Peptide Doping – The Sneaky Way to Enhance Sporting Performance

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Elite athletes have been resorting to a “new generation” of substances to get the winning edge over their opponents that are simple, powerful, hard to detect, and naturally occurring. This includes peptides. Some of these substances have been banned (see table below) for use by the World Doping Agency (e.g. erythropoietin). Others have not been approved for human use, despite being widely available in various supplements for weight control and body-building. New peptides are being developed all the time and this compounds the problem.

A peptide is simply a short chain of amino acids, that are the building blocks for proteins. Peptides occur naturally in the human body and in foods.

Despite their simplicity, they are very powerful as they act to stimulate the release of hormones, though they are not themselves active as hormones.

Peptides can be produced naturally via the digestion of proteins by various natural processes. For example, peptides occur in yogurt via the fermentation of the protein in milk.

These substances are rapidly metabolised in the body and so disappear rapidly after stimulating various processes.

There are a huge range of naturally occurring peptides in the human body, which are just short chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

Amino acids, which are the break-down products, are widely used in vitamin pills and supplements, particularly by athletes, pregnant women, dieters and the general public for general health purposes.

The examples below show how simple these peptide substances are.

Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator - A tiny molecule
Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator – A tiny molecule | Source
Hexapeptide (GHRP-6) - A tiny molecule
Hexapeptide (GHRP-6) – A tiny molecule | Sour

Some peptides used in supplements or in various treatments are legal. They are widely used in body-building and weight loss supplements, but some of their ingredients are banned by WACA for sports. Legal peptides also are known to help the body recover from strenuous activity or from minor injuries and muscle strain. Peptides are also popular for many so-called rejuvenation treatments and for helping people recover from injuries. There is a major new industry based on developing and marketing these substances. Many peptides are used in combination with various anabolic steroids to maintain and build extra muscle mass. Athletes therefore need to be very careful as banned and doubtful peptides may be ingredients in many widely available general supplements. Similarly peptides are widely used for treating injuries. Eventually the doping testing agencies will catch up, and be able to detect and issue bans for these substances. In the mean time it is a very lucrative business for the developers and manufacturers of peptides for supplements, treating injuries and rejuvenation treatments.

Examples of Peptides under Investigation or Banned by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

Hexapeptide (GHRP-6)

Controversy surrounds the use of the growth hormone releasing hexapeptide (GHRP-6) by athletes in various football codes in Australia and other countries. These synthetic peptides are potent stimulators of Growth Hormone release, but are not hormones themselves. They stimulate the anterior pituitary gland to increase the amount of growth hormone released into the body. Growth hormones themselves are banned substances. This peptide is potentially also banned, but it is very shorted lived in the body and so hard to detect. The claimed benefits of the stimulation of growth hormone release by hexapeptide (GHRP-6) are: increased strength, more muscle mass and loss of body fat, general rejuvenation benefits and help to strengthen joints and bones. Various research studies have shown it also assists with repairs of muscle and other tissues during recovery from strenuous activities and injuries. This peptide is very powerful, but have no performance boosting properties itself.

Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator (SARM)

In the cells in the body the hormone testosterone, binds to a receptor in the cell called “ androgen” that carries it to the cell’s nucleus. The peptide SARM stimulates the androgen receptors in the cell, boosting the uptake of testosterone. The effect is like taking extra testosterone, but in this case the boost is achieved via stimulating the androgen to achieve the same thing. The claimed benefits of SARM are similar to those of banned anabolic steroids and testosterone. These benefits include increases in bone density, boosts to strength and muscle mass. There are few reported side-effects and SARM is a natural peptide.

Insulin-like Growth Factors

Another type of peptide that is banned is referred to as Insulin-like growth factors (for example IFG-1). Similar factors occur naturally in the body and are part of a group of hormones required for cell growth. They are produced naturally in the liver and closely resemble insulin. Tests in animals have shown that IFG-1 promotes the growth of new cells and muscle repair. It also helps to quickly repair injured tendons. It also promotes rapid boosts to strength and muscle mass. While there are no definitive studies for humans it is believed to be beneficial for building muscles, loss of fat and as a general aid to recovery from injuries and boost endurance. This peptide is also on the (WADA) prohibited list.

