Cognitive function plays an important role in athletic performance, and it seems that brain functioning can be influenced by nutrition and dietary components. Thus, the central nervous system might be manipulated through changes in diet or supplementation with specific nutrients including branched-chain amino acids, tyrosine, carbohydrates, and caffeine. Despite some evidence that branched-chained amino acids can influence ratings of perceived exertion and mental performance, several well-controlled studies have failed to demonstrate a positive effect on exercise performance. Evidence of an ergogenic benefit of tyrosine supplementation during prolonged exercise is limited. There is evidence that mild dehydration can impair cognitive performance and mood. The beneficial effect of carbohydrate supplementation during prolonged exercise could relate to increased substrate delivery for the brain, with numerous studies indicating that hypoglycemia affects brain function and cognitive performance. Caffeine can enhance performance and reduce perception of effort during prolonged exercise and will influence specific reward centers of the brain. Plant products and herbal extracts such as polyphenols, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, etc. are marketed as supplements to enhance performance. In several animal studies, positive effects of these products were shown, however the literature on their effects on sports performance is scarce. Polyphenols have the potential to protect neurons against injury induced by neurotoxins, suppress neuroinflammation, and to promote memory, learning, and cognitive function. In general, there remains a need for controlled randomized studies with a strong design, sufficient statistical power, and well-defined outcome measures before “claims” on its beneficial effects on brain functioning can be established.
Romain Meeusen and Lieselot Decroix
Lieselot Decroix, Robert P. Lamberts, and Romain Meeusen
Context: The Lamberts and Lambert Submaximal Cycle Test (LSCT) consists of 3 stages during which cyclists cycle for 6 min at 60%, 6 min at 80%, and 3 min at 90% of their maximal heart rate, followed by 1-min recovery. Purpose: To determine if the LSCT is able to reflect a state of functional overreaching in professional female cyclists during an 8-d training camp and the following recovery days. Methods: Six professional female cyclists performed an LSCT on days 1, 5, and 8 of the training camp and 3 d after the training camp. During each stage of the LSCT, power output and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were determined. Training diaries and Profile of Mood States (POMS) were also completed. Results: At the middle and the end of the training camp, increased power output during the 2nd and 3rd stages of the LSCT was accompanied with increased RPE during these stages and/or the inability to reach 90% of maximal heart rate. All athletes reported increased feelings of fatigue and muscle soreness, while changes in energy balance, calculated from the POMS, were less indicative of a state of overreaching. After 3 d of recovery, all parameters of the LSCT returned to baseline, indicating a state of functional overreaching during the training camp. Conclusion: The LSCT is able to reflect a state of overreaching in elite professional female cyclists during an 8-d training camp and the following recovery days.
Lieselot Decroix, Kevin De Pauw, Carl Foster, and Romain Meeusen
To review current cycling-related sport-science literature to formulate guidelines to classify female subject groups and to compare this classification system for female subject groups with the classification system for male subject groups.
A database of 82 papers that described female subject groups containing information on preexperimental maximal cycle-protocol designs, terminology, biometrical and physiological parameters, and cycling experience was analyzed. Subject groups were divided into performance levels (PLs), according to the nomenclature. Body mass, body-mass index, maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), peak power output (PPO), and training status were compared between PLs and between female and male PLs.
Five female PLs were defined, representing untrained, active, trained, well-trained, and professional female subjects. VO2max and PPO significantly increased with PL, except for PL3 and PL4 (P < .01). For each PL, significant differences were observed in absolute and relative VO2max and PPO between male and female subject groups. Relative VO2max is the most cited parameter for female subject groups and is proposed as the principal parameter to classify the groups.
This systematic review shows the large variety in the description of female subject groups in the existing literature. The authors propose a standardized preexperimental testing protocol and guidelines to classify female subject groups into 5 PLs based on relative VO2max, relative PPO, training status, absolute VO2max, and absolute PPO.
