7 Bizarre Things That Science Says Make You a Better Athlete
When people think about how scientists can help them be better at sports, they're probably thinking about what cocktail of steroids they can take that won't show up on a urine test. After all, what else can a bunch of four-eyed nerds tell you about sports? Well, if you can fight the urge to pull their underwear over their heads, those eggheads might just have some (legal) tips for you, such as ...
Believing Positive Stereotypes Improves Performance (When Nobody Is Looking)
Sports are rife with harmful stereotypes -- just ask Jeremy Lin what it's like being a Chinese-American playing professional basketball. Unsurprisingly, negative stereotypes and the pressure that comes with them have been shown to hinder athletic performance. With that in mind, researchers decided to turn things around and see whether "positive" stereotypes had the opposite effect.
"Your ethnicity has traditionally been successful in the U.S.!"
In the experiment, white male basketball players watched one of three videos -- one depicting white players as the best free throwers in the NBA, one depicting black players as the best, and one that was completely neutral. The first was supposed to represent a positive stereotype to reinforce that apparently white men can jump after all.
Next, the players were asked to shoot some free throws, wherein half of them were videotaped and the other half were not. The results showed that the players who had been exposed to the positive stereotype performed better, but only if there wasn't any camera. So apparently, they only really believed in themselves as long as nobody was watching.
"OK, everyone turn around for a second."
So we guess the problem is, as interesting as the effect may be, working yourself up with positive stereotypes before the big game probably won't help you much unless you ask the entire audience to close their eyes the whole time.
You Train Better Under Bright Lights
If you're the kind who wakes up before sunrise to train for that big game, new research shows that you may be going about things in entirely the wrong way. If you really want to give your body an athletic boost (and avoid vampire attacks during training), then you should shine some light on the situation.
It's not resisting arrest, it's cardio.
Researchers who wanted to investigate the effect of light on athletic performance exposed some test subjects to low light or bright light for 160 minutes. During the last 40 minutes of the exposure time, the students had to cycle as fast as they could while their pulse, oxygen consumption, and lactate value were monitored. The results revealed that the subjects who were exposed to bright light performed better than those who were exposed to dimmer light.
It turns out that the amount of light you're exposed to has all kinds of effects on your body that you don't notice; namely, it helps regulate your circadian rhythm -- your sleep cycle. No matter how many Red Bulls you slam down, it's the amount of light you're exposed to that tells your body it's time to wake up and start doing shit. When there's no light, it doesn't matter how many pushups you're tearing through -- as far as your body is concerned, it's time to go back to bed and put in a few more hours of shut-eye. This is why the best athletes spend 10 to 15 hours every day staring at the sun, and also why most blind people are terrible at basketball.
They are phenomenal marksmen, however.
Clenching Your Left Hand Defuses Stressful Situations
No matter what game you're playing, chances are that the final moments are going to come down to some edge-of-your-seat high-pressure situation -- that deciding field goal, the crucial free throw in the last seconds of a basketball game, or, if you're desperate for entertainment, that teeth-clenching putt on the 18th hole. If you're an athlete, you know that this moment can be the difference between getting carried out of the stadium by adoring teammates and having spectators shower you with their own poop.
"Do you want me to go chimpanzee on your ass? With my ass?"
Science thinks that there's a simple way to decrease your risk of going home smelling like poop -- athletes can defuse a high-pressure situation just by clenching their left hand. And yes, oddly enough, it does have to be the left hand.
The study tested the skills of experienced athletes of three different sports -- soccer, judo, and badminton (you know, the three most popular ones). In pressure situations, the athletes were asked to squeeze a ball in one of their hands. The results were the same in all three experiments: Those who squeezed a ball in their left hand did just as well as, if not significantly better than, they had done during practice. But, bizarrely, those who squeezed their right hand tended to choke and mess up.
"Just got the call from upstairs. They said execute all the righties."
It's been theorized that this works because the clenching of the left hand might activate the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with "superior performance in automated behavior" -- basically, the clenching helps prevent the athlete from overthinking what he's doing, thus letting the action come naturally. Regardless of the outcome of the study, we like to think that the researchers just liked watching people fuck up.
Watching Erotic Movies Boosts Your Potential
Hundreds of expensive, rigorous scientific studies across many decades have concluded that men like to watch a lot of porn. But in case you needed another excuse, studies have also shown that watching porn can improve your sports performance. And we don't just mean by working out the right bicep.
You should probably switch hands every so often.
In the study, a group of athletes were shown short video clips in five different categories -- sad, erotic, aggressive, training motivational, and humorous, which served as a control video. (We here in the Cracked offices can confirm that comedy is the opposite of sports.)
