Placebo effect can enhance performance - study

The runners self-injected the saline placebo, thinking it to be OxyRBX, over seven days and 3km running performance was assessed. Picture: Contributed
The runners self-injected the saline placebo, thinking it to be OxyRBX, over seven days and 3km running performance was assessed. Picture: Contributed
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PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING drugs can improve a runner’s best time – even when they haven’t taken them.

A study examining the placebo effect found that endurance runners who thought they were injecting a fictional performance-boosting drug called OxyRBX improved their race time even though they had taken only saline.

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Investigators from the University of Glasgow told 15 endurance-trained club-level runners that they were being given a new performance enhancing drug called OxyRBX which was said to improve oxygen delivery to the muscles in a similar way to a hormone called recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEPO).

The runners, who all had personal best times over 10km of 39.3 minutes on average, self-injected the saline placebo, thinking it to be OxyRBX, over seven days and 3km running performance was assessed.

The runners improved their race time by an average of 1.2% - a small but significant margin after taking the placebo.

Participants reported reductions in physical effort, increased potential motivation and improved recovery after running following the saline injections.

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Dr Jason Gill of the University of Glasgow said: “The change in performance was of clear sporting relevance, albeit smaller than the improvement that would be produced by r-HuEPO.

“The placebo may work by reducing perception of effort and increasing potential motivation in line with a psychological expectation of performance.”

The study is published online by the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

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