The Importance of Strength Training in Combat Sports

The Importance of Strength Training in Combat Sports

Strength is an attribute that cannot be significantly improved through the practice of participating in Combat Sports, therefore it makes strength training a wise investment, particularly if you want to win. The purpose of increasing strength is to develop physical capacities necessary to handle the unpredictable nature and stressors of the sport. Athletes need to be prepared for all aspects of physical combat including punching, kicking, takedowns, takedown defense, arm bars, guillotine, grappling, and clinching, not to mention proper conditioning and muscle endurance. A simpler way to say it would be, to achieve victory an athlete needs to be faster, more explosive and last longer than their opponent. Also, let me make it clear before I go any further, strength does not replace technique — wrestlers should prioritize wrestling, just as martial artists should ultimately work to perfect their discipline — but improving strength will transfer to better technical performance (e.g., technique) on the mat or in the cage.

lean and strong: Am I Doing it Wrong?


Who doesn’t want to look lean and have the strength to back it up?

There is plenty of research to show that aerobic exercise, or cardio, produces negligible results when it comes to fat loss whereas anaerobic modes of exercise such as strength training and sprint interval training are exponentially better tools for optimizing body composition because they burn fat and build muscle. Yet it is still a common practice for people to go for a nice jog. Why is that? In order to avoid the continued confusion, the following four points clarify how to use different types of exercise to achieve the best results.

#1: Aerobic training can only help you lose fat if you are just starting to exercise or significantly overweight.

I must say that this isn’t the most effective type of exercise for fat loss but if you are just starting out, this something is better than nothing. However, the window of results for this is relatively short; you can expect to see composition changes for about six weeks, beyond that progress tapers rapidly.  

A recent study from Duke University took sedentary, out of shape, overweight people through a fairly intense (roughly 80% of max heart rate) aerobic exercise for 40 minutes 3 times a week for 8 weeks and they lost a significant amount of weight. The total weight lost should be examined as sustained aerobic training is detrimental to strength and muscle gain (which helps burn fat). So yes, they lost weight, but how much of that weight was wasted muscle?

The key to getting results with aerobic training if you are a novice is to be consistent and monitor food intake to make sure you don’t compensate for the exercise by eating more. Additionally, adding a strength training program to your routine will help you keep off any fat you lose after those first six weeks.

#2: In the long run, aerobic training is useless for fat loss (pun intended).  

In the Duke study the aerobic group only lost an average of 3.5lbs of fat and they weren’t able to build any muscle to keep that fat away, which is where we begin to see the faultiness in this method. By decreasing their body weight and improving their “fitness” the aerobic group actually lowered metabolic rate (ie how fast we burn calories). They were “in shape” and thinner but no less frail and in turn decreased their resting energy expenditure. In order to maintain that fat loss, they would need to eat less, change their ratio of fats/carbs/proteins proportions accordingly or exercise longer and more intensely. No fun!

In a 2006 study of runners, it was found that only the runners who tripled their weekly mileage from 10 miles/week to 30 miles/week did not gain fat over the 9-year study. That’s a huge increase, in not only mileage but time spent training.

#3: Smart anaerobic training burn fat quicker, while building muscle so that you raise your metabolism

In a study of women that compared an anaerobic training program with an aerobic protocol, those that were in the anaerobic training program who lifted moderately heavy weights, lost nearly 10lbs of body fat, gained about 6lbs of muscle and had a dramatic increase in strength. The women who did the high rep, aerobic-style lifting program with the light weights had no change in body composition, and no increases in strength.

The benefit of building muscle is that your hard work lasts longer if you quit exercising. A study that tested what happens when subjects stopped exercising for a period of 3 months after doing a cardio/endurance or a resistance/strength training protocol found that the resistance training group maintained improvements in strength, muscle and cardiovascular fitness longer than the endurance training group.

The benefits of resistance training are even more pronounced in people who are in shape. In trained male athletes, a 6-week heavy load strength training program with multi-joint lifts (deadlift, squat, military press, chin-up and bench press) allowed them to lose 1% of body fat, while gaining 1.3% muscle mass for a dramatic improvement in body composition.

If we compare that to the Duke study: the aerobic group lost 1% of body fat but gained no muscle, resulting in less than favorable body composition change.

#4:  The bottom line is to lift weights and do anaerobic intervals to improve your physique.

It’s pretty simple really, focus only on an anaerobic style of training and give it all you’ve got. It will not only take you significantly less time to accomplish but the results are exponentially greater.

Resistance training paired with anaerobic intervals, or sprint training, appears to be the most effective way to not only look good naked but to develop your strength optimally. A popular 20-minute sprint cycling workout has been found to lead to between 3-5lbs of fat loss in the overweight, untrained men and women. This is the protocol that was used: 8-second sprints with 12 seconds rest. Its very simple, but grueling. Try it!

