Electric doping (drug-free!) boosts ski performance.

Nature reports on how tDCS – zapping the brain with low-voltage electricity – can help athletes boost their performance:

The USSA [(US Ski and Snowboard Association)] is working with Halo [Neuroscience in San Francisco, California,] to judge the efficacy of a device that delivers electricity to the motor cortex, an area of the brain that controls physical skills. The company claims that the stimulation helps the brain to build new connections as it learns a skill. It tested its device in an unpublished study of seven elite Nordic ski jumpers, including Olympic athletes.

Four times per week, for two weeks, the skiers practised jumping onto an unstable platform. Four athletes received transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) as they trained; the other three received a sham procedure. The stimulation ultimately improved the athletes’ jumping force by 70% and their coordination by 80%, compared with the sham group, Halo announced in February.

Another study, presented on 7 March at the Biomedical Basis of Elite Performance meeting in Nottingham, UK, suggests that tDCS may reduce the perception of fatigue. Sports scientist Lex Mauger of the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, and his colleagues found that stimulating the motor-cortex region that controls leg function allows cyclists to pedal longer without feeling tired.

But [Dylan Edwards, a neurophysiologist at Burke Medical Research Institute in White Plains, New York] worries that the availability of tDCS devices will tempt athletes to try “brain doping”, in part because there is no way to detect its use. “If this is real,” he says, “then absolutely the Olympics should be concerned about it.”