Science Summary: The Competitive Edge (Cardio or Weights Part 13)

This post is a continuation (and the culmination) on my series through Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? All of the following questions are taken from this book and the answers are paraphrased from the authors words with my interpretations and thoughts added in.

— Scott (Personal trainer)

How should I adjust my training in the final days before competition?

Short Answer: Most athletes “taper” before a competition.  A taper is a planned reduction in training volume leading up to an event.  This allows for recovery without the body adapting to being stagnant.

Long Answer:  A University of Montreal literature review of tapering in various endurance sports found the the most effective tapers were progressive reductions of 41-60% in training volume over one to two weeks leading up to the competition.  This approach is not one size fits all and does require individual tailoring.  More intense workout plans benefit more from a progressive taper than more casual ones do as higher intensity requires greater recovery.

Does sex before competition affect performance?

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer:  In a literature review of the subject published in 2000, there were only three studies which addressed this question.  All three found no reduction in athletic performance between participants who were sexually active preceding the tests and those asked to abstain beforehand.

Will drinking coffee help or hinder my performance?

Short Answer: It will help.

Long Answer: Current research show the caffeine consumption increase sprint, endurance, and strength performance.  Despite the diuretic effects, caffeine continues to be a popular stimulant among competitive athletes.  A 2008 British study found that more than half of cyclists and a third of track and field athletes used caffeine to help with their performance.

Does competing in front of a crowd improve performance?

Short Answer: It depends on your personality, not on the people around you.

Long Answer:  Performance may be enhanced by adrenaline from the pressure of the situation, but this is very dependent on the individual.  A study done by Dutch researchers published in 2010 found that home field advantage was completely independent of the crowd suggesting that the presence of an audience did not contribute to the athletes performance.

How much sleep do I need for optimal physical performance?

Short Answer: Incurring a sleep debt will reduce performance.

Long Answer:  There is a lot of variation in the amount of sleep individuals need.  Small studies out of Stanford suggest increasing sleep by a handful of hours per night measurably increase reaction times and athletic performance.

(I feel the book lacks significant support for its claims here.  While it is generally accepted that more sleep is better, the book does not provide an adequate source for this claim.  I will do my own research in the future an come back with better specifics. — Scott)

How should I pace myself in a long distance race?

Short Answer:  Studies show that racers with a fast start, slower middle, and fast end typically perform better than athletes who maintain a constant pace.

Long Answer:  Researchers out of the University of Cape Town found that nearly every world record for 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter races followed the same pattern of the first and last kilometer being the fastest two kilometers throughout the race.  The researchers believe this to be part of the brain’s internal regulation of effort.  When the end is in sight, limitations are lifted and the body is able to work harder.

Is endurance or sprint speed more important in field sports like soccer?

Short Answer:  Stronger endurance helps you move better late into the game.

Long Answer: Analysis of competitive field sports found that athletes cover up to 7.5 miles in a typical game, much of it coming from short sprints.  Late into the game, the energy required to perform these short sprints comes from carbohydrate conversion the same way energy is provided for long endurance races.  A study done by French researchers in 2010 found that among teen soccer players, power training would improve the speed of their first sprint but endurance training would improve the speed of every following sprint which is more important in a long game.