More experience trainees will benefit from running sprints on a track. A Canadian study found that trained individuals who did six 30-second all-out sprints with 4 minutes rest lost an impressive 12.4% body fat after spending less than 45 minutes of actual work. Compared to an aerobic group only lost 5.8% body fat but they spent a total of 13.5 hours training:

Suggestions for developing the best resistance program include the following:

  • Multi-joint lifts such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, split squats, step-ups, chin-ups and chest presses in every training session.
  • Training with a higher volume – work up to more than 4 sets per exercise. Shoot for between 20 and 30 total reps per training session.
  • Train with a higher intensity – include some training in the 70-85% of your one rep max range.
  • Include short rest periods (30-60seconds) and count tempo for every lift so that you apply a specific amount of tension to the muscles. In general, opt for longer than (4-seconds) eccentric tempos and short or explosive concentric tempos.
  • Shoot for 3 to 4 hours of total training time per week , which includes resistance training and a few short sprint sessions.



Good luck being able to see a defender coming while you are staring at your superb footwork!

Ladder drills have become hailed as a top training tool for producing athleticism, but do the claims about creating faster feet really equal more speed and greater agility?

Ladder training typically involves following a set footwork pattern – moving the feet inside and outside the rungs of a ladder that is laid flat on the ground – where the goal becomes to increase speed while maintaining the pattern. These drills have become hailed as a top tool for producing athleticism, from youth leagues to the pros, yet the science of creating faster feet does not equal more speed or greater agility come game time. In fact, drills using speed and agility ladders under the guise of increasing on-field performance is counterproductive.

Before we dive in, let’s all agree that…

  • Everything done in a gym should be seen as physical preparation for sports not performed in the gym. Any attempt to correlate athletic performance to any drill is futile due to the chaotic nature of sports and the processing of multiple variables in any instant of gameplay.

  • For any training modality to work effectively, it has to replicate or produce similar benefits of the end goal. This means the given exercise or tool used should closely replicate the speed, force application, change of direction, as well as the metabolic and neural demands of the activity. If it doesn’t, then it will not produce the desired results.

  • And when it comes to youth or beginner, everything works in the trainers favor to improve all aspects of strength, endurance, quickness, etc. (However, it could be argued that doing body weight squats would have the same benefit.) Additionally, ladders can be a great tool for developing neuromuscular coordination and provide an excellent multi-planar dynamic warm-up at any sporting level.

That said, this article is aimed at addressing why ladder drills do not increase athleticism or on-field performance by improving speed and agility.  It should be seen that producing speed is more than the ability to move your feet fast, just as agility is more than the proficiency of learning footwork patterns. If we think about the ground as a springboard from which we draw speed, it is not how fast you can dance over it, but how much force goes into it, and how an athlete overcomes inertia to generate a powerful movement; then we can see how ladder drills do not increase performance in your sport of choice, unless it happens to be salsa dancing. Therefore we need to have a better understanding of speed and agility:

Speed is defined by the following equation: (Stride Length x Stride Frequency) / Time. Research has shown that the fastest athletes are not faster because they take more strides, but because they cover more ground with each stride. This is possible because they put more force into the ground enabling them to cover a given distance in a shorter amount of time. It is a matter of power generation; driving the foot against the ground, enables the extensor mechanism from the hip extensors (the all-powerful glutes and hamstrings), the knee extensors (quadriceps), and the plantar flexors of the ankle to propel the body in a forward motion. When you apply greater force into the ground with a forward lean and at a horizontal angle in a smaller time, you generate more speed. As that force increases there is an inverse relationship between ground contact and distance covered. Taking steps that are more powerful than your competitor, will ultimately allow you to outrun them, at least in a straight line. An example would be how Usain Bolt can complete a 100 meter sprint with a stride count of 42, while everyone else in the field managed to 46-48; his stride length was much higher (force) but his stride frequency was about the same.

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Agility is the ability to decelerate one’s momentum, stop, overcome inertia and accelerate one’s body mass in another direction in as little time as possible. Essentially, if you’re running straight forward and a defender jumps out of the bushes, you want to be able to create a powerful movement that allows you to turn or change direction in a split second. The most effective way to change direction involves having the legs move outside of vertical alignment of the center of mass, and driving them into the ground at as horizontal of an angle as possible to create a strong impulse against the pull of momentum to continue in another direction. From a physics perspective, momentum along with impulse and inertia, are critical components of agility. The ability to decelerate and stop one’s momentum in as short distance/period of time as possible requires great amount of relative unilateral strength and power, particularly in the extensor mechanism musculature of the lower extremities. Equally important, impulse can be found in the period of time where switching from eccentric action (deceleration) to concentric action (acceleration) occurs. Thus, the quicker an athlete can decelerate, overcome inertia, shift impulse momentum and propel in another direction the more agile an athlete is seen to be.

Given the above description on speed and agility it should be seen that performance is inherently predicated on the application of speed in concert with the impulse of agility. The ability to generate forward momentum/force is equally as important as being able to act and react to the chaotic unpredictability of an outside stimulus. With this understanding of performance we can see that any drill that is directed toward constricting an athlete to tip-toe through a series of 15 x 15 inch boxes without posing a challenge to displacement of an athlete’s center of mass or an effort in creating forward momentum through the development of proper mechanics will only serve as a deterrent to the claims of improving performance.

