Tag Archives: fitness

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COMPETITION AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: a conspiracy of researchers, stationary bikes and little white lies

Walt Disney once said, “I have been up against tough competition all my life.  I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

Well, weekend warriors and gym rats may be able to learn a thing or two from the creator of the goofy little mouse with red shorts.  Scientific research is now exploring the relationship between competition and athletic performance, and recent studies support the conclusion that people perform at greater levels when competing against an opponent.

For example, Professor Kevin Thompson, the Head of Sports and Exercise Science for Northumbria University, recently examined the effects of competition by asking cyclists to ride a stationary bike.   As they rode, each participant was shown two avatars on a video screen: the first avatar depicting the participant’s current pace and a second avatar depicting a cyclist riding at a rate equal to each participant’s personal best pace.  The cyclists were told to race the second avatar in an effort to beat their personal best time.

Dr. Thompson’s representations weren’t exactly true.  The second avatar was actually moving at a rate that was slightly greater than each participant’s personal best pace. Still, the participants, who were cycling while watching the avatars on the video screen, were able to match the second avatar.  As a result, the participants actually beat their personal best rate.

Dr. Thompson ultimately concluded that such competition can lead to an improvement of up to 5% in sporting performance.  He explained that

[t]hese findings demonstrate that a metabolic reserve exists which, if it can be accessed, can release a performance improvement of between two and five per cent in terms of their average power output.  At elite level sport, even an increase of one per cent in average speed can make the difference between somebody being placed in a race or not.

We may all have a little bit of untapped potential.  Dr. Jo Corbett, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Sports Performance at the University of Portsmouth, conducted a similar study.  The results, published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, were strikingly similar to the research conducted by Dr. Thompson.

Dr. Corbett directed fourteen cyclists to independently ride a stationary bike at maximum speed.  A video display rendered a computer image of each cyclist, providing a visual depiction of his or her pace.

Later, they were again directed to ride the stationary bike at maximum speed.  This time, however, each cyclist was told that he or she would be competing against another participant hidden behind a screen.  As they rode, the cyclists were shown two images on the video display: an avatar that represented the cyclist and an avatar representing his or her undisclosed opponent.

Almost every cyclist beat the opponent during the second trial.  After the race, however, they learned that the undisclosed opponent was actually a visual rendering of each cyclists’ previous best time.  In other words, each cyclist, believing that they were independently competing with another person, actually outperformed their earlier maximum performance.  Dr. Corbett concluded that

[w]hen an athlete finishes exercising they are almost always left with a physiological energy reserve but our results show that head-to-head competition provides the motivation to tell the brain to eat into a greater part of this reserve.

The basis of this and similar conclusions isn’t necessarily revolutionary: we’ve long noted the correlation between competition and athletic performance.  Now, however, we’re starting to uncover the scientific basis for the increased performance, and the key seems to be tapping hidden potential and drawing upon untapped energy reserves.  It may be time to ditch the energy shots and breathable caffeine and seek the company of a friend or a colleague when pounding the pavement or hitting the trails.

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Charles Schultz’s Pig-Pen visits a local gym

Remember Charles Schultz’s Pig-Pen, from The Peanuts comic strip?  The grubby cartoon character was always surrounded by a palpable cloud of dirt and stench.  The little guy just looked like he carried a stink that could bruise the olfactory glands.

I just got back from the gym, and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the real life personification of Pig-Pen.  It was pretty darn obvious that he hadn’t washed his soiled, sweaty, stained clothes in a hell of a long time.  It literally hurt to find myself stuck beside the pollution only twenty minutes into my cardio workout.

Good grief, Charlie Brown – my nose hurt.  It still hurts.

Look, I’m not exactly the most tidy person to walk the earth.  From time to time, my refrigerator looks like a laboratory hiding some type of science experiment gone awry.  I have three lazy, shedding dogs frequently conspire to hide small, organic gifts throughout the house.  I’m often celebrating the joys associated with being a bachelor who lives by himself.  I’m just not easily offended by a repugnant odor.

If I’m offended by a stench, though, I can only imagine how it’s affecting the poor elderly person on an adjacent elliptical machine.  She was coughing and sneezing when I left.  I hope she makes it.

Folks, I know it goes without saying, but please spread the word: washing old, soiled gym clothes and taking regular showers should not be optional.

/endrant

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BACON MANIA: because we can always resolve to lose weight and get healthy next year

The sugarplums are no longer dancing and the fat man in the funny red suit has drifted off into the cinematic sunset.  It’s now time to turn the page on the ‘ol calendar and prepare for the coming year.  That means that it’s also time to resolve to accomplish a specific goal or change a longstanding habit over the next twelve months.

Nearly half of the country will make a resolution this year, and many will pledge to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Unfortunately, as few as twelve percent of people who make resolutions will succeed in accomplishing their goals.

Frankly, I blame the pigs.

It’s clearly their fault.  These little even-toed ungulates are dirty, raunchy and mean.  For centuries, they’ve been carrying nasty parasites and infectious diseases such as trichinosis, taenia solium, cysticercosis, and brucellosis.   Their most corrupt aspect – and perhaps the biggest impediment to the success of our resolutions – may damn well be the cured belly of their carcasses, otherwise commonly known as bacon.

I’m guessing that I don’t need to spend much time introducing the world to bacon.  We should already know that it’s tasty, delicious, and readily slides down the esophagus even when it’s burnt to a crisp.  We should also already know that bacon isn’t necessarily the most nutritious meat.  An ounce of bacon contains around 30 milligrams of cholesterol, and somewhere around 68 percent of its calories are derived from fat, with almost half of those calories are classified as saturated fats.  It gets worse, though: each serving of bacon may increase the risks associated with heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent.

