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Why Footballers Spit So Much On The Field? Know the Science Behind it

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Be it this world cup or any other football match for that manner, we often see footballers spitting on the field while at play. One may imagine that this is some tactic or some method to let out frustration or such. While in reality, there is more than what meets the eye. As it turns out, there are some scientific and performance-based factors behind it as scientists and analysts have managed to find out. In this blog, we will find out why footballers spit so much on the field.

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What Scientific Studies Says

According to some certain scientific studies carried out on this matter, it was discovered that exercises and physical strain increases the amount of protein secreted in the saliva, especially a kind of mucous substance termed MUC5B, which makes the saliva thicker and much more difficult to swallow.

As stated by Dr. Udit Kapoor, senior consultant, at Asian Hospital, Faridabad, the saliva in the mouth thickens during physically strenuous activities like football matches, which players consider better to spit out. Dr. Kapoor said (as per the article of Indian Express) while talking about footballers, cricketers, and rugby players who are allowed to spit on the ground as opposed to tennis and basketball players.

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“There is especially a type of mucous called MUC5B which makes the saliva thicker and therefore harder to swallow. So, it is best to spit it,”

While agreeing and giving his input into the matter, Dr. Nandlal Pathak, chiropractor and sports physiotherapist, at Synchrony Chiropractic and Sports Physiotherapy Clinic, stated,

“The saliva thickens immediately after any exercise or physical activity”.

“Such total protein in saliva can be amylase, lysozyme, lactoferrin, chromogranin A or MUC5B, which are mediated by the autonomic nervous system and immune system,”

He also mentioned that another reason could be dehydration which can occur due to mouth breathing.

“Dehydration causes evaporation of water. General perspiration can also cause dehydration leading to saliva thickening, hence, more spitting,” 

While it is not entirely clear as to why one produces more amount of MUC5B while exercising or doing physical work, one could say that it may be due to breathing via the mouth more as compared to breathing via the nose.

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Joseph Dou, a former goalie for the Nigerian Football team mentioned

“footballers spit because they need something to clear their throat… they make a run of maybe 10 to 15 yards, and they need air to breathe”.

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Carb Rinsing: Does it improve performance?

Image Source- The New York Times

Carb rinsing is the practice when football players wash their mouths with a carbohydrate solution and spit it out. This is believed to trick the body, especially the brain into thinking that the individual is consuming carbohydrates. This thereby stimulates the body and makes it behave as if those carbohydrates are present in the system.

Asker Jeukendrup, an exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist, had told The New York Times that carb rinsing may be associated with better performance. In a study that he had conducted with the University of Birmingham in 2004, he found that carb-rinsing made cyclists about a minute faster in 40-kilometer cycling time trials.

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However, contrary to this, another study published by the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2017 stated that no significant difference in performance was noted in endurance events about carb rinsing. The study analyzed 15 female runners who raced for 60 minutes. Once they raced with carb rinsing and once without. The carb solution, the study claimed, had no impact.

This led to the conclusion that possibly, carb rinsing has more of an impact on quick, immediate activities such as sprinting than long-distance and endurance events.

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