There is very little to gain with the incorporation of ladder drills, as such drills are merely displays of an already present athleticism. Natural athletes learn skills quickly and replicate movement efficiently within a very short period. Within a few weeks of practicing with a ladder, an athlete can become very proficient in the drill, yet when it comes to performing in the game there is very little transfer. Why? Because ladder drills are learned patterns without the influence of an outside stimulus, like a ball or a defender coming at you, and all the hours and effort spent learning how to tip-toe properly while staring at the ground is only working against the athlete who needs to see and react. When athletes who use these drills as a main focus are required to respond in a chaotic environment like a game, their own muscle memory could work against them—tip-toeing gracefully around a defender instead of creating a quick and powerful movement, only to get blasted by a guy the athlete didn’t see because they’ve been trained to staring at the ground. Simply put, fast feet do nothing if you don’t go anywhere. Getting better at predetermined movement patterns is not indication of on-field performance as there is very little transfer from a learned movement to a chaotic gametime environment. In the end, there is no way to practice the perfect pattern for football, soccer, hockey, ultimate frisbee, or any other sport for that matter. It is a requirement to react powerfully and quickly, and there certainly isn’t any benefit to staring at the ground.

Instead of wasting precious time on ladder drills, a strong focus on strength and power development with emphasis on both bilateral and unilateral movements are the best approach, not only for performance but injury prevention as well. An example would be the following:

  • Bilateral Strength – Squats and Deadlift variations

  • Bilateral Power – Olympic lifts, Box Jumps and Depth Jumps

  • Unilateral Strength – Split Squat variations and Step-Ups

  • Unilateral Power – Olympic lifts, Sprints and Penta-Hops

Thinking of the springboard example used earlier, the ground is where we draw speed, how much force we apply to it is the amount of speed we are going to get out of it. Elite-level sprinters can produce over 360 pounds of force per leg when moving at top speed. Good luck tip-toeing your way to those numbers. Force into the ground equals forward motion, this is because speed is a matter of force production and being agile is the ability to react, absorb and overcome inertia, therefore the ability to maintain strength and generate power is the real solution to generating more speed and creating better agility. Once an athlete has corrected any structural imbalances, increased relative strength and reactive/ballistic ability, then and only then is it acceptable to place emphasis on drills utilizing the ladder. However it is important to remember that no drill is a better substitute than having the athlete play their specific sport, as the ladder will never juke one way or try to cross you over.

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Difference Between Lactic Acid & Lactate

By Andrea Cespedes

You'll hear "lactic acid" and "lactate" used interchangeably by trainers, coaches and other sports experts. Colloquially, people assume you mean the same thing when you use either term, but they are technically different. Lactate is produced by your body in response to aerobic exercise and serves as a fuel for the muscles, delays fatigue and prevents injury. Lactic acid contains one additional proton and is not produced by the body at all during exercise.

One Proton

The technical difference between lactate and lactic acid is chemical. Lactate is lactic acid, missing one proton. To be an acid, a substance must be able to donate a hydrogen ion; when lactic acid donates its proton, it becomes its conjugate base, or lactate. When you're talking about body's lactate production and lactate or lactic acid threshold, the difference is largely a matter of semantics. But, the body produces and uses lactate -- not lactic acid.

What Is Lactate?

During hard exercise, from running a race to surfing the waves, your breathing rate increases to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles. Some exercises are so intense -- such as lifting a heavy dumbbell or swimming away from a shark -- that your body cannot use oxygen fast enough as a source to create fuel. For these quick, intense bursts of activity, your body needs to move into anaerobic mode -- during which the stored energy in your body is broken down into a compound called pyruvate.

When you don’t have enough oxygen to perform activity, your body turns pyruvate into lactate to fuel the muscles. Fit folk can utilize this form of energy production for one to three minutes.

High Levels of Lactate

As the muscles work at intense levels, they become more acidic, which interferes with firing. Lactate isn't the cause of this acidity; it's actually an antidote to this muscle failing. As your muscles lose power and energy, lactate swoops in to help counteract the depolarization of the cells. This is the familiar burn in the muscles you feel when you just can’t do another rep. Lactate production is a protective mechanism that prevents the body from hurting itself. When lactate production can't continue to the levels needed to prevent the complete failure of the muscles, you reach your threshold.

High levels of lactate -- or, as it is sometimes called, lactic acid -- were once blamed for delayed-onset muscle soreness. Lactic acid or lactate are not responsible for the soreness. Rather, researchers believe it is due to micro tears in the muscles that occur during strenuous exercise.

A Measure of Athletic Success

Lactate is essential to the exercising process. It helps bolster the mitochondria, energy powerhouses inside each of your muscle cells. Increase the number of mitochondria in your cells, and you'll improve your stamina and strength. High-intensity interval training in which you do short bouts of very strenuous exercise at or near your lactate threshold followed by recovery is especially effective in developing your lactate threshold. The better able you are to process lactate, the greater your ability to push high levels of performance.

About 75 percent of the lactate you produce during exercise is used as this moderating energy source; the other 25 percent leaks into the blood, which is how scientists test lactate levels during exercise. At one time, it was thought that high-level athletes produced less lactate; it's more likely that these athletes are better able to utilize the lactate they produce and leak less into the bloodstream, so their tests show lower amounts.

