As British cyclist Chris Froome celebrates his third Tour de France victory, research from the University of Kent and Australian collaborators shows for the first time that elite endurance athletes have superior ability to resist mental fatigue.
Professor Samuele Marcora, Director of Research in Kent's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, co-authored a report in the journal PLOS ONE entitled Superior Inhibitory Control and Resistance to Mental Fatigue in Professional Road Cyclists.
For the study, Professor Marcora and colleagues compared the performance of 11 professional cyclists and nine recreational cyclists in various tests. As expected, the professional cyclists outperformed the recreational cyclists in a simulated time trial in the laboratory. The new finding was that while the recreational cyclists slowed down after performing a computerised cognitive task to induce mental fatigue, the professional cyclists' time trial performance was not affected.
In addition, the professional cyclists performed better than the recreational cyclists in the computerised cognitive task which measure 'inhibitory control' or willpower. This is not surprising as the ability to suffer is a major factor in the sport of cycling .
Professor Marcora, says that the two effects go hand in hand, because becoming resistant to mental fatigue should bolster willpower during the latter stages of a competition such as the Tour de France.
Although largely hereditary, he speculates that superior willpower and resistance to mental fatigue may be trained through hard physical training and the demanding lifestyle of elite endurance athletes. Professor Marcora is also developing, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, a new training method (Brain Endurance Training) to boost resistance to mental fatigue and endurance performance even further.
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Notes to editors
Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.