daily wisdom

Daily Wisdom: The Power of Belief

How you think about supplements can change how—or if—they work for you

Every athlete knows that education is a crucial part of performance. Sport and exercise research, insight from top trainers, science, and technology help you to better understand your body so you can craft a healthier lifestyle, workouts, and recovery plan.

In our daily news series, Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, addresses some of the latest fitness research and news stories.

Today’s Topic: Why you must believe you can be fitter

The Science: When participants in a recent study were given what were they were told was a “potent supplement which could negatively impact sprint performance,” their subsequent performance did decline—even though the pill was a placebo. What's more, those who initially reported that they were intending to take a supplement were more likely to see an improvement in performance after taking a “performance-enhancing” placebo.

EQX Expert Insight: “As the saying goes, whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are probably right,” says Berenc. “We have seen examples of this in sport and fitness where participants were told they were covering the same distance or lifting the same weight when they were actually doing more.” (Here is just one example.) In this study, though, the athletes who believed they could not—thanks to a fake supplement—actually did worse. On the flip side, “the “performance-enhancing” placebo likely worked for some because of the sheer fact that they believed it would help,” says Berenc. What this brings to light is the idea that every athlete is capable of more than they give themselves credit for.The brain intentionally regulates exercise intensity to keep us from reaching our threshold and possibly injuring ourselves,” says Berenc. 

The Bottom Line: Believing that a supplement will work—or simply believing you have more power in the tank even without the help of a pill or powder—is the key to unlocking its performance-enhancing potential.  “Even though the improvements seen in this study were small, that could be the difference between winning or losing or training to your fullest potential,” says Berenc. The inherent challenge with belief however is that you can’t easily be told to believe. “This is something intrinsic and requires you to be fully bought-in to what you are doing,” Berenc concludes.