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Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been used aiming to boost exercise performance and inconsistent findings have been reported. One possible explanation is related to the limitations of the so-called “conventional” tDCS, which uses large rectangular electrodes, resulting in a diffuse electric field. A new tDCS technique called high-definition tDCS (HD-tDCS) has been recently developed. HD-tDCS uses small ring electrodes and produces improved focality and greater magnitude of its aftereffects. This study tested whether HD-tDCS would improve exercise performance to a greater extent than conventional tDCS. Twelve endurance athletes (29.4 ± 7.3 years; 60.15 ± 5.09 ml kg− 1 min− 1) were enrolled in this single-center, randomized, crossover, and sham-controlled trial. To test reliability, participants performed two time to exhaustion (TTE) tests (control conditions) on a cycle simulator with 80% of peak power until volitional exhaustion. Next, they randomly received HD-tDCS (2.4 mA), conventional (2.0 mA), or active sham tDCS (2.0 mA) over the motor cortex for 20-min before performing the TTE test. TTE, heart rate (HR), associative thoughts, peripheral (lower limbs), and whole-body ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were recorded every minute. Outcome measures were reliable. There was no difference in TTE between HD-tDCS (853.1 ± 288.6 s), simulated conventional (827.8 ± 278.7 s), sham (794.3 ± 271.2 s), or control conditions (TTE1 = 751.1 ± 261.6 s or TTE2 = 770.8 ± 250.6 s) [ F(1.95; 21.4) = 1.537; P = 0.24; η2p = 0.123]. There was no effect on peripheral or whole-body RPE and associative thoughts (P > 0.05). No serious adverse effect was reported. A single session of neither HD-tDCS nor conventional tDCS changed exercise performance and psychophysiological responses in athletes, suggesting that a ceiling effect may exist.


This article was originally published in Scientific Reports, available at

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