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Wednesday 26 March 2014

Add some spice to your performance

Does curry add kick to your performance?

The results of a pilot study, carried out by sport scientists from Southampton Solent University, looking at whether eating chilli in foods can improve sporting performance, could be good news for curry loving football players. 

The small group of keen amateur footballers taking part improved their running performance and felt they exerted themselves less, after eating curry containing chilli.

The hypothesis being tested by sport scientists at Solent is that capsaicin (a derivative of chilli peppers) could improve running performance through a potential pseudo-analgesic effect.

The rationale to the study is that there were four competitors disqualified in the show jumping events at the Beijing Olympics after testing positive for capsaicin. They were all horses.

Dr Ali Hill, a Registered Nutritionist and senior lecturer at Southampton Solent University and co-researcher on the project says: “Capsaicin is banned for horses because of its potential performance-enhancing effects as it is believed to be a stimulant and may dull the sensitivity to pain. No such ban exists in humans and nor has this been tested in human sporting performance, such as football players.”

In the pilot study, participants were pre-screened for PARQ, resting BP and 12 lead ECG as well as resting metabolic rate and undertook four 5K trials – two to detect natural biological variability, and a further two to measure the effect of the curry and/or chilli.

The results of this small sample show that there appears to be an effect on both reducing perceived discomfort and an increase in 5k running performance when chilli is eaten within a curry meal.

Associate Professor, Dr Stewart Bruce-Low, who led the research, is keen to expand the project: “While very encouraging, these results point to the need to carry out this study with a larger number of participants. Such a study would test the hypothesis more thoroughly.”

If you are interested in taking part in the larger study, regularly compete in individual or team sports at any level and are aged 18 to 45 please email

The pilot study has been carried out in conjunction with independent production company Pergall for their ‘Late Kick Off’ football programme on BBC1 in the south, south west and west (Monday nights and iPlayer). The results were revealed on the programme on Monday 24 March at 11.20pm.