Brain Endurance Training Improves Physical, Cognitive, and Multitasking Performance in Professional Football Players

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Walter Staiano Department of Physical Education and Sport, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Department of Psychology, Biological and Cognitive Psychology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

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Michele Merlini School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom

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Marco Romagnoli Department of Physical Education and Sport, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain

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Ulrich Kirk Department of Psychology, Biological and Cognitive Psychology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

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Christopher Ring School of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom

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Samuele Marcora School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Department of Biomedical and Neuromotor Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

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Purpose: Brain endurance training (BET)—the combination of physical training with mentally fatiguing tasks—could help athletes adapt and increase their performance during sporting competitions. Here we tested whether BET completed after standard physical training improved physical and mental performance more than physical training alone during a preseason football training camp. Methods: The study employed a pretest/training/posttest design, with 22 professional football players randomly assigned to BET or a control group. Both groups completed 40 physical training sessions over 4 weeks. At the end of a day of physical training, the BET group completed cognitive training, whereas the control group listened to neutral sounds. Players completed the 30–15 Intermittent Fitness Test, repeated sprint ability random test, soccer-specific reactive agility test, and Stroop and psychomotor vigilance tests pretraining and posttraining. Mixed analysis of variance was used to analyze the data. Results: In the posttest (but not pretest) assessments, the BET group consistently outperformed the control group. Specifically, the BET group was faster (P = .02–.04) than the control group during the 30–15 Intermittent Fitness Test, the directional phase of the repeated sprint ability random test, and the soccer-specific reactive agility test. The BET group also made fewer errors (P = .02) during the soccer-specific reactive agility test than the control group. Finally, the BET group responded faster (P = .02) on the Stroop test and made fewer (P = .03) lapses on the psychomotor vigilance test than the control group. Conclusion: The inclusion of BET during the preseason seems more effective than standard physical training alone in improving the physical, cognitive, and multitasking performance of professional football players.

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