Chocolate Milk For Post-Workout: A Look at the Research

Over recent years, there has been a massive initiative to promote chocolate milk as “the best” drink for post-training recovery. Milk advertisers use very high level athletes as spokespersons to sell a product to people who are indeed active, but often very far from the training level of an Olympic athlete.

Nautilus Plus is participating to this initiative: “Whether you are a professional athlete or a weekend sports enthusiast, recover from your next training faster with the Ultimate Chocolate Milk®.”(1) Do we really need to fill ourselves with all this added sugar after our training?

One litre of chocolate milk contains up to 100 to 110 g of sugar!!! The quantity of sugar that the body can absorb is limited. In fact, the sugar will be stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen, which only represents 5 % of the body’s total energy reserves (2). If your objective is, as for the majority of people, to lose fat, you need to remember this: to allow yourself to consume a supplement rich in carbohydrates after your training, you will have to have emptied or seriously depleted your glycogen stores in order for the extra sugar absorbed to be used to renew your glycogen stores. And if you absorb more sugar than you need to renew your reserves, it will be transformed into fat (3).

Scientific studies

Many scientific studies have been done on sports nutrition supplements and some included chocolate milk. The purpose of these studies was to determine which mixture of molecules, and in what proportion, best promotes post-training recovery as well as athletic performance. Almost all these studies followed this particular protocol:

  1.  Study participants were subjected to intense exercise at 70 to 85% of their VO2 max during 1 to 3 hours. The purpose of this step was to considerably reduce the muscle and hepatic glycogen stores since 70 to 80% of the energy spent at 85% VO2 max is derived from glycogen. Under 65% of VO2 max, mostly fatty acids are used (4, 5).
  2. A recovery period between 4 and 8 hours followed to allow the participants to replenish their glycogen stores with the various sports nutrition supplements covered in the study.
  3. Participants were then subjected to a second high intensity exercise (VO2 max between 70 and 85%) until exhaustion (loss of 85 to 95% of their hepatic glycogen and 65 to 85 % of their muscle glycogen) (6). The difference in time or distance between the performances will determine which sports nutrition supplements helped the athlete the most to recuperate between the two sessions.

The role of these sports nutrition supplements is therefore to replenish as quickly and efficiently as possible the glycogen stores which were SIGNIFICANTLY depleted during the first training, in order to allow a second intense performance within 4 to 8 hours.

This situation is certainly frequent among Olympic athletes or athletes from the Tour de France who train several times per day or several days in a row at extreme intensities, but what about other people? Is chocolate milk a good supplement for “weekend athletes” or people who train leisurely, three of four times per week?

After your leisure strength training?

For a person who does resistance strength training, the glycogen stores will fall by 25 to 40 % after an intense strength training (7 to 12), which is relatively little. The glycogen stores lost during the training will be rebuilt through normal nutrition, WITHOUT ANY SUPPLEMENTS, within 24 hours of the training. However, some people consider it very important to MAXIMIZE the production of lean muscle mass. So the rapid intake of PROTEIN supplements after the training (within 1 hour if possible, up to 3 hours later) is important since it promotes maximum muscle synthesis(13 to 33). Recently, a research team questioned this principle claiming that it would be the total quantity of proteins ingested each day that would prevail over the moment at which they are ingested (34, 35). The same team also mentioned that if a “window” for taking a protein supplement and maximizing the production of lean muscle mass does exist, it would rather span over a 4 to 6 hour period following the strength training.

According to various recent studies, 20 to 25g of proteins would be the recommended amount to take after a resistance training (25, 33, 36). Witard et al., 2014 consider that 20 g of whey protein containing approximately 2 g of leucine optimally stimulates muscle synthesis (33). A litre of chocolate milk contains approximately 30g of proteins, including 80% of micellar casein and 20% of whey (37). Studies on post-training muscle synthesis clearly show the very poor efficiency of micellar casein for this purpose (26, 28, 38, 39, 40) because it precipitates in the stomach and the absorption of amino acids responsible for muscle synthesis is therefore very slow (26, 41, 42, 43). One argument that is often used by chocolate milk advocates is that milk (skim) is more efficient than soy protein or casein to promote muscle synthesis (23, 24). That’s true! It is actually the 20% of whey proteins contained in the milk that makes it efficient for muscle regeneration (26, 28, 40). What they don’t say is that purified whey protein (concentrate or isolate) is the best all around for lean muscle mass gain (26, 28, 40, 44, 45, 37) and, consequently, is better than milk. Whey protein is very rich in BCAA and is quickly absorbed by the intestine, as opposed to casein which is absorbed slowly. Therefore, why take a milk supplement if a whey protein shake is more efficient? Not only does chocolate milk contain large quantities of casein, but it can also contain saturated fat (if it’s full fat) as well as a large quantity of added simple sugars, on top of the lactose. So, is it useful to add all this sugar to the proteins (which are already not optimal) to maximize muscle synthesis after my resistance training?

