Every year, data and news service Thomson Reuters compiles an index of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.” Scientists earn a place atop the list by publishing several articles that rank among the top one percent most cited by fellow researchers.
“Citations offer a direct testament to work that scientists themselves judge to be the most important to ongoing research,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director of Thomson Reuters Scientific and Scholarly Research, in a press release.
With that in mind, we combed through the most influential sports science journals to find their top-cited articles over the past five years. Presenting what all that research has to say about our health:
We want to go fast. But we don't want to do the hard work. Nitrate and protein supplement research dominates the literature. Nitrates, found in beetroot juice, were found to make exercise more efficient and help endurance athletes go stronger longer—if they drank 17 ounces of the stuff every day for at least three days before go-time.
And in muscle-building news, the journal’s top-cited study concluded that whey hydrolysate beats out soy protein and casein for post-workout muscle recovery. Athletes who downed a drink with 10 grams of whey hydrosylate after performing resistance exercise had a 93 percent greater muscle protein synthesis response than they did after consuming a drink that contained the same amount of casein.
The takeaway? Everyone's looking for a fitness shortcut. In reality, diet tweaks and supplements might help you eke out that final percent of performance gain. But for most athletes, sticking to the fundamentals will yield more immediate results.
Platelet-rich-plasma injections (aka PRP) were the hot topic in this journal. As the top-cited article explains, PRP injections are prepared from one’s own blood, and contain “growth factors and bioactive proteins that influence the healing of tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone.” More and more pro athletes are turning to both stem cell and PRP injections to try to avoid the uncertainty and down time associated with surgery.
Using one’s own blood as a body boost is nothing new. Tour de France cyclists have been extracting their own blood—sometimes centrifuging it down to just the red blood cells, then re-injecting it—for years. As Bike Pure explains, autologous blood transfusion “is not detectable and is perhaps not technically “doping”, but remains a banned technique affording a massive boost to an athlete over fatigued competition” by delivering extra oxygen to working muscles, and “increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent.”
Unlike blood doping, PRP injections are not illegal. In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed PRP from its list of banned substances after noting a lack of evidence that the procedure enhances performance. PRP is for healing.
For athletes in contact sports like football, researchers are particularly concerned about concussions: their long-term effects, how to spot one, and how to decide when an athlete is ready to play again after suffering one.
Helmet technology is getting smarter, too. In football, the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet is “designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma,” SB Nation reports. A built-in response system “is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk. And in the endurance sports world, Swedish company POC introduced helmets with MIPS, a technology designed to reduce oblique impact forces on the brain by allowing the helmet’s shell and liner to move separately.
In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.
Soccer fans aren't the only depressed creatures in Argentina these days. Arturo the polar bear, a 29-year-old male who lives at the Mendoza Zoo outside Buenos Aires, has been swaying back and forth, shaking his head and acting downright despondent ever since his longtime playmate Pelusa passed away two years ago.
And his decidedly un-polar living conditions aren’t helping: temperatures in Arturo’s oven-like enclosure can top 100 degrees.
What do you do with a morose cold-weather mammal that appears to be suffering from heartache, heatstroke, or both? Internet voices think they have an answer—move Arturo to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IBPCC) at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada. There are petitions currently circulating on Change.org and ForceChange.org to make it happen, and a fundraiser posted to Reddit had crowdsourced almost $5,000 as of this writing.
Those officials would first need to cut through a pile of red tape. “Before an animal is transported, it receives a detailed veterinary check-up to verify that it is healthy for transport,” says Dave Bernier, general curator at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. “Every shipment has to have a health certificate signed by the attending veterinarian by regulation."
Since Arturo’s medical records are spotty at best, it would be difficult for the IBPCC to import him. There’s also the issue of Arturo’s age. Polar bears only have a life expectancy of 30 years in captivity, so some people wonder if a stressful relocation would be worthwhile for a geezer like Arturo. Finally, there’s the sheer logistics of the thing. After all, Arturo is a 900-pound predator with a chip on his shoulder, and Mendoza is almost 6,000 miles from Winnipeg in the opposite hemisphere.
Still, zoos and other facilities have proven that they can transport large animals effectively. When Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium was renovated in 2008, FedEx airmailed seven whales to a host facility using large metal containers equipped with specially designed water slings. In 2013, a zoo in New Zealand successfully shipped a 15-month-old giraffe to a partner zoo in Melbourne via ocean freighter and extra-tall crate. Later that year, a rare Sumatran tiger was transported from a German zoo to a zoo in the U.K. via ferries, cranes, and an army of careful caretakers. “Animal shipments must happen at the appropriate temperature, in the proper enclosure and using a travel method that ensures the safety of both the animal and staff,” says Bernier.
