Ask Omegawave: Energy Supply Systems Part II—Practical Interventions

“Ask Omegawave” is an educational series during which we will be engaging in informal Q&A sessions with members of Omegawave’s science team, including Co-founder Val Nasedkin and our Senior Research Scientist Roman Fomin. Following up on the concepts introduced in Ask Omegawave: Energy Supply Systems & The Pump, this post aims to move from the physiological foundations of our Energy Supply parameters to applying those measures in a practical setting.

 Question: If an athlete’s MRI measurements are stuck in a low range or are trending down in a chronic pattern (meaning their aerobic and anaerobic energy supply systems are not working together efficiently), what corresponding deficiencies is a coach likely to see with that athlete in terms of their training and performance.

Val Nasedkin: We should talk not about performance per se, but we should talk about the biological cost the athlete must pay for that performance. So, if the efficiency is very low, and the cardiac system is not properly developed, even though they can still show sport-specific exertion—like velocity and maybe even endurance—the problem with low parameters is the fact that they will pay a much higher price than they personally would pay otherwise. And I say personally because we shouldn’t compare these numbers, one athlete to another. What it means—if we take DC Potential or HRV, for example—people who have much lower parameters of MRI might have a higher negative response in HRV and DC Potential to high volume, high intensity work. Once again, everything we discuss here, even though a graph shows just MRI or just aerobic, we have to remember from the get-go that all of these parameters work together with all the other parameters. We should never look at MRI or the aerobic index completely on it’s own, outside the behavior of other parameters. So, I will repeat myself, because that’s an important message—people who have showed low MRI parameters, even though they can show the same velocities or the same endurance as somebody else, compared to themselves, they will pay a lot higher biological cost for the same type of activity than they would if they had higher parameters of MRI.

Q: Jumping off of that idea, since no index should be looked at in isolation, if an athlete’s DC Potential scores are high and in the green, and their cardiac scores are high and in the green, but their MRI or energy supply systems seem to be lower than what has been their norm, should that be a cause for concern and what might that situation indicate?

VN: As I said, the biological cost of the physical activity will increase. So if I see this type of behavior of MRI—even though DC Potential and HRV are in the normal state—as a coach I definitely should, at least temporarily, eliminate the activities that are significantly above anaerobic threshold. Because that anaerobic metabolism will continue to push those parameters down.

Q: On the bottom end of the scale, if an athlete is routinely scoring with a 1 or 2 on their Energy Supply System (ESS) Readiness (assuming they are not powerlifters, etc), what methods should the coach apply to improve those index scores?

VN: Once again, a lot of it is individual—these parameters can reflect not only their physiological state, but also certain morphological adaptations. Having a higher body fat percentage can effect these parameters, simply from the effect it has on the signal when you take the ECG. Different types of cardiac hypertrophy will effect these parameters. So, when we talk about low energy supply systems, what type of activities do they need to do to improve those indexes? There is no one type of activity that will do this. First of all, they need to choose sport-specific activities. But, these sport-specific types of activities have to lead to particular biological adaptations that will later translate into higher energy parameters. Those adaptations can be multiple—they can be morphological, or physiological. For example, activities that lead to sport-specific cardiac hypertrophy, especially eccentric type, will improve these parameters. Activities that increase the oxidative capacities of skeletal muscle will lead to an increase in these parameters. Activities that increase the oxidative capacities of the myocardium and diaphragm will lead to improvements in these parameters. Increasing capillarization will improve these parameters. There is no one type of exercise that can produce all of these adaptations—therefore, to improve these parameters, it has to be a comprehensive approach that targets all of these adaptations. And it’s better if they achieve it through types of exercise that have a direct translation into their sport. For example, these adaptations that I mentioned can be achieved through running long distances, or running sprints. Or doing weight lifting. The question is: how are they applied? At which volumes and which intensities and which rest and under what rules.

We should concentrate not on [specific] exercises—they can be any exercises—it’s the rules, how these exercises are applied that are important. The exercises have to produce the adaptions I mentioned in the cardiac system and the muscular system. And if all of those adaptations are produced, then you will see an increase in energy supply parameters.

Q: Is there a way for the coach to determine if poor ESS scores are the result of an excess of certain types of training or if those scores are instead the result of a lack of certain types of training?

VN: The easiest way for a coach to realize that would be to have a good idea of what the athlete was doing—in other words, the scores have to be analyzed not from just one assessment, but rather through a pattern over time. Knowing who the athletes are, what they’ve gone through, what type of training they’ve done prior to the assessments, and then monitoring how the assessments change over time will determine if they are doing too much or too little. Of course, a better educated coach could—to some degree—figure that out from analyzing the patterns of the ECG. For example, an athlete who has a negative “S” segment [in the QRS complex of the ECG], will more likely—not always, but more likely—these low energy adaptations are more likely to have been produced from too high a volume of work. A chronic negative S-segment also indicates that they have certain types of hypertrophy… [Behavior of the S-waves] is only one example—there are many other patterns of the ECG that can be observed to see if athletes are struggling with either too high a volume or too high an intensity of work.

Q: What nutritional methods are most likely to impact an athlete’s energy supply systems?