Mechano growth factor

This group of peptides, which are generally injected in the form of liquids, are quite similar to the IFG-1 peptide. It occurs naturally in the body and is released in response to exercise, strain, muscle stretching (particularly weight training) and to many types of training. It stimulates the naturally occurring stem cells to become incorporated into muscle tissues for repair. It also helps to support increases in muscle strength and bulk stimulated by weight training and exercise.

Mechano growth factor is listed on the WADA’s prohibited list (see below), and it is illegal to have the hormone in your possession without a prescription.

Untested Substances

There are a wide variety of other substances that have not been certified for human use, but are available in various forms for veterinary use and have been added to various supplements. New peptides are being developed all the time. These substances are not yet prohibited by WADA but have shown up in various investigations throughout the world.

The substances include:

  • Actovegin: A filtered extract from calf blood which may boost stamina and physical performance in athletes and team sports by improving oxygen uptake and glucose metabolism.
  • AOD-9604: This is a weight control drug that is said to mimics the effects of exercise and affects the rate of fat metabolism.
  • Cerebrolysin: a peptide extract from pig brains which is used to treat stroke victims Alzheimer’s and stroke victims..
  • TA-65: A drug that is claimed to target telomeres, substances that protect the distal ends of chromosomes when the DNA is being replicated possibly slowing ageing processes in cells.
Peptide and Related Substances listed by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
Various Anabolic Steroids (long list)
Other Anabolic Agents
selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs)
Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors and Related Substances
Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Agents [e.g. erythropoietin (EPO), darbepoetin (dEPO)]
hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) stabilizers,
methoxy polyethylene glycol-epoetin beta (CERA),
peginesatide (Hematide)];
Chorionic Gonadotrophin (CG) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) in males;
Growth Hormone (GH),
Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1),
Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGFs),
Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF),
Mechano Growth Factors (MGFs),
Platelet-Derived Growth Factor (PDGF),
Vascular-Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF)
Any other growth factor affecting muscle, tendon or ligament protein synthesis/degradation, vascularisation, energy utilization, regenerative capacity or fibre type switching;

Symptoms of Low Magnesium

Low magnesium is known in research circles as the silent epidemic of our times.

Many of the symptoms of low magnesium are not unique to magnesium deficiency, making it difficult to diagnose with 100% accuracy. Thus quite often low magnesium levels go completely unrecognized… and untreated.

Yet chronic low intake of magnesium is not only extremely common but linked to several disease states, indicating the importance of considering both overt physical symptoms and the presence of other diseases and conditions when considering magnesium status.

Get answers below:


Magnesium is an important ingredient to so many of the body’s regulatory and biochemical systems that the impact of low levels spans all areas of health and medical practice. Therefore the symptoms of a magnesium deficit fall into two broad categories – the physical symptoms of overt deficiency and the spectrum of disease states linked to low magnesium levels.

Symptoms include both:

  • Classic “Clinical” Symptoms. These physical signs of magnesium deficiency are clearly related to both its physiological role and its significant impact on the healthy balance of minerals such as calcium and potassium. Tics, muscle spasms and cramps, seizures, anxiety, and irregular heart rhythms are among the classic signs and symptoms of low magnesium. (A complete list of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency follows.)
  • “Sub-clinical” or “Latent” Symptoms. These symptoms are present but concealed by an inability to distinguish their signs from other disease states. Caused by low magnesium intake prevalent in nearly all industrialized nations, they can include migraine headaches, insomnia, depression, and chronic fatigue, among others. (A complete list of the symptoms of low magnesium follows.)

The subject of subclinical or chronic latent magnesium deficiency has been one of alarm and increased emphasis in research communities. This growing attention is largely due to epidemiological (population study) links found between ongoing chronic low magnesium and some of the more troubling chronic diseases of our time, including hypertension, asthma and osteoporosis.

Compounding the problem is the knowledge that the body actually strips magnesium and calcium from the bones during periods of “functioning” low magnesium. This effect can cause a doubly difficult scenario: seemingly adequate magnesium levels that mask a true deficiency coupled by ongoing damage to bone structures. Thus experts advise the suspicion of magnesium deficiency whenever risk factors for related conditions are present, rather than relying upon tests or overt symptoms alone.


