Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Science of Sport passes the 1,000,000 mark!

Applying science one reader at a time

August is now coming to a close, and it has been a bumper month here on the site. With the IAAF World Champs and Bolt likely to break records, we were anticipating the usual buzz that follows him and his performances, but we never could have foreseen the public interest in the sad story of Caster Semenya. Our pages on that story have been viewed more than any other pages here in our 2.5 year history. So it was that sometime on Wednesday night, The Science of Sport had its 1,000,000th visitor. It would have happened eventually, but the interest in Semenya's story made it happen a lot quicker. The hype has died down a bit for now, but we fully expect it to rise to fever pitch once again when the IAAF releases its final verdict on whether or not she is eligible to compete against women.

Looking back - who knew?

When we started this site in April 2007, neither of us knew exactly where it was going to go. All we knew was that we had a passion for bringing the science out of the lab and applying it to the sports we all love and watch---hence our vision and mission. Since its inception we have grown to what you see here today, and now is a great time to thank all of our devoted and new readers who keep us going with amazing comment and great insight.

On the application of science, I was at the inaugural International Sports Science + Sports Medicine Conference two weeks ago in Newcastle, UK. It was a small but great meeting of both sports scientists and sports physicians, and there was much discussion and debate about how the scientists actually get the hard data from the lab out into the field so that athletes and coaches alike can access and use this information. Thanks to decisions made by the organizers, there was ample time for Q&A and panel discussions, which went over very well amongst the delegates. The conference is meant to be hosted in Newcastle again next year, so start planning your trips now!

Trickle down science

In so many sports the coaches are the link between the lab and the athlete, and so as sports scientists we have a role to play in getting the correct and usable information to the coaches (and athletes by extension). However it is always a struggle between the two, because the scientists in white lab coats look at the coaches and think, "What do you know, I have a PhD. . .," while the coaches look at the scientists and reply, "What do you know? We are the ones working with the athletes." So somehow we have to get it right and get the hard evidence and science from the lab into the coaches' hands so they can apply it. Sadly, though, no one seems to be doing an entirely adequate job of this.

Often times the findings from a study are interpreted to the extreme by the public, and a great example of this is new evidence on training with low muscle glycogen concentrations. This is John Hawley's work that has shown that when cyclists complete some training sessions with a low muscle glycogen concentration (which is induced by a prior training session), the signal to make adaptations might be enhanced. However, as is the case with most good studies, it was performed in very controlled and "sterile" conditions. This is good science, and is imperative if one wants to be able to interpret the data and actually see what happened in the experiment.

But you can imagine the high interest among coaches and athletes that training with a low muscle glycogen content might enhance the training adaptations. Immediately coaches were prescribing low carbohydrate diets to produce the low muscle glycogen levels, and immediately the application of this concept was lost, as athletes were getting low quality workouts because they felt so terrible from their low carbohydrate diets! There is a step missing here in which the real findings from studies like these must be interpreted outside of the lab setting, and the data must be translated to something the coaches and athletes can use in a meaningful way to improve their own training and performance.

Dietetics + Physiology = Bad advice

To all the dieticians amongst our readers, I promise I am not singling out your profession, but often you are asked by coaches and magazines to produce material on fluid replacement, and the result is never pretty. At least in my department at UIC (Kinesiology and Nutrition), our nutrition students are not given any applied (exercise) physiology, and instead are taught about fluid balance only from a clinical perspective. It should be noted that this is entirely appropriate since most of these students will work in the clinical setting, and only a small minority will go on to work with athletes, and even then they will probably further their training with courses or degrees in which they learn about exercise science. But when the clinical info is applied to sport, the result is this, from a dietician writing for a multi-sport coaching newsletter. In its entirety it makes us cringe, but in many ways she is just repeating what she was taught, instead of understanding the physiology of it, much like another section in the same newsletter written by a triathlon coach.

Neither seems to understand the concepts at play, and perhaps to practice their chosen professions they do not need to---which leaves the ball in the court of the the scientists to communicate accurately the evidence to the field. But it is easier said than done, and for a number of different reasons such as time, motivation, and even responsibility. When the chancellor of the university signs your paycheck and your job security depends on your publication record (and not the number of blog posts you do!), it is a compelling argument why one should do more than that.

