that glucosamine supplementation alleviated spinal disc degeneration. Added to my bone/joint health stack is MSM, which I add to my protein shakes twice per day.
I also take a combined calcium and magnesium supplement. Both of these minerals play an important role in muscle fibre contraction. I looked at some studies regarding supplementation, and some found positive results, others found no change with supplementation. One study found that 8mg/kg/day of magnesium caused significantly greater gains in strength than a placebo, which made me take interest. From time to time my medical team also put me on a course of magnesium during times of hard training, and recommend that I have a higher intake than normal of calcium to protect my shins (which quite often get sore – calcium has been found to sometimes reduce this soreness).
I have also recently started to supplement with 100g of CoQ10 per day. CoQ10 is an involved in energy production within the cell. Various studies have found positive effects from CoQ10 supplementation, including an increased time to exhaustion, improved fatigue resistance in multiple bout exercise, and an increased performance in maximal exercise. Therefore, I considered CoQ10 to have enough evidence to be an effective training aid, and so I added it into my programme.
Another new supplement in my regime is Phosphatidyl Serine. I added this in as it is alleged to blunt cortisol. One of the nutritionists I spoke to recommended adding this to a post-training shake in order to keep the anabolic window open a bit longer. I also tend to carry fat around my mid-section, which is a sign of high cortisol according to Charles Polliquin, which further added to my interest in giving this a go. Finally, Patrick Holford believes that it is useful for stress reduction; I generally find I am quite prone to getting stressed, which, again, further added to my interest. I tend to cycle my PS supplementation, as I am not sure that long-term cortisol reduction is positive. I tend to use it most during really hard phases of training, and then back off when training levels drop a bit.
I also supplement with Omega-3, at quite a high dose. The benefits of omega-3 supplementation are well written about everywhere, but in a nutshell they may (or may not) improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, improve blood fatty acid profile, improve immune function, and reduce inflammation. The whole range of health benefits was enough to convince me to supplement with them.
I also use two types of gut health products. One is a probiotic, which I take with breakfast; the other is Digestimax from Myprotein.co.uk, which contains digestive enzymes. I believe that there is no point in eating good quality food if you are not digesting it properly, hence why I supplement with these products. It has also been shown that probiotics can improve immune function, which is an added bonus.
I used to add more antioxidant supplements to my regime, until I came across quite a wide body of research they states that excess antioxidants can blunt the training effect, as they mop up the free-radicals that the body requires to adapt. Due to this, I now keep all my vitamins to either first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, as far away from training as possible. I have also lowered my dosage of most vitamins.
Here is the section on specific supplements:
In this section, I will be mostly looking at supplements that I take because I take part in sport, as opposed to supplements that I take for general health. The main goals for my supplement protocol are to:
- Reduce exercise-induced immunosuppression – You can’t reach your full potential if you are ill
- Improve recovery from one session to another – This allows you to get better quality training sessions
- Provide a fuel and stimulation for a training session – This improves session quality
- Provide a good hormonal environment for recovery and/or muscle growth.
The most obvious supplement that I use here is some form of protein shake. This is because it provides a convenient, low-fat and low-carbohydrate way of getting sufficient protein on a day-to-day basis. When I am going for very high protein numbers (e.g. 3g/kg bodyweight), I can have up to 4 shakes per day on top of meals. I like to vary the type of protein shake I have, from standard whey protein post-training, to a whey-casein mix mid-afternoon, to a casein only shake pre-bed. This is take advantage of the different absorption rates of each protein shake, with different situations requiring a different absorption rate.
On top of this I use Creatine. Creatine is required by the muscle to replenish ATP, and so it is advantageous to have high levels of Creatine within a muscle cell for this purpose. I generally take 5g per day, although in intense training periods I go slightly higher, maybe 7.5g per day. I don’t usually pay much attention to the recommended loading phase, and usually go for three weeks on, and one week off. I have never suffered from water retention or cramps that other users often report with Creatine, which might mean that I am lucky, or take a lesser dose than they did. I generally add Creatine to my post workout protein shake.
Also in my post workout shake, I add L-Glutamine, which is an amino acid shown to enhance immune function, and maintain lean body mass on a calorie-restricted diet. I generally add L-Leucine too, which is a branch chain amino acid (BCAA). There has been quite a bit of literature on BCAAs and Leucine, and their effects on exercise. On a calorie-restricted diet, BCAAs have been found to maintain lean body mass whilst increasing fat loss. In another study I came across, the addition of Leucine to a post workout protein shake resulted in a greater level of protein synthesis than with just the protein shake alone. Due to this evidence, I tend to add Leucine to all of my protein shakes. I also use L-Ornitine alpha-ketaglutarate (OKG). OKG is thought to help maintain muscle protein synthesis, and may also provide the body with a more anabolic environment within which to work.
Pre-training, I take a supplement called Exceed, which is manufactured by Myprotein.co.uk. It contains L-Glutamine, BCAAs, citrulline malate, and beta alanine. Citrulline malate and beta alanine are substances that may increase workload capacity, and improve performance in repeated bout exercise. That’s why it is ideal for me to take before training, as it allows me to work harder in each training session. I also add Tyrosine to this pre-training mix. Tyrosine is an amino acid that might improve workout intensity, as it is a mild stimulant. Before sessions where I want to perform very well, or before competitions, I will also take some caffeine. I usually aim for somewhere between 240 and 320mgs of caffeine, which works out at between 2 and 3 mgs of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. Caffeine is a stronger stimulant than tyrosine, which is why I use it for important sessions. However, I try not to use it too much as it can lead to central nervous and adrenal fatigue, which is less than ideal.
On top of this, I also take both ZMA and Green Tea Extract in tablet form. ZMA is supposed to enhance sleep quality and increase anabolic conditions, and so I take this about 30 minutes before I go to bed. I use green tea extract to increase my metabolism, hopefully allowing me to loose some excess fat.
I have also recently started to use various “greens” powders. These are useful as they contain many important nutrients, and reduce some of the acidity of a high protein intake. I tend to add these to my protein shakes, as they don’t taste that great one their own!