But before zoo officials can even begin to talk logistics, there’s that damn red tape—particularly the issue of incomplete medical records. Before, this seemed like a deal-breaker as the Mendoza Zoo simply cannot provide what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) needs to approve the transfer. But Arturo’s sob story is blowing up the mainstream news cycle this week, and as more heavy-hitters get involved, the public pressure could lead to a one-time exception.
Here’s to hoping poor Arturo gets better—or gets the green light to pack his bags for the Great White North.
There is “absolutely no doubt that animals love,” says Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals. What makes him so sure? Years of observing wolves, coyotes and other animals in their natural habitats.
“A long-term close relationship, commitment to another person,” Bekoff says. “You travel with them, you defend territory and food, you have a family, you miss one another while you’re apart.”
That loving behavior he observed is supported by an experiment detailed in a recent article in The Atlantic, “Dogs (and Cats) Can Love.” In the experiment, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University Paul Zak collected blood samples from a dog and a goat after they played with one another. He then measured the animals’ levels of oxytocin, or “the neurochemical of love.”
The dog had a 48 percent increase in oxytocin, meaning it viewed the goat as a friend. The goat, however, was enraptured. “It had a 210 percent increase in oxytocin,” Zak explains. “At that level of increase, within the framework of oxytocin as the ‘love hormone,’ we essentially found that the goat might have been in love with the dog.”
And what of those animals that pair up for life, such as certain types of birds? Although penguins don't mate for life, they can sustain long-term relationships, says Dee Boersma, the cirector of the Magellanic Penguin Project at the University of Washington. One pair she observed was together for 16 years.
Boersma’s Ph.D. student Jeffrey Smith studies why female penguins, given the choice, will pick one male as her mate over another, but they have yet to pinpoint a reason. “We’re not sure if it’s a behavioral thing or if she sees a nest that she likes,” he says. Could this X factor be love?
Boersma cites a story of seeming heartbreak among Galapagos penguins. When a male penguin disappeared, his mate remained in the nest waiting for him. Even when another male lured her away, she continued to return to the old nest.
“Was she pining away for her love?” Boersma asks. “She was distressed but was it love? With a bird brain is it the same as human love?” Perhaps not, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less like love, just different.
“It’s not to say that dog love is the same as human love,” says Bekoff, “but your love might not be the same as mine.”
Ten years ago, kiteboarding pioneer Don Montague hatched a plan to become the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe. His idea was to use a 65-foot catamaran, cabled to a large parafoil, that would fly some 250 feet in the air. Essentially, he would supersize the typical kiteboard rig. A few months into the project, he gave a preview to a couple of kitesurfing friends, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
“I was showing them how much power was actually available at higher altitudes, and I said, ‘Look, I can even generate electricity,’ ” says Montague, who had worked with a Dutch astronaut to build a kite-power prototype. “They said, ‘Don, don’t waste your time sailing around the world. Let’s save the world.’ ”
So Montague and his partners set about designing a wind turbine that would be held aloft like a kite but use small propellers to generate electricity. Montague named the new endeavor Makani. At the outset, Google invested $15 million in the effort. Last May, Makani was sold outright to Google X—the R&D lab that created Google Glass—for an undisclosed amount. And this summer, backed by the company’s enormous resources, Makani began building a second-generation, 600-kilowatt wind turbine, which could one day generate enough electricity to power 300 homes—as many as the largest modern land-based turbines.
Makani’s big idea rests on a simple concept: wind gets stronger—and more dependable—the higher you go. Dozens of companies around the world are working on design formulas based on this principle, everything from a propeller system that stays aloft with helium, like a blimp, to a large drone-like quadcopter with spinning blades that produce energy.
One of the primary hurdles in technology races like this is capital, since most investors consider the odds of failure too great. But with Google’s deep pockets, Makani is by far the most likely outfit to usher in a new era of wind power. “We are able to go faster, and we have a larger appetite for risk,” says Damon Vander Lind, lead engineer at Makani. “Perhaps we will fail. But if we succeed, the value dwarfs all the potential failures.”
Some alternative-power advocates are ambivalent about Google leading the way to a renewable-energy future, but the wind sector needs all the help it can get. Proponents like to boast that the resource could supply the U.S. with 20 percent of its electricity needs, yet the industry has foundered in recent years, beset by political and logistical woes. A big part of the problem is that current land-based designs are expensive to build and clunky to transport. That’s where Montague’s high-flying concept comes in.
“While classic turbines are facing physical and economic limits, airborne wind energy shows interesting potential,” says Roland Schmehl, a professor at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, who’s working on an electricity-generating inflatable wing called Kite Power.
