Research out of the University of Kent, conducted with the assistance of Australian collaborators, demonstrates that elite endurance athletes have a superior ability to resist mental fatigue.
The research team, led by Professor Samuele Marcora, Director of Research in Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, compared the performance of 11 professional cyclists and nine recreational cyclists in various tests. Unsurprisingly, the pros outperformed the weekend warriors in a simulated time trial in the lab. However, an additional finding showed that the recreational cyclists also slowed down after performing a computerised cognitive task to induce mental fatigue, whereas the subsequent time trial performance of pro cyclists was not affected.
The pro cyclists also performed better than the recreational cyclists in the computerised cognitive task, which measures ‘inhibitory control’ or willpower. According to Marcora, who coauthored a report on the study that was published in the journal PLOS ONE, entitled “Superior Inhibitory Control and Resistance to Mental Fatigue in Professional Road Cyclists”, stated that the two effects go hand in hand because improving resistance to mental fatigue should bolster willpower during the latter stages of a competition or race. Although largely hereditary, he speculates that superior willpower and resistance to mental fatigue can be trained through hard physical training and the demanding lifestyle of elite endurance athletes.