Physical Performance and Mental Fatigue in Athletes

Kavindra Sahabir ‘21

Figure 1:  Cyclists must be in peak cardiovascular health in order to compete at the best of their potential. However, with events traversing great distances in long periods of time, their mental state must also be in top shape.

It is common knowledge that athletes are required to be physically fit in order ensure optimal performance when they compete in a physically demanding sport. Athletes must also maintain good mental health in order to perform well, however, an athlete’s mental state is much harder to assess than his or her physical state. One’s physical condition can certainly affect his or her mental state, but not much is known about the converse, or the effect of one’s mental state on physical performance. In a study by Luca Filipas and other researchers, the physical performance of these cyclists was compared to their levels of mental fatigue in order to understand the impact mental state has on physical performance.

In this study, 10 cyclists were split into a control and an experimental group. Both groups were asked to perform an activity for 30 minutes before completing a 30-minute timed trial on an exercise bicycle. The control group was asked to perform an activity that was neither physically nor mentally demanding whereas the experimental group performed a standard, mentally demanding task called a Stroop task, which was designed to elicit mental fatigue. Heart rate, power output, and cadence, which is the rate at which a wheel turns, were all factors used in assessing physical performance during the experiment.

The results of this study conveyed that an athlete’s mental state indeed had a very visible effect on his or her physical performance; the power output of athletes in the experimental group appeared to be lower than those in the control group. It was also seen that the cadence was lower in the experimental group when compared to the control group. However, heart rate was similar in both groups, which implies that mental fatigue may influence athletic performance, but not physiological response. Although this study has limitations such as a small sample size, the findings may help athletes train to their maximum potential.

 

References:

  1. L. Filipas, et al., Mental fatigue impairs time trial performance in sub-elite under 23 cyclists. Public Library of Science, (2019). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218405
  2. Image retrieved: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjAw7Ps_fbiAhVmU98KHYtQDh4QjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.defense.gov%2Fphotoessays%2FPhotoEssaySS.aspx%3FID%3D6177&psig=AOvVaw3qwu9j5pr5U-X1-5f8nbCo&ust=1561083077377821
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