The classic physical signs of low magnesium are:1 2 3


Behavioral disturbances
Irritability and anxiety
Impaired memory and cognitive function
Anorexia or loss of appetite
Nausea and vomiting


Muscle spasms (tetany)
Muscle cramps
Hyperactive reflexes
Impaired muscle coordination (ataxia)
Involuntary eye movements and vertigo
Difficulty swallowing


Increased intracellular calcium
Calcium deficiency
Potassium deficiency


Irregular or rapid heartbeat
Coronary spasms

Among children:

Growth retardation or “failure to thrive”


In addition to symptoms of overt hypomagnesemia (clinically low serum magnesium), the following conditions represent possible indicators of chronic latent magnesium deficiency:3 4 5 6

  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • ADHD
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Migraine
  • Cluster headaches
  • Osteoporosis
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis
  • Hypertension
  • Type II diabetes
  • Asthma


It is well known that low magnesium is difficult to detect in a clinical setting, so much so that magnesium deficiency itself is sometimes referred to as “asymptomatic” or “showing no outward signs”.1

Magnesium deficiency itself is sometimes referred to as “asymptomatic” or “showing no outward signs”.

In using these terms, researchers emphasize that conditions will often become severe before overt clinical signs are available – essentially issuing a warning  to health practitioners to be on the alert to signs of magnesium deficiency.

Thus the question becomes not “How can we distinguish mild vs. severe deficiency?”, but “Given the difficulty in recognizing chronic low magnesium, how can we prevent it from developing into severe symptoms and chronic disease?”

The monitoring of magnesium levels among at risk populations would seem to be a solution, yet the most commonly used magnesium test, blood serum magnesium, is considered inaccurate in clearly identifying marginal magnesium deficiency.

Dr. Ronald Elin of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Louisville makes this point clear:

The definition of magnesium deficiency seems simple, but it is complicated by the lack of available clinical tests for the assessment of magnesium status. Ideally we would define magnesium deficiency as a reduction in the total body magnesium content. Tests should be available to identify which tissues are deficient and the state of magnesium in these tissues. Unfortunately, this definition is incompatible with current technology.”7

In light of evidence that sub-clinical  magnesium deficiencies can increase calcium imbalance, worsen blood vessel calcification, and potentially lead to type 2 diabetes, the World Health Organization in 2009 issued a call for improved and more scientific methods of setting daily magnesium requirements and more accurate and accessible methods of assessing magnesium deficiency.7


In their paper published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Drs. DH and DE Liebscher examine the difficulties in diagnosing magnesium deficiency through symptoms and testing, and offer a proposed solution.

Based on their clinical experience with mineral imbalance, the authors suggest:6

  1. Performing magnesium testing whenever conditions or symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency are present.
  2. Increasing the threshold at which low blood magnesium is considered problematic, to successfully capture those with marginal deficiencies (from the commonly used 0.7
    mmol/l Mg to 0.9 mmol/l Mg.)
  3. Beginning magnesium therapy and magnesium supplements as soon as possible, for a minimum of one month’s duration or until levels are clearly improved.

These recommendations echo the general sentiment that magnesium supplementation is safe and recommended, especially for the estimated 75% of the population with below the recommended daily magnesium intake.

The hope is that through measures to prevent magnesium deficiency, risk factors created by long-standing chronic low magnesium could be addressed in more people before severe symptoms and chronic disease develop.

Given the extreme prevalence of low magnesium intake in the U.S. and most developed countries, wider use of magnesium supplements may be the only solution to this silent epidemic.

Three-person baby ‘race’ dangerous

 By James Gallagher

The race to make babies from three people is a major worry, duping couples and a dangerous experiment on mums and babies, warn scientists and ethicists.

The UK, which pioneered the advanced form of IVF, was the first country to introduce laws to allow the creation of babies from three people.

Yet the first baby was born in Mexico.

And despite the technique being designed to eliminate disease, it has been used as an unproven fertility booster in Ukraine.

Both countries have less fertility regulation than the UK.

How to make a three-person baby?

Three-person IVF was devised to prevent the repeated heartache of losing children to illnesses caused by defective mitochondria.

The tiny structures in our bodies convert food into useable energy and are passed on only through the mother’s egg.

Three-person IVF takes the DNA from mum and dad and puts it in an egg from a donor woman. The resulting child has 0.1% of its DNA from the donor.

Why make babies from three people?