Some studies show that carbohydrates (CHO) could inhibit muscle breakdown caused by training (10, 46, 47, 48, 49). A few groups claim that a carbohydrate/protein (CHO:PRO) supplement would facilitate a better muscle synthesis since it would inhibit muscle breakdown (15, 32, 46, 48, 50, 51). Nevertheless, some of these studies did not include a control group for the proteins (PRO) only. So it is difficult to evaluate whether adding CHO to PRO provides an advantage or not over PRO taken separately. As for the few studies that included a control group for the PRO, the quantity used was sub-optimal and was given in the form of amino acids (46, 48, 50). However, when a control group taking PRO optimally is included in the study, adding CHO to PRO did not show any advantage in terms of lean muscle mass gain (49, 52 to 57). CHO: PRO ratios used in the studies on resistance training varied between 1:1 and 3:1 whereas chocolate milk offers a ratio between 3:1 and 4:1. That is a lot of unnecessary sugar!

In turn, adding CHO to protein supplements can be necessary when several INTENSIVE resistance trainings are planned during the same day. In such a case, the athlete must quickly renew its glycogen stores (58, 59). To this end, 1g/kg of weight of CHO should be added to the proteins and consumed immediately after the training; moreover, a meal should follow 2 hours after the training (59, 60)So you must weigh at least 220 lbs and must train intensely more than once a day to allow yourself a litre of chocolate milk. Even then, you won’t achieve optimal results because of the casein, which constitutes 80% of the total proteins, and because of the 2:1:0.46 (glucose:fructose:galactose) ratio of the various sugars present in the chocolate milk (61).

The fructose contained in chocolate milk comes from high fructose corn syrup (which has a very bad reputation) and from sucrose (1 glucose +1 fructose). In 2004, Bray GA et al. suggested that the obesity epidemic in the United-States was related to the HFCS found everywhere and in large quantities in our nutrition (62). However, the new report published by The International Journal of Obesity, 2015 (63) suggests that this epidemic cannot be linked to HFCS due to the lack of evidence demonstrating that HFCS would be worse than table sugar (sucrose) (63, 64, 65). Yet, chocolate milk contains both of these additives. The fructose contained in almost equal quantities in both these additives could be linked to obesity (66, 67). Some scientists are reluctant to establish such a link (63, 64)A small quantity of fructose consumed every day, such as normal consumption of fruits, is harmless. Unfortunately, fructose is now added in almost all processed food. So it’s easy to exceed the healthy daily quantities of “natural” fructose. The body metabolises fructose differently from glucose. The liver metabolises 70% of the blood fructose (compared to 15 to 30% for the glucose) (38) and will leave the remaining 30% to the other tissues, namely the kidneys, the testicles, the fatty tissues, the brain and the skeletal muscle (69). So the muscles will absorb a negligible amount of fructose (68). A large consumption of fructose can contribute to the development of the metabolic syndrome, consisting in weight gain, increased resistance to insulin, hypertension, and elevated triglyceride in the blood stream (67, 69). High quantities of fructose are also associated to increased cholesterol, LDL particles and visceral obesity (69).

After an intense cardiovascular training, such as a marathon, when the glycogen stores in the liver are low, the fructose present in a sports nutrition supplement will be used to replenish the hepatic stores. Furthermore, for marathon runners performing at high intensities for a long period of time, the intake of fructose in the form of supplements DURING performance at a ratio of 2:1 (glucose/maltodextrin:fructose), offers a definite advantage because it allows faster absorption of sugars through the intestines since different transporters are used for these two sugars. The supplement would also improve gastro-intestinal comfort and would increase these athletes’ performance (70 to 76)If, however, the quantity of fructose consumed is higher than what is needed to replenish the hepatic stores, the surplus could potentially be converted into fat (66). So for people who do resistance training, consuming fructose is of no value. Conclusion? If you need CHO to perform well during your second strength training, you should add glucose/maltodextrin to your whey proteins, in order to avoid consuming fructose unnecessarily.

Finally, at the beginning of 2015, Stuart M. Phillips’ team established that drinking 500ml of chocolate milk every day (18g of proteins) as a supplement, while following a resistance program three times per week over a period of twelve weeks, has no effect on muscle hypertrophy or on strength gain compared to a control group taking no supplements (77).

What about after leisure endurance training?

Many active people do endurance training several times per week such as jogging, spinning, swimming, etc. for one hour. The extent of the muscle and hepatic glycogen loss will vary according to the effort expended. To consume glycogen as a primary source of energy, the level of effort intensity must reach 70% and must be maintained for an extended period of time (4, 5, 78). Laboratory experiments have shown that glycogen stores decline by 50 to 75% after 3 hours of cycling at 70% of VO2max (79, 80). By increasing the effort to 80% of VO2max, you can continue your activity for 2 hours before running out of glycogen. Another example is that the glycogen stores depletion of marathon runners occurs, for 40% of them, around the 34th kilometre, commonly called “the wall”, when they sustain an effort of approximately 80% of VO2max(81, 82, 83) during more than 2h30. Do you think you will be burning as much glycogen during your hour of spinning?

