So how's a consumer supposed to separate hype from scientific evidence? Reading the information provided on apparel websites is a first step, but it's more important to seek out information on the actual studies performed. That's what I've done with 1st Round Athletics, a brand that just wrapped up a $50,000 campaign on Indiegogo.
There were a few claims on 1st Round Athletics' website that raised my eyebrows. As someone with a master's degree in exercise science, I tend to subscribe to the theory, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." I approach most claims (like the following) with a measure of skepticism:
Those are pretty hefty claims, especially given that most athletes will do just about anything to improve their speed, strength, power and endurance. I have to say I was intrigued, but skeptical.
The 1st Round website referred to several double-blind, placebo-controlled laboratory studies, even providing summaries of the studies on their site. This is a fantastic start since most athletic apparel brands don't even go this far.
But, here's my problem with the type of summary 1st Round provided: Companies can pick and choose which results to highlight, without providing a completely accurate portrayal of what the studies found. As such, I asked the company to provide me with the full-text studies so I could dive a little deeper into what, specifically, was tested and discovered.
Understanding scientific studies: First, I think it's important to explain that scientific studies are typically focused on a very specific demographic, and they're typically testing a very specific parameter. This type of specificity is the only real way to start making claims about a product or protocol. That said, because of the specific nature of scientific studies, it's incredibly difficult to accurately extrapolate results and jump to conclusions about anything that's not specifically tested in the study.
The four studies on the Celliant fiber (what 1st Round refers to as energyDNA®) were incredibly compelling. They did, in fact, prove increased blood oxygenation when wearing the garments, as well as decreased pain and increased strength. That said, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. More studies are still needed to prove the types of athletic performance enhancements that the website is claiming, and here's why:
I'll be the first person to say that the research on the Celliant (energyDNA®) apparel fiber is positive. It's impressive that the brand has made a point to have the fibers tested in multiple studies, and so far, the data is good. That said, I strongly believe that most of their claims should be followed by asterisks. There has been no scientific study that accurately assesses the improved endurance, speed, or power of an athlete, and even the study proving an increase in grip strength can't automatically be extrapolated to assume increased strength across all muscle groups or athletic endeavors.
It's one thing to dissect the science of a product and another to test out the product. When I requested the full text scientific studies, I also requested a sample to test the product myself. They only had mens' garments at the time, so I made my husband my guinea pig. He's a good one to ask, since he also has an undergrad degree in exercise science and was a personal trainer for eight years. In terms of the product itself, here's our summary:
There's certainly no reason not to buy apparel from 1st Round. The clothing is high-quality, attractive and performance-focused, which is what every athlete wants. The price is also in line with other similar brands, so if you're in the market, it's worth a look. That said, don't buy the brand just because of its performance-enhancing claims. You can be hopefully optimistic that the brand will make you faster, fatigue-resistant, and more powerful, but there's no specific evidence yet that can verify those claims.
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