Athletes push themselves to the edge, but not over it


August 24, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer United Feature Syndicate

Training too much can injure athletes and hamper their performance. A group of researchers from Australia showed that a sustained rise in blood levels of norepinephrine, the body's natural stimulant, is associated with a decrease in performance and the overtraining syndrome. Their findings were published in the June 1993 issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Training for athletic competition is like going to the well. You want to be as close to the edge as possible, but you don't want to fall in. Athletic training is done by stressing your body, then allowing enough time for your body to recover before you stress it again. A runner runs very fast on one day and his muscles feel sore on the next. Then he runs at an easier pace until the soreness disappears. The same principle applies to weight lifters who lift heavy one day and light or not at all the next.

The best runner is not the one who runs the most miles; it's the one who can run the most fast miles and not be injured. The aim of training is not to do the most work possible; it's to do the most quality work. It's not easy to tell when you are overtraining.

If your muscles feel sore all the time, your joints start to ache, and you suffer from infections and injuries, it's too late. You have to stop training and not exercise intensely again until you recover.

Q: Can I train after donating blood?

A: A healthy athlete should be able to recover completely from donating blood in eight weeks, but he may lose some of his ability to train for a few days. Following a donation of one pint, blood volume is reduced by around 10 percent and returns to normal in 48 hours. So, for two days after donating, you should drink lots of fluids and probably exercise at a reduced intensity or not at all. Donating blood markedly reduces competitive performance for three to four weeks as it takes that long for blood hemoglobin levels to return to normal.

You should not donate blood more often than every eight weeks because it takes that long to replace lost nutrients. If you donate blood frequently you need to make sure to replace the B vitamins and iron that you lose with the blood.

Q: Are sports drinks really absorbed faster than water?

A: Any drink that contains 4 percent to 8 percent sugar and a little bit of minerals is absorbed faster than water. That doesn't mean you have to pay extra to buy sports drinks, because they are not absorbed any faster than the vast majority of drinks such as fruit juices and soft drinks. Studies that showed you should dilute conventional drinks have been discredited because they were done on people who were not exercising.

Polymer drinks, which contain several sugar molecules tied together, offer no advantage over regular sugar drinks. Previous research showing that warming and carbonating delay absorption have not been supported by more recent studies. When you exercise in the summer, drink anything at any desired temperature as long as it suits your taste and contains sugar. You can make your own drink that will be absorbed as rapidly as the most expensive sport drink on the market by adding 6 tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of salt to a quart of water to make an 8 percent sugar drink. You can also drink any soft drink of your choice.

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

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