Top Shows

The Learning Hub


Ever Wondered? Episode 1

How science is impacting our physical performance

In Episode 1 of Ever Wondered?, Dr John Watt meets scientists who test the effect of ingesting or just tasting carbohydrates. Research is done to measure effects on energy and skill and to try to explore the mysterious connection between the mouth and the brain to produce more energy.

Ingesting carbohydrates during sports increases energy and performance

Massey University's Dr Ajmol Ali tests football players by giving them carbohydrates at regular intervals during intense exercise. To simulate real game conditions, he goes beyond using a standard treadmill and has modified a system for testing called the LIST. Ajmol and his team have also created the LSST system that simulates other aspects of the game like passing and shooting goals. This test helps to gain a better understanding of skill and dexterity as well as cognitive function during a game.

This research shows that ingesting carbohydrates during a soccer game can have a significant impact on the player, particularly during the crucial last 15 minutes of a match. A player could get up to 33% more energy by ingesting carbs at regular intervals during the game. The benefits go beyond extra energy and skill function and could also lead to increased immunity, reduction in injury, increased cognitive skill and a big impact on the 'feel good' factor.

Carbohydrate mouth rinse produces energy boost

Dr Nick Gant is an exercise physiologist at Auckland University and has discovered that carbohydrates only need to be tasted to improve energy output.

Nick uses a treadmill that simulates running in the real world. He uses double-blind trials in which neither the subject nor the scientist knows which of the 2 liquids contains the carbohydrates and which is the placebo. After extensive trials, Nick discovered that, even though the carbohydrate solution was not being swallowed, there was an instant increase in performance of up to 2%. This can provide a huge advantage in professional sports where the difference between coming first and last can be less than 1%.

The speed and instant effect of the carbohydrate without ingestion led Nick to join forces with the Neuroscience Department at Auckland University to try to unlock this mysterious 6th sense taste connection to brain.

Exploring the 6th sense link between taste and brain

Nick joins neuroscientists Associate Professor Winston Byblow and Dr Cathy Stinear. Winston has his brain tested by sitting in a specially designed chair and is hooked up to electrodes. Cathy moves a wand-like tool, the transcranial magnetic stimulator (TCMS), around Winston's head to locate the portion of the brain that controls the bicep movement. Winston generates force by flexing his arm and bicep. He is then given the carbohydrate mouth rinse solution. The carbohydrate in the mouth immediately produces additional stimulation going from the brain to the muscle. Results confirm an increase in strength of up to 2%.

Cathy explains that the next stage of the research is incorporating the use of an MRI machine to get more accurate readings of which parts of the brain react to the carb rinse in the mouth. But how do you get a test subject to stay perfectly still while doing a muscle test? And how do you get the solution in and out of the mouth while in the MRI chamber? Nick and one of his students used their Kiwi ingenuity to come up with a device to solve these problems.

This research could have consequences beyond the sports field and may help prepare us for surgery or help the recovery process for stroke sufferers.

Activity idea

In conjunction with this episode of Ever Wondered?, your students may enjoy these activities.

In this activity, students investigate muscle fatigue using the action of opening and closing a clothes peg. They can predict the result and design experiments to identify recovery times.
In this activity, students analyse data from an experiment that measures force and velocity for various load conditions in a bench press exercise.
In this video clip, students watch researchers describe how their research is used to improve athletic performance. Athletes Richard Patterson and James Dolphin talk about the edge that recent research findings give to their performance.

Context links

To further investigate how science is impacting our physical performance, check out these Science Learning Hub contexts.

Sporting Edge: This context has articles about the application of scientific principles and techniques to improve sporting performance, and the sources of energy for exercise.

See-through Body: In this context, find out more about medical imaging techniques and how scientists look at the brain in action using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Brought to you in partnership with