The glycogen stores lost during the training, even if this loss is significant, will be rebuilt through normal nutrition, WITHOUT ANY SUPPLEMENTS, within 24 hours of the training  (84,85). Moreover, the meal frequency will have no incidence if the post-exercise recovery happens over more than 24 hours (85, 86, 87). It is unnecessary for someone coming out of an hour of spinning or jogging to ingest all the added sugars contained in chocolate milk since the subsequent meals will contain sufficient carbohydrates (CHO) to replenish the poorly depleted glycogen stores. Therefore, the person will be ready for the next training a few days later.

Without being Olympic athletes, some people will train intensely and frequently during a week. In such case, the quantity of CHO these people consume every day must be adjusted, spread throughout their meals according to the frequency and intensity of their training. Burke et al. 2011 recommend to take a quantity of CHO every day, depending on the type of training performed (intensity and duration) to allow for a good glycogen resynthesis during the 24 hours following the training (88).

If the objectives of the person doing endurance training don’t include maximum muscular development, the muscle regeneration following an effort, namely the replenishment of glycogen stores, will occur normally with the proteins contained in the subsequent meal, when taken in sufficient quantity.

Supplements are necessary when training sessions are very intense and close together (a few hours) and require to quickly replenish the glycogen stores (in less than 24 hours).

What about high level athletes? (1.3% of the American population are athletes and of which 0.006% are professional athletes) (89).

Although chocolate milk is not intended for Olympic athletes, choosing such athletes as spokesperson to promote chocolate milk as a post-training supplement is almost an obligation; indeed, practically only these athletes could ultimately use chocolate milk as a sports nutrition supplement. Moreover, most studies carried out on the subject are done in a top level training context. But is chocolate milk, as alleged by the television commercials, a good choice for this 1% of the population ?

The purpose of a supplement is to promote fast recovery between two trainings done very close together, mainly by QUICKLY regenerating the glycogen stores. So the muscle glycogen resynthesis speed is important. It was established that this synthesis is faster when CHO are taken right after the training (90, 91, 92) and can be maintained during 6 hours with frequent intake of this supplement (69, 90, 93). Delaying the intake of CHO by 2 hours decreases the resynthesis speed by 50% (16,90). This is particularly important for a fast recovery but is unnecessary for recovery over 24 hours or more (87). OPTIMALLY, the quantity of CHO should be 1.0 to 1.2g/kg of weight/h (94, 95, 96), consumed at 15 to 30 min intervals (97). At this volume and frequency, CHO alone are sufficient to ensure an optimal glycogen synthesis. Sure! But chocolate milk doesn’t only contain CHO!

Is it useful to add proteins to CHO? (98)

To determine which supplement is the best one, we need to compare the different supplements. It is difficult to compare the studies that analyze the effect of adding proteins to a CHO supplement because several variables differ: 1) intensity (% of VO2max) and duration of the first exercise that aims at reducing the glycogen stores 2) choice of exercise (jogging or cycling) 3) various types of supplements consumed (isocaloric or not, as well as the chosen sugars and proteins) 4) control groups used (lack of placebo or other control groups) 5) carbohydrates:protein ratios (CHO:PRO) will vary between 2:1 (Berardi et al. 2006/2008) (99, 100) and 6.2:1 (Betts et al. 2005) (101) 6) duration and intensity of the second performance (% of VO2max).

Nonetheless, it’s possible to draw certain conclusions.

1: Importantly, the drinks studied must be isocaloric (must contain the same amount of calories) :

Some studies show a performance improvement post-recovery when proteins (PRO) are added to CHO versus a control group taking only CHO (102 to 105). However, the quantity of calories between the two drinks was not adjusted, so it wasn’t possible to determine if the performance improvement could be attributed to the addition of proteins or to the aaddition of energy.

2: It is important to compare the CHO+PRO supplement to a control group taking CHO optimally (1.0 to 1.2g/kg of weight/h) AND which is isocaloric:

Some studies show that the addition of proteins to the CHO supplement improves the second performance when compared to a control group taking a CHO only supplement. But this supplement was given sub-optimally during recovery (96, 102, 104, 106, 107). When the control group took the CHO supplement OPTIMALLY, the studies did not show any improvement in the second performance when proteins were added to the mix, even with variable ratios. (95, 96, 101 to 115, 116). A study showed, however, an advantage (100) (see the “Ratio” section).

So the athlete can chose between taking a mix of CHO + PRO, when it is impossible to optimally take a CHO supplement during recovery (1.2g/kg/h every 30 min during 3 to 4 hours) (94, 95, 96, 117). This indeed makes for a lot of CHO to ingest. But at which ratio must the athlete take its proteins?

3: Ratio

Advocates of chocolate milk allege that a ratio of 4:1 is best to support athletic recovery. This belief comes from one of the early studies done on the subject and which showed that a sports nutrition supplement, Endurox R4, containing 4:1 CHO: PRO offered a performance advantage when compared to a control group taking CHO, namely Gatorade (102). However, Endurox R4 contained two and a half times more CHO than Gatorade, in addition to the whey proteins, which gave it almost four times more calories than the Gatorade supplement consumed SUB-OPTIMALLY by the participants. It is obvious that in these conditions, Endurox R4 improved performance compared to Gatorade given the significant difference in CHO and energy consumed between the two drinks. Since the ratio used in this study was 4:1, which is the same as the chocolate milk ratio, the dairy industry took the opportunity to pretend it was the best ratio. Nonetheless, research continued and more recent studies show that ratios containing less sugar are as efficient, if not more, than a 4:1 ratio. Berardi et al. 2008 show an advantage on the second performance with the CHO: PRO mix at a ratio of 2:1 (CHO: 0.8kg/kg/hand PRO: 0.4kg/kg/h), over the control group taking the CHO supplement optimally (100, 117). So why add more sugar than necessary with a ratio of 4:1 if it offers no advantage?


