SSA Blog: New Year’s resolutions

As we approach the end of the year, our minds inevitably turn to new year’s resolutions. Health, exercise and activity are very often a premier focus. ‘I’m going to do more exercise’, I’m going to join the gym, ‘I’m going to run a marathon’ etc.

The proven benefits of an active lifestyle are many and varied. Those who maintain an active lifestyle continually report physical, mental and emotional advantages compared with matched groups of less active individuals. Conversely links between sedentary lifestyles and illness are overwhelming with obesity and diabetes now at the heart of public health messaging.

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The scientific link between health and activity was established in 1953. Writing in the Lancet Dr Jeremy Morris showcased how bus conductors, who spent their working day walking and climbing the stairs of busses, outlived their sedentary driver colleagues. Since then, exercise for health has been a significant focus for health care systems and governments as they seek to establish appropriate guidelines to promote health.  

In the 1970’s over 5,000 (average age of 48) men took part in one of the most famous research studies in public health history. The Copenhagen Study assessed a number of parameters, including fitness levels in the form of VO2max*. This year, Dr Johan Clauson and his team assessed the mortality rates of Copenhagen Study participants. The analysis separated the men into 4 groups ranking them from high to low, depending on their fitness levels (VO2max). After almost half a century, the results showed that those who were in the highest fitness group experienced almost 5 years of additional life.

Dr Clauson’s study marks a world first. They were able to show a dose response between exercise and mortality, rather than just health. Even more impressively the researchers were able to pin point the value of the dose response. For each additional unit of fitness, the men lived for an extra 45 days. While previous research has showcased the benefits of exercise and health, the focus on developing cardiovascular fitness rather than just being more active is an important distinction.  

In the UK it is predicted that the average VO2max for a young adult male is 45(ml/min/kg). Sport scientists will consider you fit if your VO2max is over 55(ml/min/kg). At elite levels,  athletes, triathletes, cyclists and rowers often score 70(ml/min/kg) and above with the highest levels ever seen in the low 80’s (ml/min/kg).

To develop cardiovascular fitness, particularly among already active populations, it’s important to train at an intensity sufficient to challenge the cardiovascular system. Generally, this threshold exists at around 85% of maximum heart rate. This means to benefit fully from exercise when in middle age, rather than focus on increasing the level of activity, increasing the intensity of the activity will have a significant benefit on both health and life expectancy.      

Modern health practice tends to focus on risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol and insulin resistance to predict health issues. However, this recent study coupled with a growing range of research is now showing that fitness testing can play a significant role as a credible indicator of health in later life. Traditionally, fitness testing has remained the preserve of elite athletes in high performance centres. The growing exercise and health focus, coupled with this new research, may act as the catalyst to push fitness testing outside elite sport and into the health world.

Brands and health providers have a huge opportunity to lead this transformation. Many health providers are already offering packages rewarding exercise and activity but fitness testing focusing on health and life expectancy is new concept. Counting steps, monitoring heart rate and tracking calories have all become normal in the health and fitness world. Why should fitness testing be any different?

This new research demonstrates the potential value of fitness testing’s ability to deliver new insight regarding health and life expectancy. Just imagine the brand power in helping people see into their futures. Then imagine being the brand at the heart of the message to help them shape it for the better.   

 

Sport Science Agency helps brand tell their performance stories using the latest scientific research. If you want to know more and discuss how we can help you, just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink. 

 

* VO2max, is the rate at which the heart, lungs and muscles use oxygen while you are active.

SSA Blog: Peter's podcast - the change in football nutrition

A quick glance at the podcast charts sees ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’ firmly inside the top 10 (at the time of writing the podcast is 3rd in the Apple Podcasts Top Chart in the UK). In the show Crouchy is refreshingly honest about his time as a Premier League and international player. In a number of episodes, Crouch describes the contrasting levels of professionalism at the beginning and end of his playing career. Sport science is often the basis for that contrast. Every element of a footballer’s life has improved; training, tactics, diet, recovery, travel, the list goes on…   

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Alex Ferguson famously wrote that “sport science was the biggest and most important change in my lifetime”.

Sport science is now at the heart of elite football. Gareth Southgate’s appointment as England Manager has seen a shift in the approach to building a ‘performance programme’ akin to the marginal gains mantra that developed over multiple Olympic cycles by British Cycling. Coaches such as Guardiola, Klopp and Howe have sport science teams working across every area of player development, recruitment and performance. Much like British Cycling, these new performance led programmes offer sponsors opportunities to become part of the team, to support players, coaches and other staff in delivering part of the jigsaw required to compete at the highest levels. Integrating products, expertise and support within the club structure can add significant credibility sorely lacking in many traditional sponsorships.

One example of the drive to professionalism mentioned during the Crouchy podcast was the change in nutrition, particularly the post-match meal. The team talk about the transition, with some nostalgia, from a few cans and stopping off for fish and chips to now, where the team bus is equipped with a kitchen and the team chef travels with the players to ensure the correct post-match nutritional balance.

