Training: too much, too little, just right

Training: too much, too little, just right

Presenter: Professor Emeritus David Costill, Director Emeritus of the Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University


Professor David Costill; sports scientist pioneer, legend and sports nutrition/physiology guru. Dave has been retired for more than a decade but makes his way to the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University each day to hang out and keep learning/teaching. His pioneering work spans the popularisation of carbohydrate loading (1980s), the first modern studies of caffeine use in sport (1970s), shaving-down for swimming performance (performance enhancing!), and high training volumes for swimming performance (not needed!). We have been lucky to lure him to the AIS following a 15 year absence from the lecturing circuit. Professor Louise Burke will conduct an interview with him to hear his thoughts on the history of sports science/sports nutrition, and how to encourage coaches and scientists to engage with each other to build a true partnership in the quest for ways to enhance sports performance. 


Professor Emeritus David Costill has done more to help generations of elite athletes set world records and reach peak performances than they may ever realise. Costill, a pioneer in the study of exercise science, chaired the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University from 1966 to 1998. His research included ways to maximise the performance of athletes, the study of heart disease in elderly men, and the effect of exercise on diabetes. His collaboration with Swedish colleagues revealed that humans have different types of muscle fibres, helping explain why some runners excel at sprinting while others have greater endurance. Recently, he has conducted research with cosmonauts and astronauts aboard the International Space Station to help counteract the loss in muscle during weightlessness.

“Dr. Costill’s contributions to research and education in the applied physiology of exercise have made him what many would argue is the most recognised and respected person in this field in the entire world,” said David R. Lamb, professor emeritus in Ohio State’s School of Physical Activity and Educational Services. During his career, Costill was awarded research grants totalling more than $3.5 million. He published hundreds of articles and wrote six books that were printed in seven languages. His textbook has had 22 foreign translations into 10 languages. He also made presentations in dozens of countries and was featured on television programs and in the New York Times. Some of Costill’s earliest studies focused on the importance of sports drinks for marathon runners, using grants from the now-popular Gatorade. Costill was an early leader in using needle biopsy procedures to study the changes induced by exercise and diet in the storage of carbohydrates and fat in fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibres. In fact, he is credited with popularising carbohydrate loading for endurance athletes.

“One of Dr. Costill’s most valuable characteristics is his talent for communicating equally effectively with scientists and athletes, both in writing and in the lecture hall,” Lamb said. “His books on science, running, and swimming have been best-sellers. Students, athletes, and faculty members flock to his lectures to hear him artfully, simply, and humorously explain complex physiological mechanisms.” Costill was president of the American College of Sports Medicine in 1976–77 and has received several awards from the group. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education and served on the U.S. Olympic committee on sports medicine.

In 1988, Costill was appointed the first Distinguished Professor at Ball State, where he mentored nearly 150 master’s, doctoral, and postdoctoral students. He received the John and Janice Fisher Chair in Exercise Science, and since his retirement continues to serve as emeritus professor. Costill has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Exercise Physiologists, the Cuyahoga Falls School Foundation, and the Gatorade Sports Science Group. “Dr. Costill almost single-handedly helped popularise the field of exercise science with his vast scholarly contributions and his zeal for addressing practical issues,” said Robert Murray, director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.