Sports Science Monthly – April 2019

Every month we take a deep dive into the latest research in sports science. In the April Sports Science Monthly we start off by looking at a new framework for evaluating research. Then we focus on new findings about specific topics like gluten free diets for athletes, the role of testosterone in female performance, sports nutrition, the speed gene, and more. Read more

Predicting sprint performance through data modeling

One of the “Holy Grails” in sport is the ability to predict, with accuracy, whether someone has the potential to become an elite athlete or not. I’ve covered this in previous articles and papers in terms of genetics, discussing whether we can test for it or not and how we might think of talent in terms of the ability to respond to training. However, at present, predicting future performance remains very difficult. But we keep trying and a recent paper in Biology of Sport took a novel approach to trying to predict sprint performance. The researchers recruited 104 Croatian sprinters and collected a wide variety of data points relating to anthropometric, genetic, and psychological traits to create a rich data set for analysis. Read more

Are there non-responders to caffeine?

Caffeine is one of the most performance enhancing drugs available to athletes, with research demonstrating that it has ergogenic effects on a range of exercise types, including aerobic endurance, strength, and repeated anaerobic activities. Athletes are of course aware of this, and research tends to suggest that around three-quarters of athletes utilise caffeine either immediately before or during competitions. But new research indicates that the effects are not as general as you may think, and could have no effect or even harm performances for some athletes. Read more

Measuring caffeine consumption is harder than you think

Caffeine is a well-established performance enhancer; this is no secret, with many athletes using it to improve their performance. Non-athletes know this too, which is why almost 80% of the world’s population consume caffeine on a daily basis. As a result, caffeine is ubiquitous, and we are exposed to it in a number of different ways; primarily through hot drinks (such as tea or coffee), but also through foods (like dark chocolate) and medicines (many extra strength cold and flu or pain medicines contain caffeine). Read more

How relevant is sports science research for elite athletes?

Elite athletes are different from normal humans. That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to those of us involved in sport, especially if we’ve spent time around such athletes and seen their advantages close up. In my time as an athlete, I saw some very impressive feats from some highly talented athletes – huge single leg box jumps, massive lifts in the gym, and, in one case, someone doing 40 pull-ups in under 40 seconds. As the influence of science within sport grows, coaches and support staff are spending more time reading research papers, and using the information contained within to guide their practice. However, there is a potential issue within such practice that doesn’t always get the consideration it perhaps deserves: most of these studies aren’t carried out on elite athletes. Read more

Correlations don’t prove causation, but we can still learn from them

If you ever take a statistics course, one of the first things you will learn is that correlation does not imply causation. It is one of the main tenants of science and if you wonder why that is the case, just think through some examples like the perfect correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks per month, or other great examples from the Spurious Correlations website. Simply put, just because two things coincide, doesn’t mean that one caused the other and, even if there is a causal link, which direction it is heading. Read more

GAINcast Episode 104: Polarized training (with Stephen Seiler)

Since the turn of the century perhaps no researcher has been more influential in the endurance world than Stephen Seiler. His study of polarized training methods has framed a new discussion on training intensities thanks to an innovative research approach that started by looking at what elite athletes actually do. On this week’s podcast Seiler joins us to dissect his past research, discuss future projects, and more. Read more

Finally, some good news in the fight against doping

Sport has a doping crisis. It has been tainted with drugs scandals for as long as I can remember, from Ben Johnson being stripped of the 100m Olympic Gold in 1988, to the more recent issues surrounding more or less the whole of Russia in the lead up to the Olympics. Among the way, we have mini-scandals – Mo Farah’s doorbell, Alberto Salazar’s cream, British Cycling’s package in a brown bag – which, whilst not direct evidence of wrong doing, further erode public confidence in the cleanliness of sport. Read more

Skeletal muscle has an epigenetic memory . . . so what?

The term epigenetics is becoming increasingly popular, not just in scientific papers, but also in the lay press. The word itself applies to a fairly complex process through which genetic expression is governed, and as such it is frequently mis-understood. I’ve previously explored what epigenetic modifications are, and what they might mean for sport, but a recent paper in this field has got the internet buzzing. Read more

A new paradigm for talent

Think over all the talent identification processes you’ve either witnessed or been involved in over the years. Typically, they tend to be comprised of some sort of test; usually physical, but they can be augmented with psychological and anthropometric measures. For example, when I was 14 I was invited to a Talent Identification day where I was put through a number of different tasks; standing long jump, 30m sprint, endurance run, seated medicine ball throw. I didn’t score particularly well in any of those tests, apart from the 30m sprint, where I was in the top 1% of all scores ever recorded. It was recommended that I take up sprinting. Read more