The advanced form of IVF was developed at Newcastle University in the UK and the final safety checks were completed in June.

So the Mexico birth and the procedure being offered as a fertility treatment has caused concern.

“We appear to be in a race to the bottom,” warned Dr Marcy Darnovsky from the US Centre for Genetics and Society.

Criticising doctors offering the technique, she added: “They are ignoring ongoing policy debates and conducting dangerous and socially fraught experiments on mothers and children. And they appear to be actively seeking a media splash on the way down.”

“Use of these biologically extreme procedures for infertility is based purely on speculation.”

It is argued that some cases of infertility are caused by a “poor” environment inside the egg such as insufficient or old mitochondria or an imbalance in the chemicals necessary to trigger embryo development.

And that the three-person technique could overcome those deficiencies.


Dr Dusko Ilic, from King’s College London, said there was no way to stop IVF clinics offering the procedure.

While the UK was the first country to create laws to legalise three person IVF, it is legal by default in many countries with little-to-no regulation.

Dr Ilic told the BBC News website: “IVF clinics are jumping on the bandwagon and rushing ahead, whereas the Newcastle team did all the hard due diligence work.

“The major worry is how technically skilful these clinics are, what quality control measures are in place and what information they provide to desperate patients seeking help.

“Are those patients aware of all risks involved?”

For example in the Mexico birth – the details of the family and an photograph of the baby were made public without any consent.

Image captionDr John Zhang holding the baby boy who was conceived thanks to the new technique that incorporates DNA from three people

James Lawford Davies, a partner at the law firm Hempsons, said: “One example of the way UK regulation protects patients is through the confidentiality which attaches to their identity, the details of their treatment, and their children.

“Any such disclosure would be a criminal offence in the UK.”

When the UK allowed the procedure to prevent inherited mitochondrial disease, it did not allow three-person IVF to be used in fertility treatment.

“There was little evidence at the time the law was being changed that the methods were likely to help infertility,” said Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute.

Such an untried form of conception was thought to be too risky – except in the case of mitochondrial disease where the harms were even greater.

Prof Lovell-Badge said the UK had a reputation for looking “deeply into the issues of science and safety” and that such procedures may be permitted in the future if they were shown to be safe.

He told the BBC: “We can’t control this in countries where there are few or no regulations and poor oversight.

“Unfortunately the clinics in such countries have become used to being unregulated, and it is the patients who are at risk of being duped into paying for methods that have little or no benefit or that are even harmful.”

Sarah Norcross, the director of the Progress Educational Trust, said fertility clinics had a reputation for “rushing” new techniques to patients.

She advised: “For British women who wish to avoid passing mitochondrial disease to their children, the temptation to travel overseas to access these treatments must be enormous.

“We would caution against this. At present, there are too many unanswered questions about what has been achieved – and how – for us to be confident of patient safety.’

Three Most Common Causes of Flank Pain.

Back pain is one of the top ailments that leads people to call their doctors. Pain in your upper back or abdomen and sides, also called flank pain or kidney pain, has numerous causes.

If you have persistent pain, you should always consult your physician. However, flank pain most commonly results from one of three causes: urinary tract infection (UTI)kidney stones, and musculoskeletal problems like a muscle strain or pinched nerve.

The kidneys are your body’s filters. The waste from your kidneys travels out of your body through urine. One of the best ways to prevent common kidney problems is to drink plenty of water. This helps keep the filtering process running smoothly.

Tip: Drink plenty of water to prevent kidney problems #flankpain CLICK TO TWEET

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by bacteria that enters the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.

Symptoms of a UTI

Pain in your lower back or abdomen may be a sign of a lower UTI, such as an infection in the bladder. Pain in the upper back and kidney area, may be a sign of an upper UTI.

Other UTI symptoms include:

  • A frequent urge to urinate
  • Burning when you urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Fever

Urinary Tract Infection Treatment

Your primary care doctor or an urgent care doctor can treat a UTI. You’ll be prescribed an antibiotic, and symptoms should clear up shortly after. For recurring or severe UTIs, your doctor may refer you to a urologist.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are crystals that form in your urine and build up in your kidneys. They cause severe pain.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones cause sudden, severe flank pain that can come in waves. The pain may also radiate down through the groin. The pain continues as the stone travels through the ureters, the bladder, and out the urethra if it’s small enough.

