Toronto Star Newspaper – August 2012. Perched atop the TD Waterhouse Tower, the Clinic for Sports Medicine at the Toronto Athletic Club (TAC) has a commanding view of the city. But the masters of the universe being treated here must be immune to such thrills. They are as consumed by their smart phones as any pack of teens at a bus stop.
“These guys don’t have an hour to waste,” says Marc Bubbs, a naturopathic doctor specializing in sports Medicine. The TAC clinic is just one of the locations where he offers assistance to the city’s elite executive athletes: “Type A, successful business people work hard and play just as hard. They can afford to take their athletic training to the next level, they want quantifiable results. This treatment takes an hour, and they have to be able to work through it. And believe me, they do cost-benefit analysis on everything.”
The treatment in question is an intravenous, supposedly performance-enhancing weekly dose of customized vitamins, minerals, amino acids and carbs, designed to help athletes recover faster in intense training periods, and to ward off illness before a race, when heavy training can deplete the immune system.
(As we are in the middle of the Olympics, it is important to clarify that almost all “intravenous infusions” are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. But pro athletes are allowed to hook up to the occasional bag of vitamins — Bubbs’ roster includes team sport athletes, as well as executive ironmen, triathletes and endurance cyclists, who can easily afford $100 per session for what’s supposed to be a competitive edge.)
While intravenous vitamin therapies are used in naturopathic practices and are popular in alternative cancer clinics, their use for athletic pursuits is relatively new, says Bubbs. He has been offering the service for about a year now, and has treated some 60 people.
One of them is Jason Greenlees, who used it to train for his fifth ironman, held last month in Germany. The 42-year-old portfolio manager and vice-president at RBC Dominion Securities keeps just as close an eye on his training numbers as his stocks. “I’m a data junkie,” he says. “I study my data on my workouts longer than my workout itself. I train three weeks hard, one week easy. Hard means 20 hours a week, a six-hour ride one day, a three-hour run the next. Before I started to do the IV treatment, my power numbers (watts burned on the bike, for instance) would go into a funk through the intense periods. The IV makes me recover faster and I can keep putting up higher power numbers consistently. You can see the cold, hard results on paper. And you feel them.”
The fitter you are, the bigger your veins and the faster you can suck down a vitamin bag. It takes Greenlees about 45 minutes, and yes, he does work through the treatment. “Sit and veg? That is not something I normally do,” he says.
Blair Larsen, the personal training director at the Adelaide Club, a sister club to TAC, is new to the IV treatments, and wanted to experience them so he could inform his clients about the treatment. He recounts the story of getting sick before a race, because, he is convinced, his immune system was overtaxed. He found IV vitamins “a great immune boost. It nipped it right in the bud. I’m certain it lessened the severity of the flu.”
To determine what goes into a patient’s bag, Bubbs uses cortisol testing, which costs about $230 a pop. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland to regulate blood sugar and aid in the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates. It can be elevated with stress and affects the immune system. So Bubbs has his clients spit into a tube at four set times of the day to determine how their bodies’ cortisol levels are presenting. “You want to see where the levels are, and then we determine what supplements, dietary changes are necessary to maximize the body’s efficiency. If you have chronically high cortisol, you will have poor performance.”
A basic IV vitamin bag contains magnesium and amino acids for muscle recovery; carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores; zinc for testosterone function; selenium for thyroid function; vitamin C for the immune system; and of course the B complex, renowned as nature’s energy booster. (In fact, the last time IV therapies were in the news, it was for Dr. Feelgood-style B shots.) Based on the cortisol and patient intake results, Bubbs tailors the ingredients specifically for his client. He will also do further testing of specific vitamin and mineral levels for some clients; this process can run into the $800 zone and is reportedly popular with pro footballers, who need optimum strength and speed.
“The great thing about executives,” says Bubbs of his TAC clientele, “is that they are very compliant. They want to know exactly what to do, and they follow it exactly. They are driven, and they will pay for results.”
Another fan of the IV training protocol is Diane Stibbard, who started it to help with a digestive ailment. (When delivery of nutrients is impaired by digestive malfunction, IV is often used by naturopaths to try to replenish them.) After starting the program, Stibbard noticed how much her recovery time was improved following hard workouts. “My energy levels maintain pace,” she says. A trainer herself, Stibbard does interval lactate threshold workouts “at threshold and above.”
Everyone doesn’t feel a rush from the experience, but Stibbard says she feels “elevated and zapped up. And in terms of training and recovery, I can keep up higher levels of intensity longer.”
She did the IV treatment once a week for a year, but has now cut back to every two or three weeks, depending on the phase of training she is in. “It is not cheap, but my health and keeping in top shape is a priority for me.”
Toronto Star Newspaper August 7th, 2012
Written by Leanne Delap