European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 118, Issue 4, pp 777–784 | Cite as

Predicting the ergogenic response to methylphenidate

  • Michael KingEmail author
  • Keelyn Van Breda
  • Dan J. Stein
  • Kai Lutz
  • H. G. Laurie Rauch
Original Article



Methylphenidate (MPH) and other stimulants have been shown to enhance physical performance. However, stimulant research has almost exclusively been conducted in young, active persons with a normal BMI, and may not generalize to other groups. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the ergogenic response to MPH could be predicted by individual level characteristics.


We investigated whether weekly minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), age, and BMI could predict the ergogenic response to MPH. In a double-blind, cross-over design 29 subjects (14M, 15F, 29.7 ± 9.68 years, BMI: 26.1 ± 6.82, MVPA: 568.8 ± 705.6 min) ingested MPH or placebo before performing a handgrip task. Percent change in mean force between placebo and MPH conditions was used to evaluate the extent of the ergogenic response.


Mean force was significantly higher in MPH conditions [6.39% increase, T(25) = 3.09, p = 0.005 118.8 ± 37.96 (± SD) vs. 111.8 ± 34.99 Ns] but variable (coefficient of variation:163%). Using linear regression, we observed that min MVPA (T(25) = −2.15, β = −0.400, p = 0.044) and age [T(25) = −3.29, β = −0.598, p = 0.003] but not BMI [T(25) = 1.67, β = 0.320 p = 0.109] significantly predicted percent change in mean force in MPH conditions.


We report that lower levels of physical activity and younger age predict an improved ergogenic response to MPH and that this may be explained by differences in dopaminergic function. This study illustrates that the ergogenic response to MPH is partly dependent on individual differences such as habitual levels of physical activity and age.


Ergogenic stimulants Athletic performance Athletic doping Ritalin 


Author contributions statement

The roles of the authors were as follows: MK: conception, data acquisition, design, interpretation, and drafting, KVB: data acquisition and drafting, DS: interpretation and drafting, KL: analysis, interpretation, and drafting, and HGLR: interpretation and drafting.


We acknowledge our funding contributions: National Research Foundation and Novartis South Africa.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Novartis did not influence study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation, writing, or decision to submit the article for publication. No authors were paid by Novartis.

Supplementary material

421_2018_3800_MOESM1_ESM.tif (4.5 mb)
Supplementary Digital Content 1. Custom-built mock-fMRI used during familiarization session (TIF 4585 KB)
421_2018_3800_MOESM2_ESM.tif (4.4 mb)
Supplementary Digital Content 2. Participants performed 40 grip trials in the power grip position by flexing all digits around a custom-made MRI-compatible isometric handgrip dynamometer. Each grip trial was composed of alternating grip and rest periods, which lasted 12–13 and 5–7 s, respectively. The entire task lasted 13 min and 20 s. A grip trial was defined as failed if a participants’ force dropped below the target force by more than 10 % after having reached the target force (TIF 4525 KB)

Supplementary material 3 (MP4 10970 KB)

421_2018_3800_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (118 kb)
Supplementary Digital Content 3. Z score distributions of percent improvement (A), BMI (B), age (C), and min MVPA (D). The outlier value excluded from analyses is indicated in red (PDF 117 KB)
421_2018_3800_MOESM5_ESM.xlsx (39 kb)
Supplementary material 5 (XLSX 38 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Exercise Science and Sports MedicineUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Mental HealthUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Vascular Neurology and NeurorehabilitationUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Cereneo Center for Neurology and RehabilitationVitznauSwitzerland
  5. 5.Cape TownSouth Africa

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