Cycling and depression: finding a balance

Ex-professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton (in the news again recently, which you will know unless you were asleep for 60 minutes) claimed in 2009 that his second positive test for doping (DHEA) was the result of his taking a herbal remedy to counter longstanding depression (Bonnie Ford of ESPN as usual does an excellent job of summarising here). Hamilton is not the only professional cyclist to have suffered from depression during or after their career, and I have often wondered about the relationship between training workload as a cyclist and mental health. I recently read two blog posts about depression by active cyclists (Scientist, you’re a failure & Drugs and Mental Healthcare) and this got me thinking about how exercise and mental health interact. In this post I write about my own experiences, share some academic research on the topic, and speculate a bit about depression and cycling in general. I am not a mental health professional (although I am an academic working in the area of empirical psychology) so please take my words with this in mind.

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Music lessons: ergogenic effects need not be pharmaceutical

In the epilogue to a recent book on blood doping, Robin Parisotto (member of the UCI bio-passport panel, interviewed here by nyvelocity) discusses the future of doping, and suggests that music’s effects may be sought out by athletes and trainers who previously might have resorted to transfusions or rEPO. The use of music to enhance sporting performance is arguably a kind of doping or artificial ‘assistance’, and indeed is now being treated as such by some sports (e.g., the IAAF, rule 144(d)), although efforts to ban music in some sports (especially mass participation events) may run into stiff opposition from athletes and coaches.

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Doping and the placebo effect

Remember Dario Frigo, caught at the 2002 Giro d’Italia with bags full of saline which had been sold to him as the blood doping agent HemAssist (see Lindsay, 2011Tucker and Dugas, 2011 for an interesting take on this drug in cycling)? Frigo claimed never to have used the drug, but if he had used the saline he believed to be HemAssist it is quite possible it would have had a significant effect on his performance…

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