What‘s Up, Doc? What’s New In Sport Science

Nicklaus Kruger 14 February 2021

True sports fans know that it isn’t just about the brawn – it’s about the brains as well. And we don’t just mean the players and the coaches, either: all over the world, thousands of brains are working on sport- and exercise-related research, uncovering new wisdom, confirming old truths, and letting us know that things aren’t quite as simple as we always thought. Here’s a bit of what these sporty scientists have found out recently…


Esport: Fit, Not Fat – And Fun, Too

ESports are a big deal, and getting bigger every day (especially now that COVID-19 has changed…well, everything). It’s a multibillion dollar industry that’s turned passionate gamers into international celebrities and inspired millions of fans, and might even appear in future Olympics. 

But are ESports-folks real athletes? Do they have to train hard and keep fit?

Well, yes – at least, if they want to be good at it.

A new Queensland University of Technology survey of 1400 participants from 65 countries has found esports players are up to 21 per cent healthier weight than the general population, hardly smoke and also drink less. And the top 10% of esports players were significantly more physically active than lower level-players, showing that physical activity could influence esports expertise.

“The findings challenge the stereotype of the morbidly obese gamer,” QUT eSports researcher Michael Trotter has noted. “As part of their training regime, elite esports athletes spend more than an hour per day engaging in physical exercise as a strategy to enhance gameplay and manage stress.” 

QUT eSports researcher Michael Trotter

Stll, although esports players appear generally healthy, a small group was significantly obese – and most esports players didn’t meet the WHO’s physical activity guidelines of 150 active minutes a week, indicating potential future health risks

So if you want to be the very best, like no one ever was – maybe turn that screen off every once in a while and get off the couch, okay?

The Last Shall Be First: Younger Siblings Make Better Sportspeople

Venus Williams is an amazing tennis player. And Jamie Murray is pretty good, too. But Jamie’s little brother Andy has won three Grand Slam singles titles. And Venus’ little sister Serena may very well be the Greatest of All Time. Meanwhile, golfing legend Tiger Woods has three elder half-siblings, and basketball great Michael Jordan is the youngest of three brothers.

Aug 7, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Serena Williams (USA) and Venus Williams (USA) wave to the crowd after their game against Lucie Safarova (CZE, not pictured) and Barbora Strycova (CZE) during the women’s doubles in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Tennis Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s all part of the trend: younger siblings tend to be better at sports than their older siblings, as Tim Wigmore and Mark Williams explain in their new book,The Best, How Elite Athletes Are Made

Partly it’s practice. Younger siblings have older siblings they can play with…but older siblings had to wait for parents or playdates or formal practice sessions in the days before the youngsters could play along. 

It also has to do with the quality of that practice. Younger siblings tend to be less experienced, skilled and developed than their older counterparts, so they’re playing up to a higher level while their big siblings are playing down to theirs.

And parents tend to be better able to provide for younger siblings when it comes to sports – since they’ve already learned, by trial and error, what works (and doesn’t) with the older kids.

But of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule – so if you want to keep beating your baby sis or bro, just keep working hard…and maybe tie their shoelaces together before the game. Can’t hurt, right?


New Knees: Cartilage-Mimicking Gel Could Cut Down On Knee Surgery

Knees. They’re weird, they’re important, and they’re very, very prone to injury. And that’s especially true for anyone involved in any sort of high-impact or contact sport.

The thin, slippery layer of cartilage between the bones in the knee is magical stuff: strong enough to withstand a person’s weight, but soft and supple enough to cushion the joint against impact, over decades of repeat use. But cartilage has a limited ability to repair itself, and that combination of soft-yet-strong has been hard to reproduce in the lab. 

But now, Duke University researchers say they’ve created an experimental gel that’s the first to match the strength and durability of the real thing.Its developers say it’s the first hydrogel — materials made of water-absorbing polymers — capable of withstanding tugging and heavy loads as well as human cartilage, without wearing out over time.It’s 60% water, but a single quarter-sized disc can bear the weight of a 40kg kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.

The research could one day offer people with knee troubles a replacement for damaged cartilage, and an alternative to knee replacement surgery.

Laying Heads Down During Lockdown: More Sleep, But Not Better Sleep

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to lockdowns all over the world (including right here in South Africa, of course). That’s meant a lot of people couldn’t go to the office, or to the game, or to visit their friends. There’s just not that much to do, really. So is it any surprise that people have found themselves sleeping more than before?

A study in Cell Biology of 435 people in Austria, Switzerland and Germany (all of whom experienced some form of lockdown) found that they reported sleeping more regularly and for longer periods than before. But quantity doesn’t mean quality: that sleep included problems with things such as falling or staying asleep, and participants reported a reduction in their mental and physical health during COVID-19 lockdowns, which was associated with lower-quality sleep.

Worse sleep, despite spending more time in bed, may have outweighed any benefits from a regular sleep schedule, the authors of this study say. But getting outside in natural sunlight and exercising could help improve sleep quality.

So…get some sun, get moving, and then get into bed. And sweet dreams…


So…did we miss anything? Of course we did – so why not let us know at info@capeat6sport.co.za?  And if you want to see more sports science, feel free to check out the first 2021 issue of the Cape At 6 magazine. Edutainment guaranteed!