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- by Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP
Ephedra Plus Caffeine In Athletic Performance
Ma huang (ephedra) is banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well as the herb’s alkaloids, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Studies with young athletes show that the combination of caffeine (375 mg) plus ephedrine (75 mg) increases energy during high-intensity, aerobic-exercise performance. Note that caffeine is also banned by the IOC, at urinary levels at or above 12 mg/ml. (1,2)
Ephedra acts as an ergogenic aid by directly stimulating the central nervous system and by increasing the release of free fatty acids from fat cells. Its direct stimulatory action on the central nervous system enables athletes to recruit a greater number of muscle fibers into the process of muscle contraction, boosting the maximum output of muscle force. In regards to free fatty acids, ephedra stimulates the beta- adrenergic receptors on fat cells, which like adrenaline, increase the concentrations of cyclic AMP within fat cells, and thereby stimulates the action of hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). In turn, HSL hydrolyzes triglycerides within fat cells, permitting free fatty acids and glycerol to diffuse into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream free fatty acids combine with the protein carrier albumin, and circulate to the exercising muscle, which extract free fatty acids from the bloodstream and use them in their aerobic energy pathway (beta-oxidation to acetyl CoA, leading to oxidative phosphorylation) to synthesize ATP energy for muscle contraction. Thus, ephedra, like caffeine and the herb coleus forskohlii, can release free fatty acids into the circulation before exercise begins, providing an immediate fuel for aerobic metabolism and thereby slowing the depletion of muscle glycogen. As the muscle glycogen depletion is a rate-determining factor in regards to how long an aerobic activity can be maintained at an optimal pace, any intervention that slows muscle glycogen depletion gives an athlete an advantage in many endurance events.
Therefore, ephedra is an ergogenic aid for both high intensity, explosive events (via CNS stimulation) and endurance events (via the slowing of glycogen depletion). These effects can be further enhanced by combining ephedra with caffeine, at the above stated doses. (3-14)
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Ephedra Plus Caffeine In Athletic Performance
Dr. James Meschino,
DC, MS, ROHP
1. Bell DG, Jacobs I, Zamecnik J. Effects of caffeine, ephedrine and their combination on time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1998; 77: 427-433.
2. Bell DG, Jacobs I, McLennan TM, Zamecnik J. Reducing the dose of combines caffeine and ephedrine preserves the ergogenic effect. Aviat Space Environ Med 2000; 71: 415-419.
3. Powers ME. Ephedra and its application to sport performance: another concern for the athletic trainer? J Athletic Train 2001; 36(4): 420-424.
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8. Toubro S, Astrup A, Breum L, Quaade F. The acute and chronic effects of ephedrine/caffeine mixtures on energy expenditure and glucose metabolism in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1993; 17(Suppl 3): 73-77.
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10. Swain RA, Harsha DM, Baenziger J, Saywell RM Jr. Do pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine improve maximum oxygen uptake and time to exhaustion? Clin J Sport Med 1997; 7: 168-173.
11. Bell DG, Jacobs I, McLennan TM, Zamecnik J. Reducing the dose of combines caffeine and ephedrine preserves the ergogenic effect. Aviat Space Environ Med 2000; 71: 415-419.
12. Clemons JM, Crosby SL. Cardiopulmonary and subjective effects of a 60 mg dose of pseudoephedrine on graded treadmill exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1993; 33: 405-412.
13. Bell DG, Jacobs I. Combined caffeine and ephedrine ingestion improves run times of Canadian Forces Warrior Test. Aviat Space Environ Med 1999; 70: 325-329.
14. Perrotta DM. Adverse events associated with ephedrine-containing products:Texas, December 1993-September 1995. JAMA 1996; 276: 1711-1712.
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