You may also experience:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Painful urination

Kidney Stones Treatment

For small stones, you can take pain medications and drink lots of water until the stone passes. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to help you pass the stone if you have trouble passing it on your own.

Large stones that cannot fit through the urinary tract need to be removed by surgery or lithotripsy, a procedure that breaks apart large stones into small pieces that can pass.

Musculoskeletal Problems

Sometimes, flank pain can be traced to a musculoskeletal problem. This could be a muscle strain or tear from increased physical activity, a fall or other trauma, lifting something too heavy, or repetitive motion.

Muscle-related pain will feel more like a dull ache, and usually worsens with physical activity, pressure, or actions that use those muscles like sneezing or laughing.

You may also have flank pain from spinal arthritis or a pinched nerve.

To treat the pain at home, use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, and ice the area for about 20 minutes at a time every few hours. If the pain doesn’t go away, or you notice swelling or redness along your sides, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center.

Treat #muscle-related pain by icing the area for about 20 minutes at a time every few hours. CLICK TO TWEET

Other Causes of Flank Pain

Flank pain can sometimes be caused by other, more serious conditions. These include:

  • Bladder or kidney cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Appendicitis
  • Blockage in the urinary tract

Flank pain can be tricky to diagnose and require a few different tests to pinpoint the problem. It’s always best to talk to your primary care doctor if you have unexplained pain that doesn’t go away. You should also call your doctor right away if you have signs of an infection, such as fever, fatigue, or body aches.

The Dangers of Sun Poisoning…

Sun poisoning is an extreme case of sunburn, a burn that occurs when UV radiation inflames your skin. It begins with symptoms similar to sunburn, and so it often goes unnoticed, leading to more severe symptoms and dangerous situations.

Sun poisoning is most common during the summer months and in sunny areas. Those with a lighter skin tone, specifically redheads, are most susceptible to sun poisoning. This is because their body has not had a chance to produce melanin, the pigment that absorbs UV light and darkens skin (tans) to form a protective layer.

Take caution! Sun poisoning often goes unnoticed, leading to more severe symptoms. #sunscreen CLICK TO TWEET

Protection from Sun Poisoning

Take preemptive measures to avoid sun poisoning. Wearing protective clothing like hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts help to block UV rays, but if you choose to show skin, do it smartly. About 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher to your whole body. The neck, legs and arms are especially susceptible to sunburn and poisoning. Reapply every two hours, or after you’ve been sweating or in water, and limit sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when its rays are most powerful. Check your medications to get an idea of how your skin will react to the sun; certain medications increase sensitivity, including acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, heart drugs and birth control pills.

Sun Poisoning Symptoms

It takes less than 15 minutes to burn and, depending on the severity, more than those 15 minutes spent outside could result in sun poisoning. The short-term negative effects of sun poisoning manifest themselves for the next 4-7 days, with more severe long-term effects extending beyond the first week.

Did you know it takes less than 15 minutes to burn ? Take preventative measures early! #summer CLICK TO TWEET

The main symptom of sunburn is a burning “rash” where the skin reddens, dries up and peels off. Sun poisoning’s additional and more severe symptoms include:

If you experience any of these symptoms seek immediate medical attention. If not treated early and properly, sun poisoning can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Treatment for Sun Poisoning

If you are mildly sunburnt or poisoned, there are a few home remedies that will lessen the pain:

  • Hydrate and take ibuprofen to manage the pain.
  • Cold compresses made of equal parts milk and water, or infused with Burow’s solution will help soothe the skin, and Aloe Vera gel can serve as an alternative.
  • Use cool (not cold) water when bathing and avoid scented items like lotions, bath salts, oils and perfumes because they may react negatively with the burnt skin.
  • Avoid the sun until you’re well, and take precautionary measures to avoid a similar situation!

RELATED: Difference Between UVA, UVB, UVC Infographic


Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE)

A special type of sun poisoning is polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), which is a skin reaction to the sun  for people that aren’t used to intense sunlight. This mostly affects fair-skinned individuals who live in northern climates.

Polymorphous light eruption symptoms

Common symptoms of polymorphous light eruption include:

  • Severe skin rash
  • Hives
  • Dense clumps of bumps

PMLE is also inherited through Native Americans and symptoms can last from spring until fall.