Mention is also made of the two-hour window. This is the period within which players will gain the most benefit from refuelling post-match. It is a story football nutritional sponsors have been trying to tell for some time with limited success.

A number of clubs have nutritional partners. The model is now fairly standard across the game. Provide product and a rights fee and off they go. While the products are part of the performance story and the credibility of use is not in question, they still find cutting through to a football audience a hard sell.

The nutrition category is one of the most interesting and should be one of the easiest to activate, yet success is limited. The football market is still dominated by Lucozade and to a lesser extent Gatorade. Both have tried to incorporate a wider nutritional product range. So far, both have struggled to leverage the UK’s biggest sporting market to make these new products a success. 

While nutritional supplementation is important and plays a key role in supporting performance, nutrition partners have the opportunity to go deeper and support performance over and above a well-stocked cupboard of products in the sport science office. They should be moving to offer clubs a full nutritional support package from the first team chef all the way down to parental support for youth team players. A few workshops and leaflets are just not good enough anymore. 

Obviously, there are considerations regarding continuity and control from the clubs point of view when relying on a sponsor to provide key staff or critical expertise. But Clubs should also be thinking about how their performance programmes can offer credible and integrated support to sponsors whilst still benefiting their performance goals.

There are only so many ways a nutrition brand can recommend that you eat within two hours of exercise to maximise recovery. If it is at the heart of the players’ diet plans, recovery, preseason training and the bus ride home, then shifting its message to a more holistic and brand led story should have more resonance and impact with fans. Brands need to prove they share in the common goal of supporting the team. Modern fans, who want to feel part of the club and closer to the players, seek behind the scenes insight at every level, and will act on the knowledge they gain in their own lives. Clubs need to support their partners allowing them to become the conduit for fans to access this information, therefore presenting sponsors as a credible vehicle through which fans interact with the club.  

If nutritional partners and clubs can work together more closely and use sport science as a genuine platform to activate their relationships then perhaps, just perhaps, nutritional sponsors could start to unlock the massive opportunity that football really offers…       

 

Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink. 

SSA Blog: It doesn’t matter what you wear…

This week the Carabao Cup returned to action and instantly added to the pressure on José Mourinho as Manchester United were knocked out of the competition on penalties by Derby County. 

Penalties are an increasingly important factor in domestic knockout competitions. The format of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup has been changed to reduce crowded fixture lists of clubs playing in European competition . In the Carabao Cup replays and extra time have been abolished in the early rounds, whilst In the FA Cup penalties are used to decide the outcome of matches from the quarter finals onwards (if the match and extra time ends in a draw).

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Prior to this summer’s World Cup Gareth Southgate said when asked about the ‘lottery’ of penalties, “it’s not about luck. It’s not about chance. It’s about performing a skill under pressure. There are individual things you can work on within that.”

Some research suggests that an area to be considered is the colour of the kit kit. Back in 2005 research was produced highlighting the seemingly positive effects of wearing red in sporting situations. In the study, Hill & Barten showed that fighters were more likely to win when wearing a red vest verses a blue one. This was followed by a study featuring some of the same authors showing that red kits were associated with better home performance in English football (Attrill et al, 2008).

The theory of colour equating to performance benefit has even been examined relating to penalty success. Greenlees et al, (2008) reported that goalkeepers thought their chances of saving a penalty were lower when the taker was wearing red. Perhaps Southgate was aware of this in the summer, as England whilst wearing all red won their fist ever penalty shoot out at a World Cup.

As Manchester United’s players strode forward against Derby to take their penalties, seemingly the research was on their side. Not only is red associated with success but the comparison group in the Greenlees study was wearing white, similar enough to the light grey worn by Derby’s players.

After 15 penalties Phil Jones walked up to the spot. Flashing through his mind must have been the more recent research featuring German goalkeepers’ perception of success (Furley et al, 2012). This study showed no perceptual advantage for the taker when wearing red. The German keepers were much more influenced by the body language of the taker when considering how successful they felt they would be in saving the penalty.

Jones missed the decisive spot kick with the poorest effort of the night. Ultimately, at the upper echelons of sport the details matter. But the fundamentals matter more and in the likes of Frank Lampard and Gareth Southgate we are seeing managers who understand the value of sport science in enhancing these performance fundamentals.

Lampard spoke after the game regarding his team’s penalty practice the day before the match, knowing it was a likely factor in the outcome of the fixture. Southgate spoke extensively about the preparation needed to win a penalty shootout on the world stage.

Where previous generations have stuck to the ‘you can’t practise penalties’ line. This new breed of elite coaches understand the value of deliberate, structured and focused practice in order to achieve the best outcome possible.  

Sport science plays a significant role in modern sporting performance. Fans, in particular, are fascinated to hear about the margins often attributed to the latest technological developments and equipment innovations. Sometimes however, sport science’s greatest value is to enhance the fundamentals of training and preparation rather than tell you what colour shirt to wear.

Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink.