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Addicted To Winning?

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Addicted To Winning?

4 February 2009 - The effects of the powerful stimulant nicotine on high-performance athletes will be studied for the first time by Massey researchers.

New Zealand cross-country mountain bike champion Stuart Houltham, who has almost completed his Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Science, is carrying out the research using nicotine patches and chewing gum.

He was awarded a prestigious Physiological Society summer studentship to fund the research.

Lecturer in sport and exercise Science Dr Toby Mndel conducted earlier research as part of his PhD on the effectiveness of nicotine and found it to improve exercise endurance.

"But much more research is needed," Dr Mndel says. "Anyone can buy nicotine and it is far more potent than caffeine, so we need to determine not just whether it affects performance but also how much harm it may cause to those who take it. It is, after all, a toxic substance so there are ethical considerations if it turns out to be harmful."

Nicotine raises the blood pressure of those who take it and increases heart rate, potentially pushing more blood to the muscles.

"It could make an athlete more alert later in a race so they could make better tactical decisions," Dr Mndel says. "However, nicotine could also push an athlete over the edge as other banned substances do. The body could work too hard and overheat or too much stress could be placed on the heart."

Mr Houltham is carrying out the research with seasoned cyclists at the Manawatu campus.

"They're given either a nicotine patch or chewing gum and then simulate a ride of approximately 40km, which is the gold standard distance for road cyclists," Mr Houltham says. "We monitor their heart rate and core body temperature, then carry out a blood test once they've finished and also question the subject about their perceived exertion."

As a national champion mountain biker, Mr Houltham knows how important research like this is.

"Every racer is looking for an edge, but it's important that anything you put in your body is both legal and safe."

The results of the research should be available in two months and will be forwarded to the governing bodies of cycling and other endurance sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency, so they may be aware of the potential for a performance edge or possible danger.

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