The nature of physiological regulation

Almost two years ago, perhaps before many of our current readers came on board, we did a series on dehydration after the Chicago Marathon experienced an unseasonably warm race. There were several parts to the series, and so please refer back to it for the full details and very detailed posts, but at the heart of understanding fluid balance is the basic physiological concept of how the body regulates and "defends" different variables. Effectively a particular thing is regulated so that another thing---or homeostasis in the bigger picture---is maintained. That is the lab part of the equation, what we can work out from doing elegant experiments, but it does not end there because as scientists we have to find a way to translate that information so it can be applied.

Fluid balance: what do we regulate?

The regulation of fluid balance in the body is complex in its details, but at its core it is the same: one thing is regulated and the body responds in many ways to protect it. In this case the regulated variable is the concentration of your blood, or the plasma osmolality. As you exercise and sweat, it rises, and so you first stop producing urine. . .and as you continue to lose fluid you then become quite thirsty. As you ingest a bit of fluid it helps balance out the plasma osmolality so that it does not get too high.

The result of all this? You actually protect the volume of fluid that is inside the cells by balancing the plasma osmolality, but another thing that happens is that you lose some weight, and this is the important part that dieticians and coaches and kinesiology majors everywhere are not taught: body weight is not regulated during exercise. It is important enough to repeat: body weight is not regulated, and so your body does not care if you lose a few kilograms or pounds or pints or stone (depending on where you reside!). It simply does not feature, and so to tell people to replace their weight losses or to use this as a gauge is entirely incorrect as your fluid balance operates independent from your weight. Your body has an entire mechanism that regulates your plasma osmolality---your thirst. but if you want to read more about that then just click back to October 2007 to tackle the details.

On our way to 2,000,000!

So in the mean time we will carry on and hope to have our 2,000,000th visitor sooner than another two years, and one thing we can anticipate with confidence is that if Gebrselassie breaks his 2:03:59 world record at the Berlin Marathon in just three weeks, we are going to be a lot closer. He has stated that he will make yet another attempt on the record, and in many ways there is no reason why he cannot break it again. Of course it will be difficult and he must get his pacing exactly right, but over his long career he has proved that he is willing and able to punch through to the next level. If he does, you know where to find the best analysis of that performance!



Anonymous said...

Hi Ross and Jonathan,

Great website, thanks for all the posts! Its providing a perfect connection of what we scientists deal with in our "ivory tower" every day and the "real life" conditions out on the field. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...


I check back often in order not to miss any of your posts!

Thank you.

David said...

I very much enjoy your blog and appreciate the struggle imposed by your mission as I have PhD in engineering and work in the world of economics and investment management.

Keep up the good fight. It inspires many who are trying to do good work in different fields (and importantly, get our 5K/10K/Marathon times down in spite of our aging bodies...)

Thanks for sharing through your blog.

Ron George said...


Congrats on the viral visitations.

I thought I'd like to tell you I think I may have found out a bug in your blog. Maybe it isn't one and could be tweaked to work correctly with some simple modifications.

Take any particular link to a specific post on your blog. For example we'll use : http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009/07/tour-de-france-2009-power-estimates.html

Now if you remove the "www" after the "http" and plug that into a browser, the link takes you to your homepage, not the post that was desired to be read. Test it out yourself. I have not seen this in happening on my blog and several others and wonder why it happens to you.

This sort of irritated me several times, as these links were coming from other websites without the "www".

Cozy Beehive Bike Blog

Anonymous said...

Guys . . . thanks for the note on fluid replacement re the triathlon article you pointed to.

Note that the references used in that article were from Sports Dietitians Australia. There has been some very ordinary advice from this mob over time. Old beliefs die hard. Approaching total fluid weight replacement is one of them. A recipe for hyponatraemia if ever I saw one.


Unknown said...

I have enjoyed the website for some time. I believe it does help provide a link between science and reality. It's good for discussion and I have often used the articles to refer people onto to increase their knowledge/insight into topics.

Keep highlighting the limitations (and even contradictions) that come out of the research and actual practice.

I am lucky enough to have studied with John Hawley back in my Uni days at RMIT. Have also been a lab rat in a few of his studies. It is interesting to note how some people have taken the interpretation of a lot of his work.

