Performance enhancing placebos?

Glasgow study indicates that merely thinking that you have doped may speed you up

To what extent is cycling performance influenced by the mind? Researchers at the University of Glasgow have found that race times can be improved purely by the belief that one has used performance enhancing drugs.

The study looked at the effects of an injected placebo on endurance running performance. 15 club-level runners were told that they were being given a new performance enhancing drug called OxyRBX which was said to improve oxygen delivery to the muscles in a similar way to recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEPO). However, OxyRBX was in fact fictional and all they were being given was a placebo.

The runners, who all had personal best times over 10km of 39.3 minutes on average, injected the saline placebo themselves for seven days and 3km running performances were then assessed. Improvements over this period were an average of 1.2% greater than those seen following a seven-day control period.

Dr Jason Gill of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said:

“The change in performance was of clear sporting relevance, albeit smaller than the improvement that would be produced by r-HuEPO. The placebo may work by reducing perception of effort and increasing potential motivation in line with a psychological expectation of performance.”

This is far from being the first study to examine the extent to which athletic performance is a case of mind over matter. Apparently performance-enhancing drugs can also be taken aurally.

Last year, a Taiwanese study asked students to perform a 12-minute cycling task on four separate occasions – while listening to music, while watching video, with both music and video and without either. The second part of the study then involved participants performing a running task while listening to different sorts of music.

In this case, it was found that listening to music – and in particular preferred music – increases physical performance and reduces perceived effort.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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