 VN: Dietary supplementation of course can effect MRI, but I want to reinforce that the first and primary effect on these parameters is produced by proper training. Supplementation is only a secondary, support means to effect these numbers. The basic rules of nutrition should be the foundation, people have to have a proper amount of carbohydrates, a proper amount of proteins, a proper amount of fats—and those combinations have to be adjusted based on the type of activities these people are doing. So the workouts that require more proteins as a substrate for energy should be followed by a diet richer in protein. Exercises that require more glycogen and such for energy production should be followed by dietary supplementation with carbohydrates or glucose, and so on. The basic rules have to be obeyed. Now, what we’ve observed, quite often is that MRI is especially sensitive to carbohydrate load. We have some athletes and regular individuals who have tried to cut carbohydrates down, and we observed that yes, the system is very sensitive to a reduction in carbohydrates in some individuals. Or, in general, an insufficient amount of calories—regardless of what source the calories are coming from. We have seen some people who are on diets where twice a week they will decrease their calorie intake down to, let’s say, six to eight hundred calories. That’s a couple times a week. Very quick, the first indicator of the changes in their physiology can be observed not in HRV, not in DC Potential, but rather a significant shift in their energy supply parameters.

A one day decrease of calories does not effect HRV or DC Potential—but it does quite often effect our energy parameters, and that’s important to take into consideration when you train somebody. Let’s say that the reason the energy systems decreased was because of insufficient supplementation—then, putting someone under a hard training regime (even though HRV and DC Potential are fine at this stage), if they have a lack of caloric intake, this can produce a negative training effect.

Q: Given that training is the factor that will have the most profound impact on ESS indexes—though nutrition can cause acute changes in the scores—are certain types of training likely to have a significant, acute impact on ESS indexes, or is the relationship likely to be seen only gradually, over time?

VN: MRI in particular came from understanding the limitations of our aerobic and anaerobic indices. When I was heavily involved in European football and we had multiple teams that we were working with and consulting for, what I observed was that even though the aerobic and anaerobic parameters were great indicators of short-term compensatory responses, they rarely change over time. For example, if I take the data of 2-3 years of youth development, these parameters were fluctuating in response to training, but they rarely change over a long period of time. But, the fitness level of the athletes is of course changing—especially with young people that go into academy training. We could validate that through field tests. We did aerobic field tests, we did anaerobic field tests, we did anaerobic lactic and anaerobic alactic tests, and during the 2-3 years we were following these youth players, their performance abilities increased significantly, across the board. In all energy demand situations. But their aerobic and anaerobic indexes stayed the same—it would fluctuate in the short term, in response to training, but not in the long term as an indicator of overall development. So, at that time, we thought okay, let’s look at the ECG parameters and look at the longitudinal data and see if any of the ECG parameters also show changes corresponding to the physical changes we observed over this long period of time. And we found segments of the ECG showed a strong relationship to those changes—longitudinal changes over these 2-3 years of training. These changes are what we call MRI.

Even though aerobic and anaerobic indices are better for the evaluation of short-term changes, like supercompensatory curves—in response to a single bout of exertion or maybe a weekly microcycle of training—MRI is much better at representing long-term changes and they should be looked upon from that standpoint. The changes of MRI from day-to-day mean a lot less than the changes of MRI over longer periods of time. And obviously, to change MRI from very low to very high will also take a much longer period of time, because it requires the individual to create all those adaptations that I mentioned previously. And those adaptations cannot be achieved within a couple days, right? Because it takes time for morphological changes, it takes time for long-term physiological changes. So people should not expect to change MRI rapidly. It will take time, and it will only change if the proper type of training is applied that will produce the adaptations we discussed in the myocardium and skeletal muscle.

Q: If parameters are meant to be looked at in combination rather than isolation, what correlations should coaches expect to see between the Energy Supply indexes and other measures (for example: a “green” window for Endurance + high aerobic Readiness, or “green” CNS Readiness + a “green” window for Speed & Power + high anaerobic Readiness)?

VN: First of all, we have to remember that each individual is unique. In some people these relationships [between parameters] will be strong, in some people these relations will be weaker. Why? Because even though we are looking at a combination of things, there are so many other parameters of this individual that we at Omegawave don’t measure at all. And those can also determine how interrelationships between our parameters will work. There is a rule of thumb, and there is the specificity of individuals. The rule of thumb—that can be applied to all people—states that for the parameters we measure, we have norms, and at least a coach should keep their athletes within those norms. In some cases, higher is better, and in some cases higher is not better. That’s why we have those norms. Now, having said that, there will also be individual parameters for these people. For example, someone who has very low MRI, but they manage to compensate for that by super-development of other components of their physiology, might have less decline in performance than someone who has low MRI but does not have the same compensatory adaptation. But in general, as a rule of thumb, ideally if we look at single individuals, it’s always the case, that the higher in the norms you are for our parameters, the more likely you have a better adaptation to sports training and ability to show your sports potential.

Q: Looking at an even more specific hypothetical example, if an athlete’s anaerobic Readiness is trending upward, but the athlete’s Speed & Power window is mostly or fully closed, what should the coach consider doing?

VN: First of all we need to understand that the Speed & Power window is based on a combination of cardiac function and brain function. Regardless of where the anaerobic parameter is trending—which is also defined from changes in the ECG—the fact is, the athlete’s ability to develop these particular qualities on this particular day are significantly limited, so they should not be doing it. If the Window is shut down for Speed & Power, I would decrease the intensity of training below 90%. It doesn’t mean they can’t do explosive activities—but the velocity of those explosive activities has to be below 90% of their maximum. Because speed and power can only be developed when the intensity of the exercise performed is above 95%. Real speed and power can be developed when you exercise with maximum velocity of about 95-98-100% of your maximum capacity. But, if you are a sprinter, and your Speed & Power Window is closed, it doesn’t mean you can’t do sprints. You can do endurance sprints where your velocity will be limited to below 95% of your maximum. In which case you’re not really developing speed and power components—you are still doing sprints, but you might be developing some sprint endurance instead.

In terms of application, the Windows of Trainability will always be the most important parameter. The window will determine if you can or cannot do certain types of development—it will always be most important to look at that, regardless of the patterns in another individual index.