Logic and reason necessarily dictate that we should limit our consumption of bacon or simply eat it in moderation.  Heck, even Apu Nahasapeemapetilon recognized the dangers of cured pig belly, and he’s not necessarily the most venerable or sage fictional character.  Still, Abu once famously remarked:

Let’s see-Farmer Billy’s smoke-fed bacon, Farmer Billy’s bacon-fed bacon, Farmer Billy’s travel bacon… Mr. Simpson, if you really want to kill yourself, I also sell handguns!

If a cartoon character can figure it out, anyone can figure it out.  That’s not happening, though, and Bacon Mania is now spreading like a contagious disease… or at the very least like trichinosis, taenia solium, cysticercosis, and brucellosis.

Foodies are maintaining blogs and authoring books.  Organizers are creating not-so-secret societies.  Retailers are selling themed apparel, scented candles, action figures, flavored tooth picks, christmas tree ornaments, board games and dental floss.  Distributors are marketing bacon gift baskets and memberships to bacon-of-the-month clubs.  Kids are trick-or-treating while disguised as bacon.  And, of course, the culinary maestros are crafting recipes that highlight greasy strips of swine.

The hallmark recipe of the bacon mania movement is undoubtedly the Bacon Explosion.  This nefarious creation is the size of a football and consists of strips of bacon wrapped around spiced sausage and crumbled bacon.  It weighs in at around 5000 calories.  That’s somewhere just south of two pounds of additional body fat.

Of course, there’s always the family-sized Fool’s Loaf Sandwich.  This scale-busting concoction is nothing more than an impending heart attack masquerading as a warm, hollow loaf of bread filled with one jar of peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly, and a full pound of bacon.  Rumor has it that this sandwich was part of the meal that killed Elvis

These recipes aren’t limited to main courses, however, because bacon knows no boundaries.  A handful of rather remarkable, artery-clogging desserts have been designed to compliment the Bacon Explosion, the Fool’s Loaf Sandwich or the bland but healthy green salad that’s a fundamental part of your new year’s resolution.  These dishes can easily be paired with bacon ice cream, bacon pie, frosted maple bacon cupcakes, or bacon chocolate candy bars.  And, of course, we can’t forget about pig candy.  It’s the perfect combination of smoked bacon and pecans coated with caramel and sugar.  Apparently, everything’s better with caramel and sugar.  Even swine.

The phenomenon of Bacon Mania isn’t even confined to solid foods and meals.  Hell no.  Bacon Mania universally embraces drinks, beverages and other refreshments.  Dr. Frasier Crane wasn’t too far off when he prophetically exclaimed

Yes, I’ll have a non-fat, decaf latte, please. Oh, what the hell? Look, make it a full-fat mocha with extra whipped cream. What the hell, put a slice of bacon on it!

At the very least, bacon vodka should help folks better cope with unsatisfied resolutions and unfulfilled expectations.  Anyone who chooses to indulge in a couple of Pigs on the Rocks or a half dozen Mitch Morgans with that special someone should, however, at least consider the almost inevitable consequences of consuming the meaty libations.  Be prepared.

A HEARTFELT APOLOGY TO COMPETITIVE EATERS… but only if you ignore the sarcasm and cynicism

I recently posted an entry that addressed the popularity of competitive eating.  The entry was admittedly critical of the sport.  I ultimately used it as an opportunity to get up on my soapbox and lambaste competitive eating within the context of the epidemic of world hunger.

I had the best of intentions, but was overly harsh. Sorry.

I want to confess my sins, undo the damage that I’ve done and at least try to make amends for my blunder.  I’m therefore posting this entry to offer my encouragement to those who are aspiring to gobble massive quantities of food within relatively short periods of time.  You deserve my support.  Your accomplishments are not going unnoticed.

We need to recognize that competitive eaters often sacrifice their health and risk debilitating physical injury to achieve unprecedented caloric success.  George Shea, the Chairman of Major League Eating, may have best explained the significance of the inherent hazards by noting that the risks fall somewhere between the dangers of ping-pong and the dangers of football.  That’s pretty darn serious, and medical professionals seem to agree.  They worry that competitive eaters may suffer from profound gastroparesis and intractable nausea and vomiting.  These athletes may also require a gastrectomy, which apparently refers to the removal of part or all of the stomach.

No guts, no glory, right?  It’s like TS Elliot proclaimedOnly those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.  Competitive eaters are athletes who are finding out just how far their stomachs (and their bowels) can go. Read more of this post

PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENTS? Major League Baseball, Ryan Braun, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and a group of obese monkeys

Major League Baseball ended the week on a sour note, and the hype surrounding free agency and successful labor negotiations may not dominate mainstream headlines in the immediate future.

Last night, ESPN reported that National League MVP Ryan Braun stands accused of testing positive for a banned performance enhancing substance. Buster Olney correctly explains that Braun is one of the most prominent professional baseball players to be associated with performance enhancing drugs. He faces a 50 game suspension if the allegations prove true.

The breaking news isn’t the only recent story to address the use of performance enhancing drugs by big leaguers. For example:

  • Last week, Major League Baseball officially reinstated Manny Ramirez. He previously retired from the sport after learning that he would serve a 100 game suspension. The suspension is the result of a second positive test that related to his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
  • Federal prosecutors requested that Home Run Champ Barry Bonds be sentenced to serve time in prison for obstructing a grand jury’s investigation into the manufacture, distribution and use of performance enhancing drugs. He is eligible for probation but may also be sentenced to serve between 15 and 21 months in prison. The proceedings commence next week.

I’m not going to cover the details associated with these recent developments, the benefits and risks related to performance enhancing substances or the merits of the policies adopted by professional sports organizations. These are complex and controversial issues Read more of this post

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