Makani is currently testing a 20-kilowatt airplane-inspired turbine, which circles in the air like a parafoil. Made with 27-foot-wide carbon-fiber wings, it can reach heights of up to 1,300 feet, compared with a maximum 500 feet for land-based turbines. When the wind isn’t strong enough to keep the wing aloft, a docking station reels it in. Like those on the ground, airborne models would likely be combined into groups of dozens or even hundreds. To maximize -potential power, Makani’s turbines would need to fly at a minimum of 500 feet—which could require amending current FAA regulations.
As for Montague, after the Google X acquisition, he bowed out of the company and got back to building that kite-powered catamaran to sail around the world. He’s confident Makani will be the first to market with a commercially viable airborne wind turbine, which he says is still at least five years out.
“Is it a race? It doesn’t really matter who’s first,” Montague says. “If anyone is in production in five years, then we all win.”
No matter what I read about tackling a high-altitude race, I wasn’t convinced that minor training tweaks could actually affect my result. And as a fact checker for Outside magazine, I couldn’t resist the chance to test our online team’s fitness advice when I ran a 26.2-mile race in Leadville, Colorado, last month.
Maybe it was an altruistic pursuit, but it’s more likely that I needed an outlet for my growing nerves. Because Leadville is high (in at least one way I could confirm). The town is wedged between Rocky Mountain 14ers at 10,152 feet, and the course starts climbing right away.
Us mere mortals were resigned to hiking the inclines as the trail weaved toward the halfway point at Mosquito Pass (13,185 feet) where wind speeds hovered around 30 mph. To put it in perspective, climbers launch most Mount Rainier (14,409 feet) summit bids from Camp Muir, which sits at 10,080 feet. You know, the same height at which pilots used to tell you it was okay to turn on approved electronic devices. High.
So how does Outside recommend tackling the highest marathon in the United States? And more importantly, does our advice work?
“Avoid racing between 24 to 72 hours at altitude and instead head up the night or morning before.”
To avoid the ill effects of altitude on race day, we recommend heading up one to three weeks ahead of time to get acclimated. If that’s not doable, then avoid the window where symptoms typically set in: between 24-72 hours of exposure.
Since hanging out in Colorado for a week wasn’t something I could pull off, I got to Leadville 12 hours before the gun. Surprisingly, I felt no effects of the altitude (trust me, I was looking for it), but it definitely took a mental toll because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
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“Aim to spend four or more hours at 5,000-plus feet a few times in the month leading up to the race.”
Having experience training at altitude helps. When I moved to Santa Fe (7,000 feet), I was aware of the thin air the second I got out of the car. But three months of training here gave me a huge advantage over my fellow Midwestern competitors. On the course I met a guy from Oklahoma (as we were walking one of the ascents), and he mentioned that the tallest “mountain” he could find topped out at 1,400 feet. He’d never breathed air so thin, much less tried to run in it.
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“Be sure to prepare mentally, as your race pace will be slower and dehydration sets in quicker.”
I’m pretty good at drinking water. I even nixed my usual night-before beer because Outside (for once) doesn’t recommend drinking booze. Starting the race hydrated is easy enough, but staying that way is a bit tougher. I took a few sips of water every 10 minutes or so, but it wasn’t sufficient to keep headaches at bay. As pressure built at the nape of my neck and temples, however, a quick chug of water reversed the advancing pain and allowed me to keep trudging on.
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“Rather than trying to maintain your typical pace, consciously slow yourself down to avoid blowing up.”
Unlike a sea-level marathon where a wall is expected late in the race (if ever), at altitude you might not know you’re bonking until you’re delirious and puking in the trees. For many, myself included, a finish at high altitude is as good as a win. I overheard the following advice on the course:
1. Don't do anything stupid. 2. Just finish.
One guy said this to another shortly after we passed a runner dry heaving around the two-mile mark. The altitude combined with the gnarly terrain (think snow, loose rock, mud) was responsible for a few bloody knees and faces as runners navigated the steep slopes. No need to do anything crazy, just keep it moving.
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And if all else fails?
“If you still end up feeling like crap the whole race, don’t sweat it. It’s not you—it’s genetics.”
I managed to finish on two feet, arms sticky with electrolyte water and a new tan line resembling a capped-sleeved wrestler's singlet. But I finished. I was waiting for symptoms of altitude to hit, but they never did.
The Bottom Line:
So after completing this 6.5-hour investigation, my fact check found that we’ve offered sage advice on executing a high-altitude jaunt, sans hypoxia and with enough stamina left to Instagram post-race. No noses growing here: it turns out (surprise!) that Outside's experts know their stuff.