Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive neuromodulatory technique and has previously been shown to enhance submaximal exercise by reducing rating of perceived exertion (RPE). The present study examined the effects of tDCS on high-intensity self-paced exercise in temperate conditions and fixed followed by maximal exercise in the heat; it was hypothesised that performance and RPE would be altered.
Two separate studies were undertaken in which exercise was preceded by 20-minutes of sham tDCS (SHAM), or anodal tDCS (TDCS). In study 1, six males completed a 20-km cycling time trial, on two occasions. Power output (PO), RPE, O2 pulse, and heart rate (HR) were measured throughout. In study 2, eight males completed fixed intensity cycling exercise at 55% of a pre-determined maximal power output (PMax) for 25-minutes before undertaking a time to exhaustion test (TTE; 75% PMax) in hot conditions (33 °C), on two occasions. Test duration, heart rate, thermal and perceptual responses were measured. Study specific and combined statistical analyses were undertaken and effect sizes established.
In study 1, mean PO was not improved with the tDCS (197 ± 20 W) compared to SHAM (197 ± 12 W) and there were no differences in pacing profile HR, O2 pulse or RPE (p > .05). In study 2, TTE duration (SHAM 314 ± 334 s cf 237 ± 362 s tDCS), thermal, heart rate and perceptual responses were unchanged by tDCS compared to SHAM (p > .05). When combined, performance in the SHAM trial tended to better than the tDCS.
tDCS did not influence cycling performance (study 1) exercise tolerance (study 2) or perception (studies 1 and 2). tDCS does not appear to facilitate high intensity exercise performance or exercise performance in the heat.