Studies done on chocolate milk (McLellan TM et al. 2014 (98)) :

There are 5 major studies comparing chocolate milk to a few other sports drinks during a short term recovery between two performances. (118, 119, 120, 121, 122)

  • None of these 5 studies explained how the chocolate milk taste was reproduced for the control groups. If the athletes know which type of supplement they are given, it can certainly influence the results; in such a case, the study is no longer “blind”.
  • Some studies did not include a placebo or a sub-optimal CHO supplement for the control group (118, 122).
  • 4 studies on 5 did not administer the supplement optimally (118, 119, 120, 121). The fifth study did so for the first recovery hour only (122).
  • Pritchett et al. 2009 show that chocolate milk (3.8:1) offers no advantage for the second performance over Endurox R4 (3.8:1, isocaloric and same quantity of CHO) (118).
  • The other four studies indicated that chocolate milk presented an advantage for the second performance compared to the other drinks studied (119, 120, 121, 122). On the other hand, the studies also present other shortfalls:

For Karp et al. 2006 and Thomas et al. 2009, the glycogen stores reduction protocol was not standardized during the first training(119, 120). That means that the energy expenditure varies a lot from one person to another, even for each individual, from one training session to another. So some groups used more glycogen than others before starting the recovery phase. For Karp et al. 2006 for example, (similar to Thomas et al. 2009), the chocolate milk group (60.8 min) had trained 16% less than the CHO + PRO control group taking Endurox R4 (72.6 min), but equally to the Gatorade group (sub-optimal). These differences can explain the superior performance of the chocolate milk group during the second training. Furthermore, we must report that the study by Karp et al. 2006 was partly financed by the Dairy and Nutrition Council Inc (119).

In the study by Lunn et al. 2012, chocolate milk is compared to a control group taking CHO optimally during the first hour of recovery (122). Despite the fact that the regeneration of the glycogen stores was equal between the two groups, the performance of the chocolate milk group was superior to that of the CHO control group during the second performance (difference of a few seconds). However, the intensity of the second performance was at 100% VO2max and lasted a very short time (203 vs 250 sec). In these very high intensity and very short duration conditions, the more or less important level of muscle glycogen stores before the effort don’t seem to influence performance (123, 124, 125, 126), as opposed to a lower intensity and longer duration performance. So optimally replenishing the glycogen stores is probably not that important in this case. Even the authors admit that the type of test used and the inability to mask the taste of the chocolate milk may have influenced the results. The authors challenge this by emphasizing that the purpose of their study was to show that chocolate milk promotes a better muscle synthesis compared to CHO alone (122). Milk contains proteins whereas the CHO of the control group contained none. So it is not surprising that the results show that chocolate milk increases muscle synthesis. A control group also taking proteins would have certainly given results similar to the chocolate milk, and possibly even better results if whey protein would have been used.

 The study by Furguson-Stegall et al. 2011 compared a chocolate milk ratio smaller than 3:1 to an isocaloric CHO drink and to a placebo (water) (121). The drinks were given sub-optimally. The performance of the chocolate milk group was superior by a few minutes during the second training (40km of cycling) compared to the CHO control group. Nonetheless, the glycogen resynthesis was better with the CHO control group, a result that is slightly contradictory. This study was financed by a Chair established by The National Dairy Council, as well as The National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board.

Therefore, the contradictory results, the lack of control groups, the questionable protocols and the inability to obtain blinded studies, do not allow to claim without any doubt that chocolate milk is the best supplement compared to the other supplements studied. The number of serious studies on chocolate milk will have to be considerably larger. Furthermore, these studies will have to be done more independently (not financed by the dairy industry, for example) to achieve more conclusive results.

It should be noted that chocolate milk has not been compared to a supplement offering a ratio of 2:1 previously shown to offer better performances than a CHO supplement taken optimally by Berardi et al. 2008 (100). For comparison purposes, a 200lbs (90kg) man who ingests a supplement offering a ratio of 2:1 will consume 72g of CHO/h instead of 85g/h for a chocolate milk supplement taken optimally. So this represents approximately 40g less of added sugar consumed, during a 3 hour recovery, to achieve the same result, if not better.

The composition of the supplement used by Berardi et al. 2008 is also very different from that of chocolate milk; it contained 33% of maltodextrin, 33% of glucose and 33% of whey (100). So in addition to the ratio, the choice of nutrients is important.

