We all read about athletes taking various drugs to help in their training, some of them legal, some of them not. I'm trying to bulk up in the gym; are there any legal substances I can take which will help my training but won't harm me?
Arran Smith, Doncaster
Most sporting organisations in the UK advise athletes not to take supplements, because there is no good evidence you need them to enhance performance or health if you consume a good, varied diet with enough carbohydrates. Of course, that is a big if, and many athletes find it difficult to manage the perfect diet. There is one non-banned substance that has been shown to have a real effect: creatine, which boosts the body's levels of creatine phosphate; any excess taken is merely excreted in the urine (which is why doctors joke about some athletes having expensive urine). Creatine will only help reduce fatigue in short sprints when these are done with less than a minutes' recovery between each sprint, and the effect only kicks in after five or more sprints. The long-term consequences of very large doses are as yet unknown, but fluid retention can be a problem in some athletes and there is some worry that muscle strains are more common among users, although this has not been proved by trials.
After exercising for a while, you're supposed to get your 'second wind'. Is there really any such thing? if so, what is actually happening in the body to bring about that sensation?
Alison Turnbull, by email
The first minute of hard exercise in any sport feels desperate as lactate levels rise and the body's systems all gear up to deal with the huge metabolic demand and waste products produced (such as lactate). Once the heart/lung system is functioning at 100 per cent, blood-flow through the exercising muscles is at maximum, body temperature has risen and blood has been diverted from non-essential areas such as the gut, a steady state is reached, and you naturally adjust your rate and power output to match. So from feeling you couldn't carry on for another second you suddenly feel you could carry on forever. This isn't true – but it feels like it is, and is called second wind.
You hear about football players, like David Beckham, 'pinging' the ball – hitting it long distances with a short stab. How do they do it and can it be taught?
Andrew Copper, by email
The "pinging" of a football is really a thing of natural ability and timing, similar to a crisply-hit golf or cricket shot. The trick is to keep everything as still as possible and, with a short backlift, drive through the football, hitting it with the top part of the foot. The power is generated by timing, which is predominantly a natural gift, and the acceleration of the foot through the ball – the quicker the acceleration, the more power generated. That is how players can kick the ball a long distance with seemingly little effort.
In this week's panel alongside Dr Richard Budgett, the medical director of the British Olympic Association, was Matt Holland, Republic of Ireland football international and captain of Ipswich Town.
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