Of all the performance-enhancing tools at our disposal, supplements and vitamins seem to reside in the greyest of grey areas. Testing them, as we have done with First Endurance’s MultiV multivitamin and Optygen HP supplement, is a big challenge. It’s not just that there are lots of conflicting studies, or that there’s little regulation in terms of safety or validity of claims, or that the results can take a long time to measure and are subject to so many variables that are nearly impossible to control. It’s that there is no consensus on the subject anywhere.
It’s easy to find an expert who wholeheartedly believes in supplements. Researching the ingredients First Endurance uses in MultiV and Optygen HP, we found that many of the seeming unique ingredients FE utilizes have been tested independently and do seem to do what FE advertises. And the testing that they cite on their website is done by outside labs. Their MultiV is similar to a standard multivitamin in some ingredients, but has some unique ingredients that were tested at an independent lab, and show real benefits. Same with the Optygen HP. You can read the MultiV research here and the Optygen HP research here.
Also, to First Endurance’s great credit, they work really hard to earn the public’s trust. They are doing the right things in terms of explaining their products and quantifying their value. Those documents cited above are thorough. They are rather specific in claims. They strive to answer questions directly and you can easily find them on the First Endurance site. Even small things, like why they use blue glass for the Optygen HP bottles. They make the following promise in regards to their products: ‘contains NO ingredients, which are explicitly listed under the banned substance list, nor are any of the ingredients related chemically or pharmacologically. First Endurance has also contacted the USADA and received verbal confirmation that our ingredients are not banned based on their regulations.’ They also include a certificate of analysis that shows every ingredient used. We’ve never seen this before with supplements. We wish all supplement companies would work this hard to explain their wares and justify their use.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to find equally-credentialed experts who are steadfast in the conviction that supplements, all supplements, don’t work. Here’s one. Harder still is that, as active people, it’s easy to have a bias that doing something is better than nothing. Media fails us, as eating a balanced diet is so old that it can never really be considered news. And the idea that a pill can change everything is evergreen.
If you step back and try to use logic, or what passes for logic, you’ll find yourself equally pressed for a definitive answer. On the one hand, as athletes, it makes sense that our bodies might get more depleted than the average sedentary individual, thus demonstrating a need to replenish with the addition extra stuff. At the same time, since we’re exercising more, we’re also consuming more food, which could mean we could be replenishing just fine. Even if you take the defensive approach, viewing these things as insurance, once your stores of most of the ingredients in vitamins are saturated, your body flushes the excess out in urine.
We found a skeptic of supplements who put together “”nine questions every athlete should ask before taking a supplement”. Going through the list, First Endurance products do well. And, based on this perspective, pass the preliminary test of whether or not MultiV and Optygen HP are worth trying.
Before getting into any test of either vitamins or supplements or both, it’s important to recognize that once you’ve been riding or training for a while, it is probably unreasonable to expect you’ll see incredible improvement over a short period of time as a result of any single factor. So any improvement that could come from vitamins or supplements or both is probably going to be small and only realized over a long time. But that small improvement can be real and make result in a big difference over the course of your riding or racing. Think about the times you’ve been dropped at the top of a hill or at the end of a ride, and how if you had a few more watts at that moment, the end result would have been very different.
At this point, we’re not expecting huge improvements from any single thing. Taking the right vitamins and supplements isn’t going to help us turn pro. But if we could recover a little quicker and train a little harder, we’d probably ride a little faster, and that probably would lead to us feeling a bit better about our riding, and maybe that faster riding would show up in race results.
Testing MultiV and Optygen HP in the spring made sense to us, as we’ve been at this long enough to realize our own rhythms, and know that this is the time of year when we’re prone to overdo our training. Winter is typically a fairly easy time to control variables and really dial in training. The start of the racing season is also typically fairly easy to control. But once April rolls around, and bigger, longer, harder races are on the calendar, racing takes a bigger toll and balancing racing and training becomes more difficult for us. Some years, we get the balance right and race well into May, other years we don’t and our form starts to crumble by then.
Our preference was to test them separately, see how each worked, or not, on their own, but time was a factor. We asked the people at First Endurance for the best protocols for taking their products. Here is their response:
Option #1: During a hard training block that is at least 2-3 months long, add in OptygenHP (4 capsules daily) in the middle of this training block. Pay attention to your physical and mental state by reviewing sleep patterns, soreness, HR (at rest and at efforts), performance, watts…etc. If you are training very hard, you should find these all to improve after about one week on the product.
Take two weeks with no supplements.
Start MultiV (3 tablets daily) for the latter half of your training block and again pay attention to your physical and mental state.
Option #2: (more practical): During a hard training block that is at least 2-3 months long, add in OptygenHP (4 capsules daily) and MultiV (3 tablets daily) in the middle of this training block. Pay attention to your physical and mental state by reviewing sleep patterns, soreness, HR (at rest and at efforts), performance, watts…etc. If you are training very hard, you should find these all to improve after about one week on the product. With the addition of MultiV you can test Iron levels and oxidative stress via lab tests as well and see that these improve.
The bottom line is that with very hard training you will wear yourself down to a point where your immune function is suppressed, your cortisol is elevated and hence your testosterone is also suppressed. This leads to worsening performance and training. Keeping these systems healthy allows athletes to keep training hard and keep improving from the hard training. OptygenHP and MultiV is a good start. Both OptygenHP and MultiV can be taken with the same meal. This can be your morning breakfast or your post exercise meal.
Due to time considerations, we went with option two, and only over a month. We started as we were coming into one of our first ‘important’ races of the year. The idea was to go well with that race and then build to another big race a month later. We trained well; the race seemed easy. Easy that is, until we broke four ribs in a crash. All our planning went out the window. We briefly stopped taking the stuff and started again a week later, when we resumed riding. Training wasn’t hard, but our body was certainly working hard on healing. With three weeks of no hard efforts, we tried a threshold test and our threshold had gone down by about 20 watts. Raced a few days later: while the hills were a bit of a shock, hanging on, and even attacking wasn’t a problem. We closed our supplement test period with a Gran Fondo. We certainly didn’t feel prepared, though our ribs weren’t hurting any longer. We still saw a reduction in our threshold and VO2 max power (down about 20 watts as well), and we faded faster than we expected. And it took two days to recover from the ride, not the one day we hoped for.