It’s funny, I ran for twelve seasons in high school and part of one in college (dislocated collarbone, kthxbye), I’m a biological researcher and for some reason I still thought that muscle fatigue comes from muscles using up their oxygen and switching to an anaerobic process that builds up lactic acid. It was pretty much accepted knowledge in the early 90’s as far as I can remember. It turns out that we were completely wrong. Also about Kris Kross, but we don’t need to go starting any lists. The answer has nothing to do with lactic acid and everything to do with leaky muscle cell calcium channels.
Highly trained bicyclists rode stationary bikes at intense levels of exertion for three hours a day three days in a row. For comparison, other cyclists sat in the room but did not exercise.
Dr. Lehnart removed snips of thigh muscle from all the athletes after the third day and sent them to Columbia, where Dr. Marks’s group analyzed them without knowing which samples were from the exercisers and which were not.The results, Dr. Marks said, were clear. The calcium channels in the exercisers leaked. A few days later, the channels had repaired themselves. The athletes were back to normal.
The lead investigator , Dr. Andrew Marks, developed a drug that selectively blocks leaky calcium channels.
[Dr. Marks] and his colleagues looked at making mice exercise to exhaustion, swimming and then running on a treadmill. The calcium channels in their skeletal muscles became leaky, the investigators found. And when they gave the mice their experimental drug, the animals could run 10 to 20 percent longer.
The implications of this study are fairly obvious and a bit disturbing. Assuming that the drug doesn’t have any unexpected effect like making you pass out and drown in your own puke, a free 10-20% edge means an almost certain prize for any competitive endurance athlete not racing Lance Armstrong. Long term questions and possible complications could pose a problem for FDA approval, but top athletes aren’t known for attending to such minutiae.
In 1995 Olympic-caliber U.S. athletes were asked in a poll, “Would you take a drug that made you a champion, knowing that it would kill you in five years?” More than half said yes.
If human tests show any reasonable promise endurance athletes will break down doors for this stuff (they’ll be better equipped to do it than if Marks had invented, say, an uber-TV remote). Look for extra demand if “rycal” drugs turn out to have less of a social stigma than shriveled balls or drinking two and a half cartons of cardboard merlot.