Dear Sports Medicine Counsel,
I am a hockey player in the winter and avid long distance runner in the summer. While I had my best marathon time yet this summer, it’s getting harder for me to keep up with my teammates on the ice. A lot of my teammates are using energy drinks before the game – could this be the secret to their speed? I am a very fit individual and don’t get why I am falling behind. Should I consider using energy drinks before games?
Dear Enduring Eddie,
That is quite the dilemma you have; your questions raise some issues about training methods and the use of caffeine as a performance-enhancing supplement. First of all, it is important to recognize how different your chosen sports are. Long distance running is an endurance sport, whereas hockey involves short, intense bursts of exertion similar to a sprinter. Because of this, your body has to use different sources of fuel to produce energy. When you run long distances, the energy demands placed on your body are relatively small. Thus your body can use fat along with oxygen to produce energy; this is called aerobic metabolism. On the other hand, the immediate energy required to race for a puck is much larger, so much so that your body is unable to meet this through aerobic metabolism alone. Without oxygen, energy is produced through the breakdown of sugars, called anaerobic metabolism. You can think of anaerobic metabolism as your body’s immediate energy source and aerobic metabolism as a sustainable source.
Now if that wasn’t enough of a difference, your body uses different muscle fibers depending on the intensity of the exercise you’re doing. When running long distances, you’re using fibers that are well suited for endurance and aerobic metabolism, called slow-twitch fibers. When you sprint, you’re using fibers which are great at producing a significant amount of energy but quickly fatigue. These are called fast-twitch fibers. Think of your body as having two separate factories, one aerobic and the other anaerobic, with a fixed number of workers between them. When you’re running a marathon, imagine that your aerobic factory is producing almost all the energy for your body while the anaerobic factory’s outputs are minimal. In training, when you repetitively stress one factory over another, your body will take workers from the lesser used factory and place them where they are needed most. This effect is related to the concept of training specificity, or, that changes in the body will be specific to the method in which you train.
The reason you may be falling behind your teammates playing hockey isn’t that they are gaining an advantage over you by taking energy drinks. Instead, they are likely spending more time training their anaerobic factory than you are. If you want to keep up your with your teammates on the ice, you’ll have to start adding some anaerobic training to your program. This kind of training involves weight lifting, sprints, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or anything that closely resembles the movement and intensity of hockey. In fact, many studies have shown HIIT to be an effective way to increase your body’s maximum oxygen consumption. Adding some HIIT may not only improve your speed on the ice but could also decrease your marathon times.
Consuming an energy drink before a game can make you feel more alert and ready, due to its high caffeine content. This feeling is favourable among many athletes, which is why caffeine is commonly used as a performance-enhancing supplement. If you wish to use caffeine before games, here are a few guidelines:
- Avoid energy drinks with greater than 25g of sugar
- Drink a cup of coffee
- Use caffeine in powder or pill form
- Consume 1 hour before games for maximum effect
- Know your caffeine tolerance, start small and work up to find your preferred dose
Hope this helps!
Sports Medicine Counsel