The Placebo Effect and Marginal Gains

You know you’ve had this suspicion: the core of the cycling industry—much of what it’s really selling you—is not tech, speed, or fitness. Nope, the truth is that one of the most powerful marginal gains you’ll ever get is thanks to the placebo effect. Josh, Fatty, and Hottie talk about what it is and how potent a force it is in cycling.

Articles Referenced in the MG Podcast:
https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/04/23/man-who-overdosed-placebo-12871
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1108579
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/485371


Got a question you’d like to ask? Text or leave a voicemail at the Marginal Gains Hotline: +1-317-343-4506 or just leave a comment in this post!

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10 thoughts on “The Placebo Effect and Marginal Gains

  1. Bret Rutherford is a psychiatrist at Columbia who has studied the placebo effect in antidepressant trials, in particular patient expectations as a moderator of the effect. In prior studies he has found that the strength of the placebo response depends on the likelihood of receiving the active medication vs placebo. In this paper he used fMRI to try to localize the neural basis of the expectancy response:

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022395619303401

  2. You would sell a lot more of your new TI straws if you filled them with Pixie Stick sugar. Would be great to take on long rides to give a boost, and then use the straw at the cafe after the ride. To make even more money you can sell refillable packet subscriptions so riders can refill there straws (AKA razor blade cartridges). Would the sugar enhance performance, or be a placebo?

  3. Very nice. This entire episode is about why belief is important but belief and measurement together are even better.

  4. Hi!
    Love the podcast guys! I have a question for a future ‘Ask Josh Anything’ episode.
    On TT bikes some riders have been going to larger chainrings….54, 56, and 58t chainrings are becoming more popular for many riders. One reason would be to try to achieve a better chain line and save a fraction of some watts in drivechain efficiency, but another reason would be the ability to keep pedaling at an optimal cadence at higher speeds. On a slight downhill (2% or 4%) in an aero TT position it is easy to go 55ish km/h at about 200-230w at 85 or 90 cadence, if the downhill gets steeper, and with a bigger chainring, it will be possible to keep pedaling at a higher speed without spinning out, but at some point there must be a break-even point or a crossover point where getting into a tuck (supertuck or just regular seated tuck) becomes just as fast or maybe even faster than staying in a TT aero position and pedaling. Assuming that we can just keep going to a bigger chainring so that we don’t spin out, whereabouts would that speed be where we should stop pedaling and get into a tuck (assuming an improved CdA in the tuck) on a downhill?
    Thanks!!

  5. By a 17 pound bike and when you loose 5 pounds- it the bike will shrink 5 pounds.. btw- a simple 1% increase in effort is huge– Do the math, ypu can surprise yourself..

  6. By a 17 pound bike and when you loose 5 pounds- it the bike will shrink 5 pounds.. btw- a simple 1% increase in effort is huge– Do the math, ypu can surprise yourself..

  7. Got your nickname for Josh…

    Silky

    Rolls off the tongue when rattling off Fatty and the Hottie…and sounds appropriate since a running theme in the shows is the search for Smooth…and obviously a play on the name Silca.

  8. I don’t think anyone needs to find this episode hard. Placebo/Nocebo effects don’t mean that the performance differences aren’t real. It just means that we can reliably pick up on the differences without proper measurement. Our expectations dominate. We actually get better value-for-money as a result. We enjoy expensive gear more than we objectively should.

    Personally, I’ve always been a bit bewildered by my inability to feel the differences I am promised. Tyres are perhaps the starkest examples. People rave about the “magic carpet ride” of softer, wider tyres, yet the difference often seems non-existent to me in terms of what I can feel. I certainly can’t “feel” the speed of aero wheels. But I can measure it on Strava-timed descents. (I think I can feel the cross-wind susceptibility, though)

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