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Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement Research Centre (SHAPE)

Unit(s) of assessment: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism

Research theme: Health and Wellbeing

School: School of Science and Technology


The Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement (SHAPE) Research Centre was launched in 2015 to provide a structured research environment in which to investigate the biological, behavioural and societal impact of sport and exercise for human performance, health and well-being. SHAPE has three established Research Groups (Musculoskeletal Physiology, Exercise and Health and Sports Performance) and one that is developing (Sport and Society), all of which are committed to producing research of the highest quality that generates impact for our stakeholders and beneficiaries.

The Musculoskeletal Physiology Research Group (MSPRG) investigates the effects of exercise and diet on the musculature and skeleton, under the leadership of Dr Kirsty Elliott-Sale. The Group translates the work that begins at the laboratory benchtop into the applied setting (e.g., elite athletes, the general population and patients) for improved training and performance or for the treatment and management of disease. Our research ranges from clinical, health-related work to elite sports performance, covering topics including exercise physiology, nutrition, cellular and molecular biology, genetics and health. A major thrust of the Groups activity is the effects of exercise training, diet and nutrition on bone health in athletes and military personnel.

The Exercise and Health Research Group (EHRG) is led by Dr Graham Sharpe and explores the multitude of ways that sport, exercise and nutrition impacts human health and well-being, with a particular emphasis on the development of strategies and interventions. Among other things, EHRG research focusses upon the use of prebiotics and probiotics for health; amputees gait biomechanics, mobility and prosthetic devices; the interplay of exercise and nutrition and how they affect cognitive function; and respiratory physiology, with a particular emphasis on whether the work of breathing affects exercise tolerance and whether nutrition can reduce symptom severity and improve quality of life in asthmatics.

The Sports Performance Research Group (SPRG) led by Dr Caroline Sunderland completes multidisciplinary research to understand and improve cognitive and sporting performance across the lifespan, including the identification of optimal methods of workload quantification to minimise time-loss incidence risk in elite sports teams; the impact of different modes, durations and types of exercise on cognitive performance; and aspects of the social environment in sport and physical activity to understand how those around us (coaches, parents, peers) can best support the child athlete. The Group’s team sport research focusses upon enhancing performance in international and professional club team sports.

The Sport and Society Research Group (SASRG) is a rapidly developing Group, led by Dr Gavin Weedon, comprising early career researchers publishing papers relating to the socio-cultural dimensions of sport, health and exercise. The Group is committed to socially relevant scholarship that impacts significant issues and debates across sociology, psychology and related fields. The Group connects research pertaining to diverse issues of violence, pollution, mental health, and gender discrimination, into real-world community initiatives, media communications and policy. The impact of this research in shaping policy governance (e.g., England Boxing), garnering media exposure (e.g., Canadian Broadcasting Company, The Conversation, The Irish Examiner) and supporting community initiatives (e.g., Love Fighting Hate Violence, Think Football), evidences a commitment to socially relevant scholarship.

Media Coverage

SHAPE researchers invest a significant amount of time on the dissemination of their research to a non-academic audience. For example, Dr Ian Varley appeared on BBC Radio Five Live to talk about genetic predisposition to injury and sporting prowess (May 2018). This was also picked up by ABC radio in Australia. Our researchers have written over 15 articles for The Conversation that have reached several million readers, with the three articles penned by Dr David Clayton on intermittent fasting being particularly popular, having a total of well over 1 million reads:

The Conversation articles penned by Dr Neil Williams have also been extremely popular with over 780,000 reads; some of these articles was also featured in the mainstream press:

Dr Jessica Piasecki appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live discussing her research relating to the starting age of master athletes. Mustafa Sarkar appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about mental health in elite sport and the psychological impact of retirement and Kirsty Elliott-Sale featured on BBC Sport providing her expert views on the effect of the oral contraceptive pill on female athlete performance.


SHAPE has active collaborations locally, nationally and with countries on five continents.  Our collaborations now extend to over twenty countries worldwide, including: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Germany, Hong-Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States,

Significant international collaborations include:

  • The Applied Physiology and Nutrition Group at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, since 2010. This collaboration focusses upon the biological actions of the histidine containing dipeptide, carnosine, and bone health.
  • The University of Limerick (Ireland) and the Sport Ireland Institute. Includes collaboration on a project funded by the Irish Research Council, Enterprise Partnership Scheme relating to the impact of low carbohydrate diets on bone health and (re)modelling in elite endurance athletes.
  • The Department of Rehabilitation at Jönköping University, Sweden, since 2013. This collaboration is focused in the area of biomechanics of postural control, balance and falls in prosthesis users.
  • The University of British Columbia, Canada, since 2015. This collaboration focusses broadly upon sport journalism.
  • Mansoura University, Egypt, since 2019. Research has investigated elite football performance by using machine learning methods to determine key determinants of success and failure. This allows coaches and practitioners to ensure players focus on the key tactics and techniques that will result in performance success.
  • The Education University of Hong Kong, since 2015. This collaboration has focused upon the effects of exercise and nutritional interventions on cognitive performance in athletes.

