A Whyte Christmas

A Whyte Christmas

Santa’s future performance is safe in sports science hands!

Each year Santa Claus (aka St. Nikolas) creates a list of children who have been good throughout the year (nb. it is estimated that 90% of children are not naughty but nice). This list has nearly 2 billion names and addresses on it, of which about 33% are Christian. Accordingly, Santa has to deliver a present to c.667 million children in just a single night. With an average number of 3.5 children per household, this equates to 189 million destinations across the globe (excluding the South Pole, which is devoid of flora, fauna and young children). Given that Santa must deliver only when children are asleep (which equates to around 9 pm) in each time zone he has c.31 hours to complete his deliveries. To that end, Santa has to deliver to 1,398 houses per minute giving him c.715 μs in which to decelerate his sleight, land, slide down the chimney, deliver presents under the tree and return up the chimney. It is estimated that the total distance travelled is in the order of 110 million miles (around the distance from the earth to the sun) requiring a speed of 3.5 million miles per hour. With these facts in mind, it is clear that Santa’s annual Christmas Eve Challenge, which given the duration and speed of the event and the need to control nine reindeer (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blixen, and Rudolph, who was only added to the team in the 20th century), can be described as a ‘high intensity endurance time-trial’.

To date, Santa has succeeded in his challenge however, the UN estimates the world’s population will grow by 50% to 11 billion by the end of the century. That would require Santa to deliver to almost 1 billion children! Whilst this may seem an unlikely achievement, sport scientists, and in particular sports nutritionists, have uncovered the secret to future success.

It is clear that Santa is a victim of his own success. His magical speed combined with his army of little helpers means that Santa is virtually inactive for 364 days of the year. Furthermore, thanks to his annual binge on mince pies and whiskey (or milk for those worried about his bone mineral density) together with the culinary skills of Mrs Claus, Santa’s calorie consumption far outweighs his energy expenditure leading to his morbidly obese state. But fear not, with such a poor diet, sports nutrition can play a major role in enhancing his performance on Christmas Eve.

With small changes to Santa’s Christmas Eve diet, sports nutritionists hold the key to improved performance. For example, caffeine will reduce fatigue and increases concentration and alertness. Furthermore, caffeine exerts physiological effects in a number of ways, which luckily for Santa who is carrying a significant layer of insulation (nb. deliberate avoidance of the term ‘fat’ for fear of upsetting those of a sensitive disposition at this festive time of year!), increases fat metabolism and a decreased reliance on glycogen (Pesta et al., 2013). These combined effects could improve Santa’s performance by 4% (Lane et al., 2014). But it doesn’t stop there, carbohydrate feeding during his Christmas Eve time-trial could increase Santa’s performance by helping him go 33% longer (I will leave the team at Loughborough to explain that one!) and up to a 13% improvement in his time-trial performance (Colombani et al., 2013). Given the 715 μs per household target, Santa may be hard pushed to consume adequate carbohydrates, but fear not, sports scientists have shown that he need only rinse his mouth with carbohydrates to increase his performance by 6%! (Sinclair et al., 2013). In addition to the traditional and well researched performance enhancers, the new boy on the ergogenic aid block comes from an unlikely root vegetable, beetroot! Heralded by some as the golden chalice of performance enhancement during high-intensity endurance exercise, beetroot juice increases time to task failure by 14%! (Wylie et al., 2014). Whilst these improvements have only been observed in recreational athletes it is clear, based upon the traditional nutrition strategy combined with sedentary behaviour, Santa could not be classed as elite!

So there we have it, our children and our children’s children need not fear. Whilst the earth’s population swells, Santa needs only a cocktail of carbohydrates and caffeine, and gnaw on a root vegetable to give him a performance enhancement c.50%, not to mention the potential added benefits of creatine, carnitine, sodium bicarbonate, etc. etc. So, rather than leaving mince pies and whiskey on the hearth, think about a double expresso, pasta and a beetroot salad! The only concern now is for his 4-legged friends who must look to increase their average speed closer to 5 million miles per hour. At that pace Rudolph may have more than a red nose!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Read Professor Greg Whytes full article here

British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, A Whyte Christmas [Prof Greg Whyte OBE, FBASES, FACSM | Winter 2014]