Science has answers. But people must ask questions
The question often arises about science and technology changing sport. How? And how much?
My own personal thoughts on this matter start with an anecdote. My para-cycling coach, Mario Valentini, is no great fan of technological innovation. For decades, he’s lived for a world from which he has received plenty, but also to which he has given generously. More as a coach, than as an athlete. His medal tally for the national teams he’s coached places him ahead of any colleague around the world. And I’m not only talking about cycling.
Science and technology: the Mario (Valentini!) school of thought
He’s as modern as you get when it comes to speaking to people and motivating them. But he is also, so to speak, a man who’s lived through plenty. On some fronts, his beliefs are firmly rooted and he doesn’t easily accept change. The greatest injustice one can do to old Mario is being caught red-handed looking at a training file you’ve just downloaded onto your computer.
Well, discussing the watts used for this or that exercise with a training partner might be worse…. Mario believes an athlete must be able to understand his or her own body – nothing more. And that some tools only make things more confusing. Let alone during a race… «Okay, but like, someone makes a break just in front of you, what d’ya do?». Mario would ask in his delightfully thick Roman accent. «You yell at him…Hey you! Forget about the RSM (it should be SRM, for measuring power, but Mario’s always slightly off with these things), and doing too many watts!». Well, I don’t know, but maybe Mario’s right in some sense. Technology has obviously brought tools that were unimaginable in the past, but these also bring the danger of being a bit lazy. It’s all too easy to use such tools simply out of fear of overlooking something, without really questioning whether they actually help us achieve our goals and how.
Anyway, given good old Mario’s reluctance, I’ve thought a bit about this issue. We were at the Montichiari velodrome. It’s completely indoors, meaning absolutely no wind if you’re training alone. This makes it perfect for testing the aerodynamics of wheels, brakes, postures and even helmets. Anyway, my coach was far from convinced about the approach I’d come up with that day. I planned to keep my power constant over three-minute trials, meaning any change would make a recordable difference in average speed. In theory. And it actually worked in practice as well!
The method was so precise that, at subsequent training sessions, the figures were exactly the same when I used the identical combinations. I was obviously pretty chuffed, and Mario was a little surprised. «Well, imagine that! These cycling teams spend buckets on wind tunnels… And you, with next t’nothing, have solved the problem in a couple of hours! Hey, simple is simple, but we need to think about it, no?». It makes you think, doesn’t it? Mario’s words were a pretty stellar compliment and memorable in his accent. In other words, we are each dealt a hand, and we have to decide how to play it. And in a world where science is constantly offering new options, don’t you think such an approach opens up an opportunity for the website I’m writing on?
No to “do-it-yourself” supplements
In motor racing, there is a saying: «To finish first, first you have to finish!». If your run out of fuel, what difference does it make how fast you were going up to that point? But how does this translate for those physical sports where fuel is a metaphor for what makes our muscles perform?
There’s the other side of the coin as well, where people take gels, maltodextrin or energy bars like there is no tomorrow, forcing their bodies to defend themselves as best they can. Vomiting or diarrhoea are not really useful in achieving top sporting performance…
Others opt for a rest from training, but pump themselves full of supplements, vitamins and proteins in the belief they’re strengthening their bodies and getting ready to start working hard again. Some have a “do-it-yourself” body-builder approach that, when talking about protein consumed in different forms, seem to believe their muscles will grow before their eyes. Many youngsters also add a couple of extra scoops of mineral salts, above the recommended dose, to their water bottles in the belief it will help them with the sweat session ahead…
Answers come…to those who ask questions
I have complete confidence in Equipe Enervit. But if they’ve provided winning answers, my approach to asking questions has also been victorious, suited to what I wanted to achieve. This is why I’ve decided to get you involved directly. What are you trying to achieve? How do you want to achieve it? How much do you really want to achieve your absolute best? Expert opinions, athlete testimonies and all the specific information on this website provide data or answers.
Let me say this explicitly: amid all the snake oil salesmen out there, it might not seem like much to have a reliable source of information about what to consume during training and what to ingest to optimise recovery. But it is absolutely essential and so many athletes overlook it, from Sunday joggers to pretty high-level performers.
Dreaming of Tokyo 2020. And curious
Okay, I’ll be honest. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable already, but the new challenge of the Ironman really got me interested in this stuff again. As I was looking for the way forward, I found and understood other, smaller tools that I could keep on the back-burner for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
On the verge of turning 54, a medal (of any colour…!) is more a dream than a goal. Yet, if hope exists, it is because curiosity leads us to find a way. This is what I really wanted to tell you. Science and technology provide amazing answers, but men and women are the ones who know what questions to ask…. And hopefully my good friend Mario won’t be too worried.