Related staff


  1. Fasey, K. J., Sarkar, M., Wagstaff, C. R., & Johnston, J. (2021). Defining and characterizing organizational resilience in elite sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 52.
  2. Townsend, R., Elliott-Sale, K., Currell, K., Tang, J., Fraser, W., & Sale, C. (2017). The effect of post exercise carbohydrate and protein ingestion on bone metabolism. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 49(6), 1209-1218.
  3. Barron, D., Ball, G., Robins, M., & Sunderland, C. (2020). Identifying playing talent in professional football using artificial neural networks. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(11-12), 1211-1220.
  4. Clayton, D., Burrell, K., Mynott, G., Creese, M., Skidmore, N., Stensel, D., & James, L. (2016). Effect of 24-h severe energy restriction on appetite regulation and ad libitum energy intake in lean men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104(6), 1545-1553.
  5. Weedon, G., Wilson, B., Yoon, L., & Lawson, S. (2018). Where's all the 'good' sports journalism? Sports media research, the sociology of sport, and the question of quality sports reporting. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 53(6), 639-667.
  6. Matthews, C., & Jordon, M. (in press). Drugs and supplements in amateur boxing: pugilistic amateurism and ideologies of performance. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 12(5), 631-646. .
  7. Dring, K., Cooper, S., Morris, J., Sunderland, C., Foulds, G., Pockley, A., & Nevill, M. (2019). Cytokine, glycemic and insulinemic responses to an acute bout of games-based activity in adolescents. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 29(4), 597-605.
  8. Saward, C., Morris, J., Nevill, M., Minniti, A., & Sunderland, C. (2020). Psychological characteristics of developing excellence in elite youth football players in English professional academies. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(11-12), 1380-1386.
  9. Papageorgiou, M., Martin, D., Colgan, H., Cooper, S., Greeves, J., Tang, J., Sale, C. (2018). Bone metabolic responses to low energy availability achieved by diet or exercise in active eumenorrheic women. BONE, 114, 181-188.
  10. Bisele, M., Bencsik, M., Lewis, M., & Barnett, C. (in press). Optimisation of a machine learning algorithm in human locomotion using principal component and discriminant function analyses. PLoS ONE, 12(9), e0183990.

Related Projects

Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021

The Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement Research Centre submitted impact case studies to REF 2021. 100% of NTU's research environment in the 'Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism' Unit of Assessment was assessed to be world-leading or internationally excellent.

Discover the real-world impact of their research below.


The SHAPE Research Centre is ably supported by a comprehensive research infrastructure.

Our two biomechanics laboratories house multiple motion capture systems and both ground embedded and portable force plates. These systems also have mobile EMG, accelerometery and insole pressure measurement systems. These set-ups are complemented by a host of software packages for musculoskeletal modelling, simulation and statistical analysis.

Our multifunctional sport and exercise psychology laboratory, allows both quantitative and qualitative research to be conducted. The new laboratory provides a space for interviews and focus groups and also provides the equipment for effective transcription and data analysis. Cognitive booths enable participants to complete a number of cognitive tasks requiring self-control in a controlled setting with no external distractions.

Our scanning laboratory encompasses dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and peripheral quatitative computed tomography (pQCT) machines for the determination of body composition and bone mass and strength.  These machines are used extensively for our exercise, diet and bone health research. When combined with our internal collaborative capabilities in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we have a powerful core capability for musculoskeletal imagery relating to the effects of exercise and diet on the musculoskeletal system.

Our four exercise physiology research laboratories are fully equipped with ergometers (rowing, cycling, treadmills), expired air analysis systems and blood analysers and all of the major equipment required to determine the physiological responses to exercise and diet.

The Nutrition lounge and associated kitchen provides a purpose-built area for our nutrition research, providing a relaxing environment for participants of all ages. It also encompasses cognitive function booths for the assessment of the impacts of nutrition and exercise on cognitive function.

Two environmental chambers, one of which is British Olympic Association accredited allow the manipulation of temperature, humidity and altitude for physiological, nutritional, psychological and health research.

In addition to these facilities we have access to core capabilities across the School of Science and Technology, including biosciences laboratories (including the capability for cell culture and sophisticated OMICS analyses).

All of these facilities are overseen by a team of capable and dedicated technicians who can provide valuable advice and support to our research students.

Recent projects

1. The Postpartum Exercise and Return to Fitness: Optimise Readiness For military Mums (PERFORM) study has been designed to restore physical function after childbirth and enable servicewomen to achieve their physical employment standards upon return to duty. This work is based upon a major grant (total £940,677) from the Ministry of Defence to support the work of the Women in Ground Close Combat Team.

2. The Injury and Illness Surveillance Study is conducted by Nottingham Trent University on behalf of the English Football Association (FA) in order to realise their aim of acquiring World-leading status in the treatment and prevention of injury and illness in football. The study, based on three grants from the FA totalling ~200K, currently incorporates >50 teams in both men’s and women’s professional football and the England national teams.

3. HUUB Design are funding and using research to develop clothing solutions for elite endurance athletes. These clothing solutions include fabric development and treatments to influence thermal conductivity by improving sweat evaporation and, thus, athletic performance. The work is part of a PhD studentship between HUUB and the Department of Engineering at NTU.

4. The STEPFORWARD study is a randomised feasibility study that investigates patients’ acceptability of a novel prosthetic device, in older patients with vascular-related amputations and multi-morbidities. This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research through the Research for Patient Benefit Scheme (total £249,737) in collaboration with both academic and national health service partners.