The Placebo Effect Can Make You Run Faster

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Marji(2)_141015Is it possible for a shot of salt water to enhance the speed you run at?

The answer appears to be an astonishing yes—if you believe that salt water contains an element that can make you run faster. This is according to a new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise on the power of placebos in athletic performance.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you are tiring at the end of an intense workout, and are about to quit, only to be “shown up” at the gym by an individual that you know you can outperform? You would likely find that extra burst of energy and spurt on.

Such a phenomenon is familiar to psychologists—many who believe that the brain sends out signals telling the body to quit in order to protect itself. You may be under the impression that you have reached the limits of your endurance and strength, when in actuality you may still have physical reserves available.

Previous studies have found that lying to individuals is one way to exploit that reserve. Whether it’s telling athletes that they are moving slower than they really are, or giving them a sugar pill that they believe contains caffeine or steroids—it often results in the individual speeding up to a pace they thought they couldn’t achieve.

Unfortunately, the previous studies didn’t test the effects of placebos and deception in real-world competition situations. People always work harder during competitive races than when in training.

For their study, researchers at the University of Glasgow recruited 15 male recreational runners for a test that they were told was a legal form of erythropoietin or E.P.O.—a substance that increases the number of red blood cells in the body. E.P.O. has been used for doping, since more red blood cells means more oxygen is carried to the laboring muscles and it increases endurance.

The runners were told that this was a legal form of E.P.O. and the drug should improve athletic performance because it increases red blood cells. The “drug” was actually saline (salt water) and was given by injection.

Before the runners started the drug regimen, they competed in a three-kilometer track race to determine their finishing times.

The participants were then split into two groups: one group continued their normal training for a week and the other received injections of the “drug.”

After one week, they raced again.

Researchers then switched up the groups so those who had not received the drug would be able to.

Throughout the study, researchers were collecting data about how the men felt psychologically and physically during their workouts and races.

Runners said that during the week when they received the injections, their workouts felt easier. One man told researchers “I was doing a lot more in my sets than normal, and also running, I did feel less tired.”

Most importantly, researchers reported that the majority of the men significantly improved their three-kilometer race times by about 1.5% after taking the “drug.”

Sources for Today’s Article:
Reynolds, G., “A Placebo Can Make You Run Faster,”, October 14, 2015;
Ross, R., “Effects of an Injected Placebo on Endurance Running Performance,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2015; 47(8): 1672-1681.