Here are some simple home remedies to help heal sun poisoning:

  • Avoid popping any blisters or scratching the rash.
  • Take a cool (not cold) bath or apply cool compresses to soothe the swelling.
  • Take ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream to relieve pain and itching.
  • Drink extra fluids for a few days.
  • Cover sunburned areas and put on sunscreen before going outside.

Seek immediate medical attention if the sunburn covers a large part of the body, there is a lot of pain, or symptoms worsen.

What is a sunburn?

Almost all of us have experienced sunburn – and many of us were probably not wearing sunscreen at the time. (Oops.) Maybe if we truly understood what was happening to our skin as we nonchalantly soaked up the sun for “just 10 more minutes,” we wouldn’t be so lax.

A sunburn is the skin’s response to extreme ultraviolet (UV) exposure and indicates severe damage. In as little as 10 minutes of intense UV exposure, the skin sets into motion a system of defense against this enemy.

The first indication of damage is redness. This is the body’s inflammatory response in situations requiring repair and is a result of dilating blood vessels. The skin will then start to lose moisture and hydration, which will be apparent with a feeling of tightness. Slowly, skin cells will start to thicken and melanin (pigment) will be produced (tanning) in an attempt to stop the UV rays from penetrating through to the deeper layers and damaging the DNA of the cells.

Exposure of skin to high levels of sunlight may result in hypo or hyperpigmentation, which appears as irregular light or dark patches. The body is excellent at coping with minimal amounts of damage, but if exposure is greater than the body’s ability to repair and mop up, more serious consequences may result. If DNA is damaged and its repair mechanisms are inhibited, skin cancer may occur.

Why Does the Skin Peel?
Peeling after a sunburn is your body’s way of getting rid of the damaged cells that are at risk of “losing control” and becoming cancerous. Due to this danger, all damaged cells are instructed to sacrifice themselves by repair mechanisms within these cells. This mass death of cells results in whole layers of damaged skin peeling off, to be replaced by other cells underneath those layers.

I Have a Sunburn, What Should I Do Now?
First of all, you should take care of the cause of your problem: get out of the sun immediately. Drink plenty of water as you may be dehydrated. If skin is severely blistered, seek help from a medical practitioner. Otherwise it is important to take down the inflammation and try to reduce damage to the deeper layers of your skin.

Take a cool bath (no products added) and then blot skin dry. Avoid greasy creams, which prevent the skin from cooling and may make the situation worse. Rather, apply generously a soothing after-sun gel to red areas and then stay out of the sun and the heat. Look for ingredients such as Clove, Licorice, Lavender, Cucumber and Yucca to reduce irritation, pain and redness. Also look out for an incredible ingredient called Japanese Alder to accelerate the repair of UV-induced DNA damage. Couple this with ingredients such as Algae and Hyaluronic Acid to rehydrate the skin and you should be well on your way to a calmer skin.

And no, it is not then OK to go out into the sun the next day for another blast! Remember, your skin is still trying to heal and so must be kept out of direct sunlight for a good few days. Keep in mind, the skin is a great record keeper. Even with a great after-sun product, irreparable damage may have occurred in the form of premature aging or skin cancer that may only reveal itself later. Think twice next time you decide “just another 10 minutes;” –your immune system is listening!

Understanding the mind of the elite athlete

As a tennis fan, I marvel at Roger Federer’s ability to gracefully execute some of the most difficult shots I’ve ever seen. Other sports have their greats: Lebron James on the basketball court, Michael Phelps in the pool and Lance Armstrong on the road. These are just a few of the athletes that continually wow us with their agility and uncanny power and strength. We know them for what they can do from the neck down. But what about their minds?

Over the last few decades science has started to look inside the mind of the athlete. What they have found is a brain not only finely tuned for the demands of their particular sport, but one that may also carry a mental advantage to situations beyond the sports field. This research also provides a unique context for studying novel and important questions about the human mind, such as how the mind and body work together to rewire brain circuits over years of practice. With increasingly sophisticated brain imaging techniques, we can also start to actually see what the brain is capable of at the highest level of physical and mental expertise. In turn we can see how the mind of elite athletes from distinct sports may compare to expert musiciansdancers, artists, yoga masters, or highly skilled video gamers. All this leads to a better understanding of just how flexible our brains are, and perhaps why we excel at some activities and not others.