Arnaud Malherbe said...

Ross and Jonathan,

Thank you for your informative articles and congrats on reaching one million!

I see that having a lot of letters behind your name doesn't necessarily mean you can spell - that hydration article has quite a few spelling mistakes!

Secondly, as an athlete, I always distrusted the scientists to some degree, mostly the biokineticists as I have received some very dodgy exercise programmes and advice from them. I finally found one that actually came to the track to watch me train and designed a strength training programme to complement that.

I have also always questioned the value of VO2Max measurements and training with a heart rate monitor for the 400m. Yet, that's all everyone wanted to do. I felt that sprint training envolves a lot more than simple heart rate monitoring, since your heart rate might indicate you have recovered, but your muscles still need a couple of minutes more rest.

A good example of this clash is an exercise physiology student that had to design a training programme for an Olympic level athlete as an assignment. She came to myself and my coach for advice, so we gave her my actual training programme for the 400m, that I broke the SA Record on.

Her lecturers response? "This programme is too hard for anyone to do and would not be possible. If it were possible to train this hard, the athlete would be too fatigued to race well in competitions."

So much for the pure scientific approach.

This is why I find your inputs so valuable - you seem to have found the "holy grail" of marrying the pure science with practical coaching and training.

Keep it up!

Arnaud Malherbe

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who stumbled into your site a couple of weeks ago when I Googled "Caster Semenya" -- but having found it, I intend to keep checking in. I've spent the past week or so exploring old posts and wondering why I never found this blog before. I'm looking forward to learning more from you guys.

Holly W.

StefanH said...

Hi Ross and Jonathan,

In my opinion you are fulfilling your mission. I'm a running coach and I follow your blog regular. It gives me answers to many questions but most of all it gives me things to think about and force myself to ask myself questions about my everyday practice. The reading itself is enjoyable and fun. Thank you for your great work!

Unknown said...

Not sure whether to post this on a more relevant topic (older post) or the most current thread... So this is redundant, back to the topic of doping in cycling: Any comment on the blog controversey (cycling news forum):
regarding Lance Armstrongs recently self-posted blood values? Can any conclusions really be drawn? Could altitude training explain the rise in HCT befor the Tour? Are the values reported during the tour (called "spikes" on the blog) conclusive? Hard to tell how much of the discussion is based on science/facts and how much is smoke and blather... Someone did a very nice chart of OFF score and HCT over time which looks very impressive. What does it mean? I would like to hear some sober analysis of it..
I appreciate your website very much, nice to hear some science and facts rather than a lot of emotion. Are you going to go back and do more on the cycling topic (performance measurement, bio passport, etc)?

bitz said...

Perhaps the next time a 'sports fluid/hydration specialist' suggests that the body regulates weight during exercise, maybe we need to ask them why all those people exercise to lose weight!

Derek said...

Ross, Jonathan,

A huge congratulations are in order. I really enjoy your blog, and have been following it via email since the beginning. Keep up the excellent work.

I don't have an email address for you guys, so i´ll have to pass it along this way.

Here´s the feel good sports story of the day!


Anonymous said...

Hey Guys,

I have to agree with you that this site has a lot of potential.

I think you’ve done readers a real service with the coverage of the Semenya story and the Tour coverage earlier in the summer reflected a real passion for cycling.

I think one think that could help the site even further would be deciding exactly what niche you would like to fill; whether this is a science site for coaches and athletes or a news site, etc.

Some of the posts are more news than science and some are commentary and opinion. Of course, all of the above are fine, but sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re providing personal opinions or speaking as people with formal training from sports school.

The coverage of the Semenya story has been open-minded and fair, but the Bolt and Pistorius stories and comments have been heavy on personal opinion and full of factual and scientific errors.

I realize you both got your sports degrees recently and I don’t think anyone expects you to be perfect, but I really don’t think you should have a forum for comments if you are going to remove posts that point out your factual and scientific errors

I was particularly troubled that you removed my corrections after you asked me to provide them and I did so in a polite fashion.

This behavior will inevitably undermine the site’s credibility.

So, please keep up the good work, try to be more open about your mistakes, and stop censoring and removing material that helps the site to be more accurate.

