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Beet juice, kinesio tape & have athletes gotten better?
by on Monday, May 5, 2014  (2 comments)

Here we go, I'm going to give this a shot. This week, we have a study on beet juice, a study on kinesio tape and David Epstein giving a TED Talk on whether athletes have gotten better over the years.

Beet Juice

For those of you who haven't been following recent research into beet juice, studies have been showing that the nitrate in beetroot juice appears to improve performance by reducing the oxygen cost of exercise. Unfortunately, more recent studies in more well trained cyclists haven't been able to find these gains. Are these studies just an anomaly or is it not as effective for well trained athletes? There is reason to believe a well trained athlete may have already maximized the body's ability to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise so the juice may not benefit this athlete.

Well, this study looked at 8 middle distance runners. 1500 PRs were 3:56 +/- 9 seconds so these are good but not world class runners. We'd have to believe they were well trained to get down to those times. They tested both taking supplements for a week (chronic) or just before the test (acute).

The result?

Acute and chronic BR did not reduce running VO2 or improve 1500 m time-trial performance in a group of elite distance runners, but two responders to BR were identified.



So, taken as a whole, there were no performance improvements. However, 2 of the 8 runners did see fairly significant improvements. 5.0 and 5.8 seconds following acute supplementation and 0.5 and 7.0 seconds following chronic supplementation.

Now, a study of 8 is too small to draw vast conclusions from but that's what you get when you're looking for 3:56 1500 meter runners. There aren't hundreds of them readily available and willing to participate in a study. However, this suggests that you're either lucky or not. If you respond, you'll see some impressive gains. If you're in the apparent significant majority, tough luck.

I'm not convinced based on this and other studies that, for well trained athletes, supplementation is worthwhile. For less well trained? Maybe but maybe you could also just train more to get the same benefit. Also, I haven't seen any studies on where the line (or more likely gradient) exists where you go from likely gaining no benefit to likely gaining some kind of benefit.

Kinesio tape

This tape has been all the rage recently. You pretty much can't watch a pro track meet without seeing some athletes sporting the colorful stuff. I sometimes wonder how much of it is some kind of fashion statement and how much is actually beneficial.

Well, it appears there is some benefit.

Through the use of elastography this is the first study to support the hypothesis that de-loading tape reduces stress in the underlying muscle region, thereby providing a biomechanical explanation for the effect observed during rehabilitation in clinical practice (reduce pain, restore function and aid recovery). Further investigations are necessary to confirm these results in injured tissues.



The first study to support the hypothesis. In other words, more study is needed. That said, this would suggest that the benefit athletes receive from this tape may be more than a placebo effect. There may be some real benefit.

Have athletes gotten better?

Finally, a fascinating TED Talk by David Epstein:



What do you think? Both of the stories above and of this kind of post. I'd love to hear your comments.

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2 comments
Ed:

I like this post. Especially the TED Talk. It supports everything that I thought was happening with sports. It has been all about technology and specialization. Natural selection for athletic prowess ended several hundred years ago.

I think a bit of follow up on studies like the tape study that show some scientific relevance would be warranted with a tutorial on how we could apply that bit of science to our lives.

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Ryan:

I thought the TED Talk was very interesting. Epstein did a great job. I love the comparison of Jesse Owens to Usain Bolt. That's pretty amazing but not all that shocking to think about. How good could Owens have been not just on a modern track but also with the kind of focus on training that modern athletes can have? That's the one part I wish Epstein would have at least mentioned beyond a passing note when talking about Bannister, though you can't quantify it which along with time constraints might be why he left it out. Even the top athletes back in those days were true amateurs. They had day jobs or were in school. The top athletes today can do what's best for their sport 24/7.

I think we need some follow up study to verify the evidence we now have. The relevance I think is pretty well understood. Kinesio tape is already popular. I've even seen it at local road races. The question being answered here wasn't how to use it because that's already known. The question is whether it really works or is a placebo and, if it really does work, how. We have the beginnings of an answer now but need some further evidence before being sure.

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