The researchers noted a significant improvement in the athletes' performances after they watched erotic, aggressive, or training films, with the opposite occurring after the funny and sad videos. It's believed that this has something to do with testosterone, which plays an important role in the growth of muscle mass and strength and increased bone density. Saliva samples taken from the athletes showed that watching the erotic or aggressive videos gave the participants' testosterone levels a short-term boost.
"It's the eyyyyyyyyyye of the tiger ..."
The only problem is that it's hard to take advantage of the effect -- after looking at porn, most people would rather look at more porn than go out and play football.
Chocolate Can Help You Exercise
If you're trying to figure out the best diet to maximize your sports performance, you wouldn't think that chocolate would play a significant part. Well, you'd be wrong, according to science, and science wouldn't lie to us.
You probably still shouldn't leave your kids with it, though.
Scientists at the University of California conducted a study and found that dark chocolate produced similar effects on the body to those produced by aerobic exercises like jogging and cycling. To be fair, the studies were done on mice, but we all know that they are the athletes of the animal world, judging by how much time they spend running in wheels.
Researchers gave small liquid doses of epicatechin, a chemical in chocolate, twice a day to a group of mice, and a separate control group drank equal amounts of water. Half of the animals in each group were then given a light exercise regimen for 15 days. At the end of the study, all of the mice were made to run on a treadmill until they dropped from exhaustion. We assume at this point that most scientific research is based on the principle of "fuck mice."
"Don't stop, or the wifey gets it."
The mice that received doses of epicatechin had a whopping 50 percent boost in performance compared to the other groups of mice. Even those in the water group that had been exercising regularly grew tired more quickly than the epicatechin mice with zero exercise.
The explanation for this is that the muscles of all of the animals that had been given epicatechin had grown new mitochondria -- structures in cells that produce cellular energy. Just as with the mice, in humans this would translate to more resistance to fatigue and greater muscle power. If only we could find someone willing to consume vast amounts of chocolate to see if it will give them superpowers.
"Day 38: Still no super strength."
Related: 5 Bitter Truths About Chocolate
Pleasant Smells Improve Your Batting Average
Scientists have known for some time that certain smells can affect the mind and body in some miraculous ways, from dreams and emotions to your ability to concentrate. While a whiff of lavender releases feel-good hormones and makes us happier, the scent of roses is known to lower blood pressure, and a hint of eucalyptus improves alertness. But researchers were wondering whether pleasant aromas could be put to a much nobler purpose -- helping you hit things farther with blunt objects.
Bonds is totally olfactoring.
They studied six professional Major League Baseball players who alternated between wearing jasmine-scented and unscented wristbands. The players were made to sniff the scented wristbands once before swinging at 10 pitches thrown by a batter. The pitcher and batting coaches rated how each player swung at the ball, if he connected for a hit, how far the ball went, how fast the swing was, and whether the performance changed for better or worse.
The results showed that all the test subjects recorded improved performance in all abilities when they sniffed the wristbands. Presumably they also reported feeling much prettier.
"And my menstrual cramps are gone!"
Similar studies of the performance of bowlers found that the smell of jasmine significantly improved their bowling ability as well. These results suggest that jasmine could be useful in enhancing not only athletic ability, but also other activities requiring precise hand-eye coordination. So next time you notice your favorite sports team sucking balls, you should consider sending them a bouquet of flowers.
Non-Alcoholic Beer Helps You Recover from Marathons
Running a marathon is hard, or at least that's what we've heard. The body wasn't exactly designed to run for 26 miles straight, because evolution figured that whatever was chasing you would probably have already eaten you by that point.
"Go ahead, run! The adrenaline just makes you more tender."
Because of the stress that marathon runners put their bodies through, runners tend to suffer from a weakened immune system after a run, putting them at risk of nasty upper respiratory tract infections. New research shows that they might be able to avoid this with a nice tall glass of non-alcoholic wheat beer.
The study, creatively referred to as "Be-MaGIC" (beer, marathons, genetics, inflammation, and the cardiovascular system), compared runners plied with non-alcoholic beer with some others who were given a beer-flavored placebo, although until now we didn't realize that there was a difference. The result was that the beer drinkers showed reduced inflammation, lower frequency of upper respiratory infections and colds, and overall better immune systems.
They were also four times more likely to be stuck driving their friends to Sheetz at 3 a.m.
So what causes this? The study concluded that it was thanks to the "particular combination of polyphenol, vitamins, and minerals" in the beer, with a special thanks to the polyphenol, a kind of antioxidant. The better news is that we've finally found a practical use for non-alcoholic beer.
For more ways science can make your superhuman, check out 5 Ways To Hack Your Brain Into Awesomeness and 5 Superpowers You Didn't Know Your Body Was Hiding From You.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Only Convincing Anti-Piracy PSA in History.