Let's get physical: Alan Pearey is put through his paces by Dr James Carter of the GSSI

WANT TO turn from out-of-shape losers to super-fit conquerors? Members from our Save Your Season competition-winning team will be whisked up to Loughborough to be tested by the experts from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Here Alan Pearey, Rugby World’s deputy editor, gives you an idea of what to expect from the men in white coats…

They say you should park your feelings at the door of the Munster dressing room, such is the verbal lashing a player can endure there. The doctors at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) are equally blunt, only they say it more gently and with a nice cup of tea.

Dr James Carter, a former full-back at the Al Ain club in Abu Dhabi, and his colleague Dr Ian Rollo are used to welcoming elite athletes to the sparkling-new facility at Loughborough University. But they recently completed a ‘Standard Testing Protocol’ on a more modest sporting specimen – me. As an overweight 48-year-old desk-jobber, I was prepared for the worst. In fact, my score on the Dynavision D2 machine, which tests peripheral vision and reaction time, compared favourably to the range of serious recreational athletes and professional sportspeople who pass through the centre.

Cycling in treacle: the Wingate Power test

So much for the good news. In most other respects I was found wanting. If the protocol can be compared to a car MOT, I had not only rust beneath the bonnet but was heading for a blown head gasket.
This, of course, is the whole point of the exercise. “We’re here to identify strengths and weaknesses, to assess a person’s current physiological and nutritional make-up,” says Carter. “We provide a thorough picture of where they are and how they compare to others, and advise them on their needs.”

The equipment used to do this is highly sophisticated. Sure, you still need to have a needle stuck in your arm to provide a blood sample, but I bet you haven’t had your height measured via a sensor-sharp stadiometer or had an electronic pulse sent through you to establish how much fat your body contains.

Then there’s the air displacement chamber, which looks like something James Bond might sit in as he whizzes towards the baddies’ secret island. This determines body composition through subtle changes in pressure inside the chamber and shows just how thorough the GSSI team is – there is no arguing with accurate results obtained in two different ways.

The most daunting part of the protocol is the Maximal Oxygen Uptake (VO2 max) test, carried out on a static bike or treadmill. I chose to run rather than cycle but either way you are pushed to breaking point. By breathing into a mask, the air you exhale is collected and they are able to calculate your oxidation rates of carbohydrate and fat in the body. The greater the aerobic capacity, the better your endurance. My result? Let’s just say I won’t be challenging Stephen Kiprotich for his Olympic marathon crown any time soon.

Other exercises, and questionnaires, follow before the finale: the Wingate Power Test. This culminates in 30 seconds of high-resistance cycling – imagine wading through a vat of treacle and you’ll be close. It’s ridiculously difficult and may well be the longest 30 seconds of your life, but at least you have a bottle of Gatorade, or that cup of tea, waiting for you. In the first five seconds I provided enough energy to illuminate 16 60W light bulbs but by the end that had halved to eight bulbs – normal data for someone of my age and gender.

In conclusion, I was told that I’d benefit from routine aerobic and resistance exercise and small alterations to my diet, and I expected nothing less. But to summarise it to this is to do the GSSI a gross injustice, for you’re given a detailed 24-page analysis of results and recommendations which, if heeded, cannot fail to improve your athletic performance. Dramatically, the facility opened in March and already the likes of Olympians Victoria Pendleton, Tim Brabants and Joanne Jackson, plus teams such as Leicester Riders (basketball) and Loughborough Students RFC, have been tested there. And Rugby World will be going back – but this time to observe.

We’ve teamed up with Gatorade to offer an amateur club the benefit of professional training, coaching and nutritional support that will include subjecting some of the winning club’s players to the Standard Testing Protocol described above. Are you tough enough? If so, check out the home page on saveyourseason.co.uk to find out how to enter our competition.

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