The Innaugural Society for NeuroSports Conference report: part 3
On the importance of... peripheral vision
The importance of peripheral vision.
We are about 3 hours into the conference, and I am jotting things down furiously in my notepad. As I look up from my notes, my peripheral vision catches a glimpse of a familiar looking molecule, not too dissimilar to tyrosine. Rather annoyingly, I cannot quite distinguish whether it is a phenyl or benzene ring that I have just seen a flash of.
No big deal, come to think of it, except it appears that the molecule is actually tattooed on the arm of the lady sitting next to me. My Rate of Perceived Exertion for striking casual conversations is woefully high, but regardless, I promise myself to ask at some point during the conference.
I am awfully glad I did, because the lady in question is Dr Allison Brager, the neuroscientist of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, a US (super!) solider, a competitive Crossfit Athlete and author of Meathead: Unravelling the Athletic Brain. Dr Brager’s areas of expertise include the neurobiology of sleep and athletic performance, especially as their pertain to the work of the military personnel.
Dr Brager also won the best poster prize for her research poster on Cognitive Phenotypes of Elite E-Gaming Athletes. She has now been also appointed an advisory board member of the Society for NeuroSports in recognition of the important contributions made to the field of sports neuroscience.
This highlights an important feature of this conference- you can never know who is going to sit next to you! Fast-forward a couple of hours, and we head out to dine in one of the local establishments, with Dr Brager, Dr Forbes and Erik Bustillo RD, CISSN. Corollary to that, a serious time warp ensued: I blinked twice and our post conference dinner was over. This may or may not have anything to do/ with the fact that within the limited timeframe allotted, we got to discuss:
- the literature on expertise acquisition,
- neuropharmacology of eugeroics,
- uptake of neuroscientific findings among policy makers,
- system governing drug classification
- the rigorous demands of training in the US Army
A non-sequitur: I was quite relieved to learn that results of my saccadic scanning were not that far off the mark: the mysterious molecule turned out to be dopamine!
However, this wasn’t my first taste of time-flying-too-fast scenario: before the event, I and others relished the opportunity to visit Dr Jose Antonio’s Human Performance Lab at NSU. The laboratory regularly houses many elite level athlete studies including NFL, NHL, UFC, and NCAA- the list is by no means exhaustive. Joining me there was Tony Ricci D.Sc., CSCS, CISSN, Hector Lopez MD, CSCS, FAAPMR, Annette Zapp NSCA-CSCS NSCA-TSAC-F CISSN, Jonathan Mike PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D, USAW, NKT-1, Scott Forbes PhD IOC Dip CEP CSEP and Shannon Beer BA and Michael Yeric BA. Let's just say that between 2 lectures and lab tour, no one had time get bored!
PS: A sneak peek into latest round of NeuroSports-infused collaborations : a little bird told me that, COVID19 disturbances permitting, Dr Brager and Annette Zapp will be joining forces at the 2020 annual NSCA tactical athlete conference in Las Vegas later on this year!
Within the arcuate nucleus, the melanocortin system is a junction linking up signals of metabolic state and neural pathways governing energy homeostasis and glucose metabolism.
POMC (Hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin) and NPY/AgRP (Neuropeptide Y/Agouti-Related Peptide) neurons are critical nodes of brain circuitry involved in metabolic regulation as well as sensing of important metabolic cues. These neurons are capable of synaptic reorganisation in response to metabolic state (via synaptic inputs and electrophysiological properties), in fact they exhibit a high degree of plasticity in response to metabolic cues. Hitherto, the circuit has been viewed primarily in the context of obesity research. Dr Williams’ investigation covered the impact of changes in neuronal activity in response to chronic and single bout of exercise, and their effect on energy and glucose balance. It would appear that the remodelling of the melanocortin circuit is a specific response of exercise to improve metabolism, thus highlighting that fact that exercise appears to be a metabolic challenge that differs from energy deprivation. We also talked about the impact NPY/AgRP and POMC neurons have and how they regulate feeding, energy expenditure and glucose metabolism.
