In our last article we spoke about the impact that mental fatigue has on physical performance and particularly on endurance capability. And with general life and performance stress high in elite and semi elite sport environments the reality is that mental fatigue is likely to be a factor in the performance of athletes. But if athletes are exposed to these mental stressors what can we do to enhance their ability to their ability to manage this and the effect that it has on their performance?

We have spoken about recovery areas previously +, such as sleep and food intake. You can read these previous articles here.

But what I wanted to discuss more was expanding and enhancing concentration and fatiguability from a mental standpoint. Is it possible and is it useful?

We have already mentioned Samuele Marcora and his investigations regarding the presentation of reduced endurance performance and mental fatigue. Naturally Marcora’s research work has extended into brain training tasks that look to enhance sporting performance. With his colleagues they have produced a number of papers that highlight that not only is it possible, it is relatively easy to implement.

The first study looked at enhancing fatigue management in a cycling tasks by having subjects complete a brain training tasks whist cycling. Compared to a control group that did the exact same cycling training without the brain tasks the Time to exhaustion (TTE) also revealed a larger improvement in the Brain Endurance Training Group (BET) (+126%) compared to the control group (+42%) (p < 0.01). Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) during the TTE was significantly lower in the BET group compared to the control group (p < 0.05).

Similarly a study that used soccer players had the players complete a stroop task like the one below for 20 minutes after training, were able to enhance the decision making and concentration areas associated with the game compared to a the control group who did the same soccer training without the brain training tasks. The BET group completed the reactive agility test significantly faster than the control group (p < 0.05) and with lesser fouls (p < 0.03). 

What do these studies highlight? 

More than anything they suggest that in tasks that are susceptible to mental fatigue performance decrements, there remains the opportunity to enhance the bandwidth of the brain’s ability to deal with fatigue and enhance concentration skills in order to improve sporting endurance and decision making.