Exercise Science Reviews
Exercise Science Review
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The true method of knowledge is experiment.
William Blake, 1788
I've written similar articles for the past seven years. I've culled over 2,000 abstracts, reports and papers during the last year. Here's my synopsis and occasional spin on some of the published information on bicycle-related medicine and science that came out in 2001.
Each new paragraph represents a different study.
I've summarized studies from the past 7 years at the end of this article.
What's the latest medical and scientific info about bicycling?
Do you read the ad copy in the magazines to figure out what might be worth trying? Do you look to the pro athletes, who are sponsored, and figure that if they do it or use it, it must be great? Do you rely on coaches, some of whom receive kickbacks if you buy on their recommendation? Do you ask your friends? Or do you just spend your time, effort, or money and try everything yourself?
For most of us, it's a combination of all of the above, plus a little hope. And, unfortunately, that little hope is what lots of companies cash in on when they manage for example, to sell us plain old water at a couple of bucks a gallon or more.
There's another way-the scientific way. Looking at what studies or experiments really show. The scientific way is the best way to evaluate what works and what doesn't. The scientific method is better than opinion or guessing, but it's not foolproof. Good sport science studies are hard to come by. Worse, unfortunately, there is sometimes bad science.
A complete review of what makes good science isn't possible in this article, but here are a few examples of “science” problems.
Initially, only studies showing an effect tend to be published: Few publications are interested in reporting, for example, that Vitamin X doesn't cure cancer. Once something has been accepted as working, then it's fair game for challenge. So it's common for some substance or training method to burst on the scene for a few years, and then have its bubble burst-by being shown not to work or having undesirable side effects. Androstenediol, androstenedione, bee pollen, chromium, medium chain triglycerides, nasal dilators, and royal jelly are now out of favor.
An interested party pays for some studies. Peanuts were reported to help ballet dancers' performance (presumably by increasing deficient caloric intake) in a study paid for by a consulting company. A company I'd guess was representing a peanut company.
Peanuts may well help calorically deficient ballet dancers, but so might Häagen-Dazs ice-cream or Pop-Tarts.
Worse, imagine a company that pays for ten studies from ten different sets of researchers and advertises only the findings, perhaps obtained by chance, that promote the company's products.
Some studies appear to provide important or new information but the wrong question is being asked or answered. A year ago the recovery drink R4 was shown to provide better recovery than Gatorade when 24 ounces of either was consumed between taxing exercise bouts. Sounds promising, doesn't it? But the R4 provided almost four times as many calories. Would a couple of donuts with the Gatorade have been as good?
A problem with sport science, unlike general medicine, is that studies tend to use small groups-fewer than 20 subjects. Small groups require relatively large differences to find statistical significance.
Studies often initially appear as abstracts. These present preliminary data, are often incomplete, are less subject to peer or other review, may be withdrawn, and are often cited in promotions by sponsoring commercial companies.
Keep in mind that it's common for studies to show apparently conflicting results. For example, over the years bicarbonate loading and caffeine have been accepted as improving human performance. Newer studies have questioned that conventional wisdom.
Each study often adds just a little piece to the puzzle. It's important not to put too much faith in any one study.