BACKGROUND: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been used to enhance endurance performance but its precise mechanisms and effects remain unknown.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of bilateral tDCS on neuromuscular function and performance during a cycling time to task failure (TTF) test.
METHODS: Twelve participants in randomized order received a placebo tDCS (SHAM) or real tDCS with two cathodes (CATHODAL) or two anodes (ANODAL) over bilateral motor cortices and the opposite electrode pair over the ipsilateral shoulders. Each session lasted 10 min and current was set at 2 mA. Neuromuscular assessment was performed before and after tDCS and was followed by a cycling time to task failure (TTF) test. Heart rate (HR), ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), leg muscle pain (PAIN) and blood lactate accumulation (ΔB[La-]) in response to the cycling TTF test were measured.
RESULTS: Corticospinal excitability increased in the ANODAL condition (P < 0.001) while none of the other neuromuscular parameters showed any change. Neuromuscular parameters did not change in the SHAM and CATHODAL conditions. TTF was significantly longer in the ANODAL (P = 0.003) compared to CATHODAL and SHAM conditions (12.61 ± 4.65 min; 10.61 ± 4.34 min; 10.21 ± 3.47 min respectively), with significantly lower RPE and higher ΔB[La-] (P < 0.001). No differences between conditions were found for HR (P = 0.803) and PAIN during the cycling TTF test (P = 0.305).
CONCLUSION: Our findings demonstrate that tDCS with the anode over both motor cortices using a bilateral extracephalic reference improves endurance performance.