Dr. Thomas Vansgness - Max Muscle Sports Nutrition
Health Trends for Athletes
By: Linda Hepler, BSN, RN
The media is full of the latest health and fitness research stories. Some of this information can be helpful, but much of it is just that – stories – meant to grab your attention. What practices should you include in your own life as an athlete? Read the research, ask the doctor and then make your own decision.
Exercise, exercise, exercise
What the research says: Do you feel bad if you don’t hit the gym every day? Athletic performance and endurance is improved by training, to be sure. But recent research suggests that backing off from exercise – rather than increasing the volume of training – may actually improve performance in athletes. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers demonstrated that by reducing the volume of training by 25 percent, and introducing short sprint runs several times a week, endurance trained runners can improve both short-term and long-term performance.
What the doc says: “I believe athletes should be particularly aware and careful not to overtrain,” says Jeffrey McDaniel, MD, family medicine/sports medicine physician and team physician at the University of South Carolina. “It is easy for highly active and elite athletes to do too much in a workout. However, overtraining can lead to overuse injuries and is one of the leading reasons I see athletes in my office. Overtraining may lead to a constellation of symptoms, ranging from fatigue, persistent muscle sore-ness, changes in your mood, to outright poor performance. Allowing recovery time after a workout gives our bodies time to repair from tissue breakdown.”
Bottom line: When it comes to exercise, you can get too much of a good thing.
Heart attacks and athletes
What the research says: We’ve all read the stories about the elite athlete who drops over dead during a workout. Are you at risk for sudden cardiac death? About one in every 500 people have “silent” heart problems that can lead to sudden cardiac death during or shortly after athletic activity. These conditions can often be detected by a physical exam and an electrocardiogram (EKG), a simple test that traces the electrical activity of your heart. In fact, a recent Stanford University School of Medicine study suggests that routine EKG testing of young athletes would save lives.
What the doc says: When it comes to EKGs, says Thomas Vangsness, Chief of Sports Medicine at L.A. County/USC Medical Center and one of the team physicians for University of Southern California athletics, “It depends.”
EKGs don’t always catch a heart condition that may result in sudden cardiac death, he explains. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an EKG may identify persons who should not participate in sports, but it may also identify those who, despite abnormalities, are at very low risk for cardiac problems, which may unnecessarily exclude you from athletic participation. Your best bet according to Vangsness? “If you have a family history of sudden cardiac death, it may be wise to consult a cardiologist who is familiar with AHA guidelines.”
Bottom line: Know your family history, get regular physical exams and follow through with heart testing if you and your doctor believe that it’s indicated.
What the research says: Many sports scientists believe that human athletic performance has peaked, and that only cheating or technological advances will result in greater achievement in the sports world. Enter compression clothing, vibration machines and running shoes that are “next to barefoot.” Should you buy these things?
What the doc says: Again, cautions Vangsness, read the literature. “It’s up to the consumer to vet it all out. As they say, buyer beware. There is a lot of shuck and jive in selling a product.”
Bottom line: Beware of fitness fads!
Training in hot weather
What the research says: As an athlete, you think you know everything there is to know about hot weather training. But did you know that women have to work harder than men to start sweating? According to a study done by Japanese scientists at Osaka International University and Kobe University, while exercise training improves the ability to sweat in both sexes, women have a harder time coping with temperature extremes, meaning that they must take more care than men while training in hot weather conditions.
What the doc says: “Women tend to sweat less during intense exercise in a hot environment,” says Lucas Bader, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon practicing in Mission Viejo, Calif. “This causes an elevation of their core temperature and predisposes them to poor performance, physiologic stress, and heat-related illness. Smart strategies to diminish the negative effect of heat include decreasing the intensity of the workout, drinking plenty of fluids, wearing lightweight and light-colored clothes and if training outside, applying ample sunscreen to exposed areas.”
Bottom line: Women should take more care than men in hot conditions. Regular exercise before a heat wave will help you to acclimate to the heat more easily.
When to see a specialist
What the research says: At least one in 10 athletes sustained an injury during the 2010 Winter Olympics, according to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. And if you’re a heavy athlete, you’re at higher risk of injury, too. If you’ve decided that your injury is serious enough to go to a doctor, what kind should you see?
What the doc says: Today’s treatment of sports injuries has improved greatly over the past decade thanks to nanotechnologies, arthroscopy, tissue engineering and targeted pain relief options. Athletes are getting back into the game sooner than ever before, says Vangsness. “If you’re a hardcore, serious athlete, it probably behooves you to go to someone who has a specialty in sports medicine. Not every doctor is trained in the latest sports medicine technology.”
Bottom line: If you’re a weekend warrior, it’s probably fine to go to your regular doctor, who can rule out a serious injury that requires immediate treatment. Then, if not better in a few weeks, you can see a specialist. If you’re an elite athlete, you should consider going to a sports medicine specialist soon after an injury.
Age and working out
What the research says: Recent research indicates that while muscles may decline as we grow older, regular exercise at an early age may actually help you maintain muscle cells into your golden years by increasing the number of muscle stem cells. In other words, your muscles, even if unused in older age, maintain a “memory” that allows them to bounce back to life once you begin training again.
What the doc says: Andrew J.M. Gregory, MD, an assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehab-ilitation at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., says that the muscle stem cell research was done on rats, “so the results must be taken with a grain of salt. The same process may not occur in humans. We lose muscle at a rate of about one percent per year after age 25-30. But regular weight training has been shown to increase both strength and bone mineral density at any age.”
Bottom line: Whether or not exercise provides a “fountain of youth,” it is healthy at any age, so go for it!