Kevin Williams, PhD is the PI at Williams Lab, in the Department of Internal Medicine, Hypothalamic Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Athletes are subject to objective-based goal evaluation by their coaches, a system which is not without its shortcomings. Indeed, coaches would do well to acknowledge the multivariate nature of athletic performance to limit accountability for outcomes which are not strictly within the athlete’s purview. Instead, efforts need to be made to develop mental fortitude and adaptability in order to bridge any potentials gap between the athlete’s training output and competition output. Many successful athletes have developed their own routines which help them stay on track mentally. A tennis player might tap himself on the lap for ‘a mental reset’, or wear a talisman to bring them back to their winning routine when facing adversity. Some of the challenges faced by sport psychologists include stigma around needing to develop mental qualities to reach the full potential and also limited scope of influence once the athletes have immersed themselves fully into the thrust of the competition.
Dr Seifer is a licensed psychologist specializing in athletic psychological performance enhancement. He works as a clinician with Miami dolphins and Miami Harlins, and is full time faculty professor in the Department of Clinical and School psychology at Nova Southeastern University. You can read more about him on his website
M. Stock P.hD.K. Harmon M.S. R.Girts M.S.
Use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study Adaptation within the Human Neuromuscular System: Lecture and Lab!
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is increasingly relied upon by researchers to study the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. As a technology, TMS has been in use for more than two decades years, and its application has grown exponentially in popularity over the past 10 years. The members of the UCF Neuromuscular lab gave us a hands-on demonstration aimed at eliciting motor evoked potential, delving into the key concepts and challenges faced by clinicians and researchers, including motor unit analysis, firing rates, recruitment thresholds, basic safety precautions and TMS coil orientation. The presentation also highlighted the difference between the use of TMS in research vs clinical setting, and expanded on how various stimulation paradigms differ in terms of neurological effects.
Dr Matt S. Stock is an Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology and Physical Therapy (Division of Physical Therapy) at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Dr. Stock is also the Director of the Neuromuscular Plasticity Laboratory and Co-Director of the Institute of Exercise Physiology and Rehabilitation Science. Kylie K. Harmon, M.S. and Ryan M. Girts, M.S. are PhD students at UCF. Dr. Stock, Kylie, and Ryan conduct original research in the UCF Neuromuscular Plasticity Laboratory using applied neuromuscular techniques such as TMS, motor unit analysis, electromyography, and nerve/muscle stimulation.
It’s about 2:30 AM local time and my mind is still buzzing after the first day of the conference. As I am tossing and turning in my comfortable hotel bed, I decide to take action. In the hopes of at least maintaining a modicum of memory retention, I head off to the hotel gym to train. What better way to calm down the overexcited nervous system but engage in a gruelling leg-workout! At about 4 AM, I finally retire for the night.
Very cool, except just three hours later, we are all breaking sweat with Michael Mannino, PhD, who put us through our paces in a spectacular Floridian sunrise. We all enjoyed a very cognitively challenging workout, with tennis balls flying at 100 mph some of us get our first taste of embodied cognition inspired type of training. At the most basic level, embodied cognition, refers to the notion which stipulates that just as the motor system has an impact on your cognition, the mind influences the actions of your body.
Indeed, certain strands of neuropsychology postulate that in our pursuit of understanding the relationship between physiology and cognition, we have traveled too far towards the cerebral end, as explained by Guy Glaxton in his aptly named book, “Intelligence in the Flesh: why your mind needs your body much more than it thinks”.
Dr Mannino, Director of Programs at the Institute for Data and Science Science and Computing at the University of Miami, completed his PhD in Complex Systems and Brain Sciences. A true multipotentialite, Dr Mannino continues to leave his mark across several fields, including Neuroscience, Philosophy, Fitness and Critical Thinking. You can learn more about him on his website https://www.embodiedfit.com/ .
Final note: NeuroSports: where all the cool kids go!
The motto of my alma matter, ‘Conquering darkness with science’ (from Latin: Scientia Vincere Tenebras), has always resonated with me. If you are read thus far, chances are it also resonates with you. In the quest to combat the darkness, sometimes you need to ignite a bit of a spark. The Inaugural Society for NeuroSports conference achieved just that!
To reiterate the words of the final address from the president of the Society, Dr J. Tartar, sports neuroscience has a new home.
The best part? If you are fascinated by the science governing the relationship between that 3 pound heavy neural circuitry in your skull and performance, and if you like to keep your mind open but no so much that your brain falls out, you are welcome to join us for the next year’s edition of brain extravaganza!
Visit www.neurosports.net and book your spot at the 2nd Annual Conference edition in Deerfield Beach, November 13th-14t, 2020- that's where all the cool kids go!
Interested to learn more?