For runners, reduced workout replaces carbo-loading

FITNESS CLINIC

February 02, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer/United Feature Syndicate

The Last Supper has special meaning to millions of people, but to a marathon runner, the "last supper" means to eat a lot of pasta on the night before running a race.

To increase their endurance for strenuous competition, athletes often follow a diet and exercise regimen called carbohydrate loading. But it has not been shown to be any more effective than cutting back on their workouts before a big event.

Muscles store sugar, called glycogen, inside their fibers to be used as a fuel for exercise. When you exercise so hard a muscle runs out of its stored sugar, it hurts, and you will have trouble coordinating that muscle. The more glycogen stored in a muscle before you exercise it, the longer you can exercise that muscle.

Carbohydrate loading is done to increase the glycogen content ofmuscles. It is done by exercising for more than 90 minutes, one week before competing. This uses up the stored muscle glycogen. For the next three days, the athlete eats very little carbohydrate. Then for the final three days, he eats his regular meals plus extra high-carbohydrate foods: pasta, pastry, bread, fruit and vegetables.

Several studies now show trained athletes can load their muscles maximally with glycogen simply by cutting back on their workouts for three days and eating a little extra food. Those studies show exhaustive exercise traditionally done a week before competition will decrease endurance.

We also now know carbohydrate loading does not benefit exercisers unless they are very highly conditioned. Eating extra carbohydrates will not store extra muscle glycogen unless the enzymes in the muscles are primed by regular hard exercise. Carbohydrate loading in non-competitive athletes stores only extra fat.

* Q: I usually get penicillin for a strep throat, but my doctor recently gave me something called cephalexin. Is it a new wonder drug?

A: For the past four decades, doctors have treated strep throat with penicillin. But recent reports indicate that as many as 10 percent of all cases may not be cured by penicillin.

Any persistent sore throat should be evaluated by a physician. The soreness could be caused by a germ called beta strep, group A, that can damage your heart, by causing rheumatic fever, or your kidneys, by causing nephritis. It also can cause toxic shock and scarlet fever.

Doctors often evaluate and treat sore throats by taking a throat culture and prescribing penicillin for 10 days. In the 1940s, this treatment cured almost all beta strep sore throats. But in the '60s, failure rates as high as 10 percent were reported.

In 1992, doctors were reporting failure rates as high as 30 percent.

The failure of penicillin to cure strep throat infections may be due to patients stopping their medication too soon, the strep being ,, protected by other germs than can inactivate the penicillin, or increased resistance by strep against penicillin.

Doctors still prescribe penicillin for most sore throats. But if your throat is still sore three days after you start taking penicillin, you should check with your doctor. If your throat culture grows a beta strep, you should change to a type of medication called cephalosporine. The least expensive generic form is cephalexin.

If your throat culture does not grow a beta strep, you may need blood tests to see if you are infected with mononucleosis or some other virus.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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