4: CHO

Maltodextrin (MD) seems to be the ideal sugar for muscle glycogen resynthesis after an intense effort. Piehl-Aulin et al. 2000 have shown that a supplement containing very high molecular weight polyglucosides such as maltodextrin would be 25% more efficient for muscle glycogen synthesis than a low molecular weight glucose, maltose or oligomer supplement (127). This would be due to the faster absorption rate of sugars by the intestines, as well as an increased rate of gastric emptying. As seen previously, while the addition of fructose to MD (ratio 2:1, MD: FRU) represents a major advantage DURING a long performance (more than 2h30) such as a marathon(128), it seems that for the rapid muscle glycogen resynthesis between two performances, the addition of fructose or galactose to MD offers no advantage (129). Regarding sucrose (glucose: fructose), no advantage was observed concerning glycogen resynthesis when compared to glucose alone (69, 129, 130, 131, 132), nor during the second performance (129 to 131). Again, we notice that the fructose and galactose portion found in chocolate milk is not useful for the post-training recovery.

5: Proteins

As for strength training, the type of proteins added to the CHO as a post-training supplement is important. However, few studies compare the different types of proteins and their effects on the glycogen resynthesis speed during a short term recovery. Morifuji et al. 2010 have shown, in rats, that adding whey hydrolysate to CHO is more efficient for glycogen synthesis than the CHO control group, followed by non-hydrolysed whey and BCAA. Casein ranked dead last, having no significant effect on glycogen synthesis compared to the intake of glucose alone (133). A large proportion of studies on athletic recovery used hydrolysed or non-hydrolysed whey protein isolate as a source of proteins in their mixes. The advantage over the chocolate milk proteins (mainly consisting of casein) is that in addition to being absorbed faster, the whey protein allows a higher protein concentration mix while restricting the volume to be consumed. It is a non-negligible advantage for the athletes as well as for achieving ratios of 2:1, for example.


Milk contains 25g of lactose per 500ml. The capacity to break down lactose into glucose and galactose molecules depends on the presence of the lactase enzyme in the small intestine. “Normally” in humans, the presence or activity of lactase is very strong at the beginning of childhood and starts declining after the child is weaned until it almost disappears in adulthood. The person is then unable to digest lactose for the rest of his or her life (134, 135, 136). Between 65 and 70% of the world population is unable to digest lactose once they reach adulthood (137, 138). So only 30 to 35% of the population can actually digest lactose. Why? During the human evolution, four different mutations occurred, namely a major one that occurred in Europe, which kept the lactase gene active and thus allowing some Caucasians to digest lactose during all their life(137 to 139). These European Caucasians travelled, reached America and gave their descendants the possibility to also carry this mutation. Despite this, approximately 21% of North Americans who have problems digesting lactose are Caucasians (140). The ability to digest lactose is directly linked to the quantity of lactase produced by the intestine (134 to 136) and this quantity varies from one person to another. So some people have more difficulty than others to digest this sugar even though it may not be a true intolerance, rather an incomplete digestion that can sometimes be asymptomatic (140 to 143).

Making up 50% of the sugar contained in chocolate milk, we must seriously question the lactose digestion capacity to quickly regenerate the glycogen stores post-training, if we take into account the differences in the quantities of lactase present in the intestines of each individuals. It was shown that adding sugar (144, 145, 146, 147), fat (147) or chocolate (144, 145) in milk slows down the digestion process. This slowing down certainly promotes a better digestion of the lactose by the lactase present in various amounts, but does make digestion more efficient ? Since it can be very difficult for some people, around the world, to digest lactose, chocolate milk could only be used by a very small portion of athletes, which already represent a tiny portion of the population.

Who promotes chocolate milk?

Besides dairy producers in Quebec and Canada, many nutritionists promote chocolate milk as an ideal post-training supplement. The most relevant comment made to this effect by a nutritionist is the comment from Isabelle Charêt, coach and triple medallist in speed skating at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 winter Olympics (148). She says that chocolate milk would be a lot more useful to people who train intensively: “Someone who goes to the gym three times a week has plenty of time to recover. But I still recommend to drink chocolate milk because people in general don’t drink enough milk.” Ah! But that’s the issue! We have to drink milk!

I will not go into further detail on this subject, but very recently (2013), a team from Harvard University acknowledged publicly the need to decrease to less than two portions per day, or to stop all together, our milk consumption (149, 150). The powerful dairy industry lobby, which represents a third of Quebec’s agriculture and 5 billion dollars of Canadian GDP, imposed itself to maintain the dominant position dairy products hold in the Canadian food guide (151). Nonetheless, the following question remains: is it necessary to include chocolate milk in our diet? Many scientists seem to think that it’s not (149, 150, 151, 152).

Conscious of the extent of the damages caused by the overconsumption of added sugars to human health, how can we encourage the consumption of such sugars just to impose a supplement that is increasingly considered as unnecessary to our health?

Conclusion? If you enjoy a glass of chocolate milk once in a while, as a treat, it’s no big deal! But if milk commercials encourage you to drink one after each of your trainings, and you are not an Olympic athlete (and even then…), I hope you’ll think twice about it.

You know the saying: When it seems too good to be true…


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The Agility Training Fallacy

This video explains why foot turnover speed is impressive but has no transfer of training to agility. Here it is explained in depth so as to put an end to pointless ladder drills that are not making you a better athlete. Video courtesy of Sport Science Collective