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Experts in Sport: Optimising athletic performance – lessons from the animal kingdom

When considering the optimisation of athletes’ endurance capacity within sport, many wouldn’t think to call upon the animal kingdom for answers.

However, Loughborough University researcher Dr Mark Burnley has done just that as he seeks what lessons humans can learn from our furry friends.

In the latest episode of the Experts in Sport podcast, Dr Burnley sits down with guest host Stuart McErlain-Naylor to discuss parallels between the animal kingdom and humans, and what can be learnt when applying practices to human athletes’ performance and power-duration relationships.

During the episode, it is considered how experimental issues may produce undesirable effects on research. Mark and Stuart also talk about how beta-alanine supplements and other substances in the supplement industry have been developed, primarily from understanding lung-limitation in horses and changing the muscle’s buffer capacity to account for this. 

In a wide-ranging recording, parameters such as critical speed and distance prime are examined, considering the effect of creatine monohydrate upon these variables. Reasoning for endurance training methods are also questioned, with humans utilising these methods for athletic development, as opposed to animals escaping predators in the wild for survival.

Dr Burnley is a Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, specialising in the physiology of endurance exercise. He initially studied a PhD around the kinetics of oxygen uptake response to exercise at different intensities. Having previously taught at Aberystwyth University, Mark was instrumental in establishing a comparative physiology degree comparing horses and humans to evaluate the relationship between the two.

Listeners of the podcast can subscribe and download the latest episode by visiting iTunes, Spotify, and TuneIn. All subscribers will receive an alert once new episodes are published.

The Experts in Sport podcast is a regular series that brings together experts from across Loughborough University with external thought leaders to discuss the latest research and hot topics in sport and academia with new episodes launched regularly.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/166

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022. 

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2024 and 10th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.