Lieselot Decroix, Maria Francesca Piacentini, Gerard Rietjens, and Romain Meeusen
High training loads combined with other stressors can lead to performance decrements. The time needed to recover determines the diagnosis of (non)-functional overreaching or the overtraining syndrome. The aim of this study was to describe the effects of an 8-day (intensified) training camp of professional female cyclists on physical and cognitive performance.
Nine subjects performed a 30-min time trial (TT), cognitive test, and Profile of Mood States questionnaire before, during, and after a training camp (49% increased training volume). On data collection, cyclists were classified as “overreached” (OR) or “adapted” (A) based on TT performance. Two-way repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to detect changes in physical and cognitive parameters.
Five cyclists were described as OR based on decreased mean power output (MPO) (–7.03%) on day 8. Four cyclists were classified as A (increased MPO: +1.72%). MPO and maximal heart rate were significantly different between A and OR groups. A significant slower reaction time (RT) (+3.35%) was found in OR subjects, whereas RT decreased (–4.59%) in A subjects. The change in MPO was negatively correlated with change in RT in the cognitive test (R 2 = .52).
This study showed that the use of objective, inexpensive, and easy-to-interpret physical and cognitive tests can facilitate the monitoring of training adaptations in professional female athletes.
Tine Torbeyns, Bas de Geus, Stephen Bailey, Lieselot Decroix, Jeroen Van Cutsem, Kevin De Pauw, and Romain Meeusen
Physical activity is positively associated with physical health, cognitive performance, brain functioning and academic performance. The aim of this study is to investigate the influence of bike desks in the classroom on adolescents’ energy expenditure, physical health, cognitive performance, brain functioning and academic performance.
Forty-four adolescents were randomly assigned to control group (CG) or intervention group (IG). During 5 months, the IG used a bike desk for 4 class hours/week. Energy expenditure was measured during 6 consecutive days. Anthropometric parameters, aerobic fitness, academic performance, cognitive performance and brain functioning were assessed before (T0) and after (T1) the intervention.
Energy expenditure of the IG was significantly higher during the class hours in which they used the bike desks relative to normal class hours. The CG had a significantly higher BMI at T1 relative to T0 while this was not significantly different for the IG. Aerobic fitness was significantly better in the IG at T1 relative to T0. No significant effects on academic performance cognitive performance and brain functioning were observed.
As the implementation of bike desks in the classroom did not interfere with adolescents’ academic performance, this can be seen as an effective means of reducing in-class sedentary time and improving adolescents’ physical health.
Kevin De Pauw, Bart Roelands, Jeroen Van Cutsem, Lieselot Decroix, Angelica Valente, Kim Taehee, Robert B. Lettan II, Andres E. Carrillo, and Romain Meeusen
Nasal spray (NAS) containing caffeine (CAF) or glucose (GLUC) activates sensory(motor) cortices.
To investigate the influence of CAF or GLUC NAS on exercise and cognitive performance.
Eleven male subjects (age 22 ± 2 y) performed a maximal cycle test and 2 familiarization and 3 experimental trials. Each trial included a 30-s Wingate test and a 30-min time-trial (TT) performance test interspersed by 15 min of rest. Before and after each exercise test a Stroop task was conducted. Placebo NAS with or without CAF or GLUC was provided before each exercise session and at each completed 25% of the TT. Exercise-performance, physiological, and cognitive measures were obtained. Magnitude-based inferences determined the likelihood that NAS solutions would be beneficial, trivial, or negative to exercise-performance measures based on the smallest worthwhile effect. Physiological and cognitive measures were analyzed using (non)parametric tests (P < .05).
GLUC NAS substantially increased the average power output during the TT (very likely beneficial: 98%). No further worthwhile exercise-performance enhancements were found for both substances. In addition, no significant differences in physiological and cognitive measures were observed. In line with mouth rinsing, GLUC was shown to substantially enhance endurance performance, probably due to the activation of the olfactory pathway and/or extra-oral sweet-taste receptors.
GLUC NAS enhances endurance performance, which indicates a novel administration route. The higher activity in sensory brain cortices probably elicited the ergogenic effect. However, no further physiological and cognitive changes occurred, indicating that higher doses of substrates might be required.