Physiology

SSA Blog: Warm Weather Training

This weekend sees the Premier League make way for the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup. Only 7 Premier League teams have reached this stage leaving a number of clubs with the opportunity for a winter training camp.

England hosts the only major European league without a winter break, for those teams no longer in the competition FA cup weekends are increasingly used for that role.

Liverpool, Southampton, Newcastle and West Ham have taken advantage of the extended break before their next fixture, while Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United are considering a trip to sunnier climbs in the next few days.

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For Liverpool this will be the second warm weather trip since the turn of the year. Jurgen Klopp justified the getaway when saying “There’s nothing good about going out of competitions, but if you are out you can suffer or you can use the time”. So why do clubs value these mini camps so highly and what are the supposed benefits?

There is very little direct research on the topic in Premier League Football. However, the proposed benefits can broadly be broken down into 3 categories, Mental, Physical and Tactical.

Mental

In 2016 a study by Smith et al, showed mental fatigue having a negative impact on running, shooting and passing performance in football. A training camp, even for a few days, allows players to remove themselves from the pressures of performance and possibly wider lifestyle concerns which can support mental recovery and therefore performance.

As we all know a change of environment can be enough to help impact our mood. When that change includes a perceived benefit, such as sunny warm weather, the response is often positive.

A training camp also offers a controlled environment with less distractions. Players and coaches can benefit from extra focus and use it to reinforce positivity among the group, remove negativity and deal with stress in order to prepare for the final few months of the season.

Physical

In 2012 a study of Premier League players found that 65% of the sample were deficient in Vitamin D in the winter months (Morton et al 2012). A warm weather training camp with greater exposure to sunlight will help alleviate this problem and the related decrease in performance almost immediately.

The increased sunlight and warmth also helps maximise training times. With less time needed for warm up, more time can be devoted to training with the goal of improving or maintaining players fitness levels. Linking back to the mental benefits, it is often easier to run double sessions, players being motivated by warmer conditions. With longer daylight hours, less warm up time, the quantity of work can be improved.

When away on these trips the club has greater access to the players, for example, they are not driving home after training. This gives the club enhanced oversight of players’ recovery, ensuring they are maximising the value of training.  

Tactical

Southampton Manger Ralph Hasenhuttl, pointed to better weather conditions making it easier to train tactically because “you can work in a good atmosphere”. If players are not distracted by trying to keep warm and dry, they have greater mental capacity to take in tactical messages. The warmer weather also makes it easier to spend time on relatively static or slow-moving blocks of tactical drills.

Developing team cohesion also plays a large part in training camps. Research has consistently shown a link between cohesion and performance (Filho et al 2014). For new players coming into a side via the January transfer window or players stepping up to first team level, these camps provide an opportunity to create bonds at a personal level and adjust to the tactical demands of a new team in a less pressurised setting.

Warm weather training camps are much more than a chance to get away and top up a tan. For clubs, they provide a chance to prepare players for the remaining months of the season. For players it’s a welcome relief from the pressures of Premier League life and for staff they create a conducive working environment aimed at maximising performance needs - whatever they maybe.

With the Premier League introducing a winter break from next season, expect to see all clubs jet away for an extended break in the sunshine. With the need removed to find an artificial gap in fixtures, hopefully it will be a catalyst of more than 7 Premier League teams to make it through to the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup…     

 

Sport Science Agency uses its insight and expertise to tell performance stories and unlocks their value for brands, broadcasters and rights holders. If you want to know more about what we can do for you, drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy vitamin packed drink. 

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: Federer's dark secret

Even the most disciplined athlete might be forgiven for reaching for a chocolate egg or two at this time of year. Whatever your preference, it is hard to avoid the plethora of treats available over Easter. But is this such a bad thing? Could athletes actually see some benefit from indulging in a little chocolate over the Easter holiday?

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Chocolate has an established place within the sport sponsorship family. Winter sport, in particular, has benefited from a long-term relationship with Milka across mainland Europe. Not to be outdone the American Ski and Snowboard Association has partnered up with Hershey’s. In the UK, Cadbury has experienced an up and down relationship with sport. A successful sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic Games prompted its recent confidence to sign up as the Official Snack of the Premier League. However, back in 2003 Cadbury had to endure a backlash to it's partnership of the Youth Sport Trust, which the Food Commission criticised for “encouraging unhealthy behaviour” with its proposed school sports rewards scheme.

Whilst a little of what you like is said to be good for you, remember that not all chocolate is born equal. Dark chocolate is rich in cocoa-derived phytochemicals that may have bioactive properties including caffeine and flavanols (Stellingwerff et al, 2014) and the potential health and performance benefits of these flavanols is currently of great interest within nutritional research.

The dietary flavanols that occur naturally in cocoa powder (namely Epicatechin, Catechin and Procyanidins) have been found to provide anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and cardiovascular health benefits - such as decreased blood pressure and improved blood circulation. The last of which has been identified as a potential means of enhancing nutrient and oxygen delivery to the working muscles and removing waste by-products, potentially enhancing performance and recovery.

In an earlier blog, we examined how Roger Federer is able to maintain such incredible levels of performance well into his mid 30’s. Interviews across national and international media discussing the various factors such as genetics, training adaptations and psychological maturity followed. But did we miss a contributory factor? Perhaps the secret of Federer’s success is linked to one of his long-term sponsors, the Chocolateries’ Lindt…

Dark chocolate consumption has now been identified as an alternative means of raising the bioavailability of nitric oxide, the compound thought to be responsible for the health and (albeit mixed) performance benefits associated with beetroot juice. But how does eating a bar of dark chocolate translate into performance benefits for athletes and could it be the secret behind Federer’s success?

The reality is, at present the literature is in its infancy and, subsequently, is sparse. Stellingwerff et al (2015) and Decroix et al (2017) have observed that acute doses of dark chocolate can have an effect on key processes that could lead to performance benefits. However, both studies failed to establish a link to improved exercise performance.

It may be the case that dark chocolate needs to be consumed over a greater time-period for the physiological changes to provide performance benefits. Patel et al (2015) examined the impact of supplementing both dark and white chocolate (40g/day) for two weeks. The authors found that in a subsequent bike test, the gaseous exchange threshold (during sub-maximal exercise) and time-trial performance (2-minute max sprint) both increased following the supplementation of dark, compared to white chocolate. Unfortunately, as the flavanol and nitric oxide concentrations were not directly measured, the causality of these performance benefits could not be definitively established.

So even if Roger Federer has been an avid consumer of Lindt’s Excellence dark chocolate it’s difficult to link his continued performance excellence with this new area of nutritional interest. However, with Easter upon us and many hoping to enjoy a traditional chocolate treat, it seems that if you manage to fit in a few training sessions and then opt for dark chocolate, you can justify it as part of the latest nutritional research.

Even if a positive performance impact is still to be established, if it’s good enough for Roger…

Happy Easter  

 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 meet and share a bar of dark chocolate or go for a healthy performance boosting drink.