It is summer again, the Tour de France is in progress, and so the thoughts of Maine athletes naturally turn to performance enhancing drugs.

Though the tour remains one of the top sporting events in the world, in many people’s minds it is linked with drugs.

You don’t have to be a pro cyclist to be interested in improving your performance. Most of the performance-enhancing drugs (PED) we hear about in the news are illegal and can be dangerous. But there are safe and effective PED that athletes can use to boost performances.

Many athletes pay too little attention to hydration. They may drink during a race but may not make hydration a part of their pre-event routine. While over- hydrating is potentially deadly, dehydration also can hamper performances.

Athletes who are even 3 to 5 percent dehydrated have more fatigue and perceive workouts to be more difficult.

The best approach is to aim for a balance. Go into an event well-hydrated and then don’t focus inordinately on pushing fluids while you race. Develop a preworkout hydration plan.

Athletes also can improve their performance by changing what they eat. Mark, a patient who has been running marathons for years, had been doing a traditional carbohydrate load before racing. He would go out to dinner the night before the race and order the largest pasta dish on the menu.

Mark and I talked about his approach in the office before his latest marathon this spring in San Diego. Like many marathoners, Mark had been told the wrong way to carbo load. That giant plate of pasta the day before the race isn’t actually metabolized into anything your body can use. Instead it sits in your belly, slowing you down.

This year, Mark did a state-of-the-art carbo load. Instead of eating differently, he changed his training. He tapered his running workouts the week before the race and kept his intake of carbohydrates high. His body continued to process and store the carbohydrates but didn’t use them up in his workouts.

Instead, those carbs were ready for Mark to process on race day on his way to a personal-record marathon time.

One of the most studied of performance-enhancing drugs is caffeine. Julia, a local age-group triathlete, has been using caffeine before races for years. She cuts down on caffeine before the race season so her prerace dose is more effective. Then on race day she has coffee about an hour before the start. Julia feels faster and more successful racing with the help of caffeine.

She’s probably right. Studies show that caffeine improves aerobic performance and endurance. Even athletes who play field sports may benefit from its effect on concentration. It’s not dehydrating when taken regularly. And caffeine is safe, legal and widely available.

Like anything, too much caffeine is probably a bad idea. Researchers at the Army’s environmental research center determined the optimal dose of caffeine is about 200 milligrams, about the same as two cups of coffee.

At 400 milligrams, people began to feel sick and jittery, and perform more poorly in athletic tasks.

Other stimulants, including pseudoephedrine and ritalin, have been shown to be neither effective nor safe. So stick to caffeine in sports gels, soft drinks or coffee.

With these tips, Maine athletes can get the most out of their workouts and enjoy an extra boost on race day. But remember, make sure to experiment with these approaches in training first so you know how they’re going to affect you.

 

Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the Portland Pirates and the U.S. Ski Team.