Can tDCS make you better at sports?

Is there real science behind transcranial Direct Current Stimulation for sport? Can a zap to the head really boost your swing? Decrease your time? Boost your performance? Recover faster?

THE BASICS OF TDCS FOR SPORTS

tDCS for physical sports can be used in two related ways.

A.    Neuropriming: means using a tDCS device right before or while you train to get more out of practice.  

B.  Electrodoping: means used tDCS right before a competition*.

*Electrodoping is not current explicitly banned by any major sports organization and in fact many athletes openly promote their use of tDCS. tDCS also does not leave any trace do it would be hard to monitor. 

WHAT IS THE SCIENCE FOR HOW TDCS FOR SPORTS WORKS?

From scientific studies tDCS is known to do two things to the brain that can be used in sports:

  1. tDCS is known to increase the excitability of the motor cortex.  That’s the part of your brain that controls your body when you move. To more motor cortex excitability means the sports part of your brain is over-clocked. tDCS can also improve balance.
  2. tDCS can boost neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the change that happens in your brain when you learn something.  So, when you are training and you get more proficient at a task your brain is undergoing neuroplasticity . This is also called muscle memory – and its in your head, not your limbs. And tDCS is known to boost that. For similar reasons, tDCS can accelerate recovery after training or even injury.

WHAT TDCS DEVICES ARE USED FOR SPORTS?

There are three common options for tDCS for sports available to consumers and one available for researchers.

Consumer Device 1: Halo Sport. This is a San Francisco start-up that really focused on tDCS for sports and they got some major endorsements.  The tDCS.com Halo Sports review is coming soon!

Consumer Device 2: LIFTiD. A newcomer to the tDCS enhancement space but we love the combination of form factor and cost. See our review here.

Consumer Device 3: ActivaDose tDCS. This is a medical-grade device. The Halo Sport and LIFTiD are both worn on the head but the ActivaDose is a hand-held device with head-gear you set-up. This means ActivaDose takes more time to set up but it is more flexible, making it the more popular choice for brain hackers in general.

Research Device: Soterix Medical 1×1 is used in tDCS research trials but its not sold to direct to regular folks. The really advanced approach is HD-tDCS, (read the simple tdcs.com explanation of HD-tDCS here).

SHOULD I USE TDCS BEFORE OR WHILE I WORK OUT?

Generally speaking, tDCS is used before you work out. That the recommendation from leading manufacturers, it is how tDCS is tested in controlled experiments, and it’s also just easier because you don’t want to wear the tDCS device while you exercise or compete. 

This also make sense based on the science of tDCS. tDCS boosts your motor cortex for about an hour after a tDCS session.

WHAT ABOUT TDCS FOR E-SPORTS?

tDCS seems ideal for E-sports since you can use tDCS right before or while gaming. LIFTiD is specifically marketed to gamers and activated frontal regions involved in focus, learning, and attention. tDCS is even being tested by the military.

MORE SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES

  1. Beyond the target area: an integrative view of tDCS-induced motor cortex modulation in patients and athletes. Morya E, Monte-Silva K, Bikson M, Esmaeilpour Z, Biazoli CE Jr, Fonseca A, Bocci T, Farzan F, Chatterjee R, Hausdorff JM, da Silva Machado DG, Brunoni AR, Mezger E, Moscaleski LA, Pegado R, Sato JR, Caetano MS, Sá KN, Tanaka C, Li LM, Baptista AF, Okano AH. J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2019 Nov 15;16(1):141. doi: 10.1186/s12984-019-0581-1
  2. A Transcranial Stimulation Intervention to Support Flow State Induction. Gold J, Ciorciari J. Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Aug 8;13:274. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00274. eCollection 2019
  3. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation With Halo Sport Enhances Repeated Sprint Cycling and Cognitive Performance. Huang L, Deng Y, Zheng X, Liu Y. Front Physiol. 2019 Feb 14;10:118. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00118. eCollection 2019
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