Sports science research: the latest news

From when to exercise to how to stretch for maximum performance, here are 5 of the latest science stories that will help you swim, bike and run faster...




Protein is vital for muscle repair and strengthening mitochondria, the cells’ furnaces that burn fat and carbs for energy production. Consuming protein prior to bed increases protein synthesis, resulting in more powerful muscles. Now, researcher Jeroen Trommelen has shown resistance training later in the day increases the overnight muscle-protein synthetic response to pre-sleep protein feeding. He discovered more of the ingested protein-derived amino acids were used for myofibrils in the muscle, resulting in greater performance gains.



A team from France has shown that if you’re looking to perform to your optimum, pencil in a 5pm workout. After analysing world records from a range of sprint and endurance sports, they noted that the majority were broken later in the day. ‘That’s because that’s the time major events take place,’ you might say. It’s a fair point but they also showed that you need more electrical energy to contract the muscle earlier in the day with aspects like light, ambient temperature and food intake all having an impact on the efficiency of skeletal muscles.



Research undertaken by Dr David Behm of Newfoundland University suggests a joint stretching attack of static and dynamic will reap the greatest performance rewards. Behm analysed years of literature and concluded that, while all forms of stretching temporarily improved a muscle’s range of motion, this didn’t equate to performance improvements or reduction in injury rates. But he showed static stretching of the larger muscles followed by dynamic activities like lunges, may not make you quicker but it does lower the chances of a spell on the sidelines.


The number and ratio of slow- and fast-twitch fibres dictates your stamina (slow-twitch) and power output (fast-twitch). Knowing the number of each can influence the direction of your training but this involves taking a muscle biopsy. Yet USA researchers have done a test utilising mechanomyography (a machine that assesses vibration properties of contracting muscle) that, in addition to devising a predictive equation, produced results that were 80% accurate. This could be a key step to creating a portable muscle-fibre analysis to determine your tri potential.


When I wrote The Science of the Tour de France earlier this year, one exercise stood out above all – the squat. Whether it was a sprinter like Marcel Kittel or GC contender Bauke Mollema, the humble squat proved a consistent in search of greater power, reduced chances of injury and a stronger core. “Even in endurance events, you need power,” Mollema told me. And that’s true for all levels of triathlete.

So even if time is tight this off-season, including a couple of weekly short strength sessions that might feature little more than the squat is fine. But now meta analysis by Jamie Douglas has shown that by focusing on the eccentric part of the exercise – in this case, the downward part of the squat – will grow strength and then power at a greater rate than focusing on the concentric (upward) phase.


Douglas and his team analysed research across numerous journals and concluded that a downward squat focus results in a greater increase in the size of type II muscle fibres than focusing on the upward movement. Stronger tendons were also reported. The team also suggest that as you’ll focus on the eccentric part of the exercise, which might mean a heavier weight, always have a ‘spotter’ to assist with the concentric aspect.