Sports physiology in the Tour de France: It’s not just about doping!

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the physiology of endurance exercise, using the Tour de France cycling race as an example. While much of the news surrounding this event has to do with the use of performance-enhancing agents, it is important to acknowledge the underlying physiology, training, and nutrition that makes it possible for athletes to perform at such a high level, with or without doping.

You learn pretty much everything there is to know about the race this year at the official Tour de France website.

The Discovery Channel made an excellent documentary about the science of cycling, featuring (pre-doping scandal) Lance Armstrong. Even though Armstrong is the focus of the show, the science applies to all elite cyclists. In fact, the show is an excellent teaching tool about the relationship between physiology, training, and equipment that is critical for performance in many sports. You can watch it on YouTube here.

Speaking of the science of Lance Armstrong… Back in 2005, Ed Coyle, Ph.D., an Exercise Physiologist at the University of Texas Austin, published a paper based on laboratory testing in the Journal of Applied Physiology about Armstrong and the physiological and biomechanical factors that may have contributed to his seven consecutive Tour de France victories.

Since Armstrong recently admitted to using a combination of performance-enhancing agents during that time, it is possible that doping and not the improved efficiency measured in the lab was responsible for his success. Coyle addressed this issue in a recent editorial in the same journal.

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