For a long time, research on the athlete’s mind focused on studying the athlete in the context of their sport. For example, we know that elite athletes are faster and more accurate at remembering and later recalling meaningful play formations from their own sport. They are also quicker and more efficient at searching a visual scene containing sport-specific information, especially when the target is something relevant to their sport, such as soccer players searching for the ball in a realistic soccer scene.

Research has also shown that expert athletes are better at anticipating the actions of their opponents and the consequences of those actions, based on sport-specific contextual information. For instance, an elite cricket player need only see the pitcher’s preparatory arm movements before the ball is released to judge where the ball will bounce and its trajectory into the hitting zone, while non-experts are more likely to look at both relevant and irrelevant visual aspects of the pitch.

research group in Italy recently investigated this same phenomenon in basketball. They found that elite players could predict the outcome of the free-throw earlier and more accurately than a group of expert viewers (e.g., journalists and coaches) and novices, by using cues from the shooter’s hand movements at ball release. Before the ball even left the shooter’s hand, only 486 ms after the shot motion started, expert athletes could predict success with greater than 30 percent accuracy, while expert watchers and novices were only at about 10 percent accuracy. At the critical time of ball release (781 ms after the start of the shot) experts were about 75 percent accurate while expert watchers and novices hovered around 40 percent. Even more fascinating, they found that what made the difference for elite players was the excitability of the brain area that would control their shooting hand. It’s as if the expert brain was, subconsciously, imagining taking the shot themselves and the moment when the shot left their finger tips was the “aha moment,” the best moment for predicting if the shot would drop.

This study demonstrates that just watching sports is not enough to develop the ability to anticipate what your opponent will do — it takes playing.

What we still don’t know, though, is how and under what conditions the athlete brain learns anticipation. Many hours of basketball practice may rewire brain pathways specifically for the mental demands of basketball. But are the number of practice hours all that count for this rewiring to occur? Or is it more a matter of what they focus on during practice? The expertise literature suggests that it is both how you practice and how much you practice, yet there is little to no brain-based evidence for how to optimize learning an athletic skill.

Another question is: after years of practice in a fast-paced sport like basketball or tennis, would an elite athlete acquire the ability to respond faster to anything in their environment? Does sport, in other words, sharpen the mind? Different studies have come to different conclusions. However, recent research by myself and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, compiled all the results from a variety of studies conducted over the years by scientists around the world. We found that, overall, elite athletes did show faster response times in tasks outside the context of athletics.

Similarly, a recent study by Leila Overney and colleagues at the Brain Mind Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, showed that tennis athletes had greater precision in detecting differences in the speed of dots expanding toward them and showed faster visual perception than tri-athletes and non-athletes. At the same time, the same study showed that although tennis players were more accurate at finding a tennis ball in tennis snap-shots, they were no more accurate at finding the tennis ball in sport scenes unrelated to tennis. This study points out that some general mental abilities may be gained from sport training, while others may be sport-specific.

In our analysis we also found athletes have an advantage in what is known as “changing the breadth of visual attention.” Visual attention is the ability to focus on what is currently relevant to whatever you are doing (whether it be one or multiple things) while ignoring distractions. Breadth of attention refers to how many things and how much of the environment you are paying attention to at any one time. For example, a wide breadth of attention is necessary for driving in a busy roadway where there are cross-walks with bold pedestrians jumping out at any moment compounded with bike lanes, merging traffic, potential stop-lights, and maybe even your GPS companion directing you where to go. Think downtown Chicago at rush-hour. Now imagine you find yourself lost and while at a stop-light you decide to really “focus” on the map on your GPS module. You tune out the radio, any yapping passengers, all street sounds and sights, and direct tunnel vision to the GPS screen.

Shifting the breadth of attention is essential in sports. A basketball player dribbling down the court must focus on the ball, their teammates, and their opponents, while filtering out the crowd. This requires broad breadth of attention. Free-throw time ensues and now they must tunnel into their pre-shot routine, the ball, and the basket.

So the next time you’re watching your favorite athlete and you ask yourself “how do they do it?” – remember their athletic grace is rooted in as much their mind as their body. Somewhere where the two meet, years of practice and hard work have created a brain sculpted for their sport and perhaps beyond.