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:

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  • Christian


    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?


  • Robert Chung

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

  • Fatty

    Best idea EVER.

    BTW sugar is a performance enhancement…up to a point. And I am well past that point

  • Michael Collins

    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?

  • Alan Hsu

    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:

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