The site really does have

Jonathon Howard
New York

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Jonathan

I can assure you there is no censorship here. The posts that are removed are those that are slandering, rude, or contain hate-speech or unfair insults - there were many on the Semenya story.

Second, we have found our niche already, thank you. And do not wish to adopt either of the positions you suggest.

We have tried really hard to explain our position and mission, yet people still surface, perhaps once a week, or once a fortnight, who still don't seem to appreciate the opinion nature of the stories.

You believe the Semenya coverage to be fair and balanced because it's a story you are distant from, and no doubt you agree with us. You don't believe the Pistorius comment to be fair because you disagree, and presumably you disagree on Bolt as well. But you don't disagree on cycling, which is why those posts don't seem opinionated to you. What you are missing is that everything is opinion.

If you read the Semenya story, you will find them extremely opinionated. The cycling coverage is also extremely opinionated, as were our stories on running shoes, running technique, hydration, muscle cramps - all of them. The difference is you - you disagree with some of them, not others, and then voice what are ostensibly insults despite my very best efforts to explain that our reason for existence is opinion. Every single article is an opinion piece.

If you'd like to read my scientific papers, do a PubMed search and find them in scientific journals. But this site is news and insight, which is very much our opinions. We exist to provide coverage of news stories, to provide a second and third level of insights, based on our scientific perspective. But you're confusing disagreement with opinion - go back and read the cycling and Semenya posts, you'll find plenty of 'bias'.

As for the forum, it exists to provide readers with an opportunity to question, to challenge, to discuss and voice opens, not attack. The purpose is to improve on the quality of the posts, which is why I spend maybe more time responding to comments than I do on the original article. But if a comment doesn't add value to the post, then it doesn't belong.

Just as an aside, you will find plenty of criticisms of me if you read the Coyle posts, the Lance Armstrong posts, and the Pistorius posts. I don't remove comments that disagree. Go back and read those posts, you'll see what I mean. There is one poster, Ken, who has been very vocal in pointing out scientific mistakes, and I found his posts great, they added real value to the site. In science, the guy who says he "knows everything" is either ignorant, arrogant, or lying, an important lesson to be learned. But the posts are not the place for personal attacks and my discretion will remain the decider of that - but just so you know, plenty of critical posts occupy proud places on the site.


Ray said...

Hi Ross and Jon,

Happy milestone.

Following on to Rupert's comments, are you still planning a detailed discussion of Andy Shen's interview with Michael Ashenden?


To Jon Howard of New York:
What? I would be curious to see your examples of propaganda.

Meg & Dave said...

Hi Guys,

I've been reading since the first couple months, your blog is wonderful. If I weren't a poor grad student you would have gotten donations a long time ago. Don't listen to the criticism unless it is going to change the way you do things (which is great according to most of us).

What's funny is, I learned how often sports science is actually inaccurate or misleading by reading your blog. Now I come to the blog with a healthy skepticism even of the facts you throw out there. You guys do about the best job imaginable fo being clear about what really can or should be concluded from a given piece of information. You are doing a great job!

Thanks guys,


Anonymous said...

Hi Ray,

The information you requested has now been posted in the comments section of the most recent post on Oscar Pistorius which first appeared several months ago.

I posted here originally in accordance with your request, but the site moderator would not allow it to remain here. It was immediately removed.

I think it would logically follow your question, but..


Jon H

Unknown said...

More on the Lance Armstrong blood sample speculation: http://velonews.com/article/97468/damsgaard-responds-to-speculation-about-lance-armstrong-s

I appreciate your work a lot - hoping to hear more on the cycling issues...

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Tucker,

My difficulty with what you post here has nothing to do with your specific opinions and whether or not they agree with mine.

As I noted in another post you removed, I agree with you much of the time, including for the most part your opinions on Semenya, Bolt and Pistorius.

You have assumed above that I disapprove of what you post because I diagreee with your opinion. This is not correct.

I simply feel that any facts you report should be accurate. Unfortunetely, they often are not. And your opinnions often rest on the inaccurate facts you post.

I would appreciate you not removing this post. I have not violated any of the terms of use specified or been the least bit discourteous or impolite to you or anyone else.

Jonathon Howard