Continue fitness training, even during the season of competition

FITNESS CLINIC

March 15, 1994|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,United Feature Syndicate

A couple of decades ago, hockey players from the former Soviet Union surprised the world with their performance against an all-star team from the National Hockey League. The Canadians could keep up with the Soviet players for the first two periods, but their fatigue showed in the late stages of all their games.

The Soviet players were rested and in shape, while the Canadian players were out of shape from the effects of their last NHL season. It wasn't until the following year that the Canadians found out what had happened. They were strongest and most fit just before the start of the season. They lifted weights and did interval sprint training.

However, during the season, they had to travel and play three or four times a week, so they were too tired to lift weights and continue their sprint training. They lost strength and fitness progressively through the season. The team that wins the Stanley Cup each year is usually the one that loses the least amount of strength and fitness during the competitive season.

A recent study from Jyvaskyla, Finland, showed that the same thing happened to female volleyball players. Prior to their season, the athletes lifted weights and practiced plyometric explosive strength training. And just before the beginning of their season, they jumped the highest and lifted the heaviest weights. During the season, they lost strength and explosive power.

This shows that the best way to peak for competition in any sport that requires strength, speed and endurance is to keep on training for strength, speed and endurance during your competitive season. If you compete too often, you won't be able to keep up your training program and you will lose conditioning as the season progresses.

Q: Please explain the advantages of cross training. -- T.W., Fayetteville, Ark.

A: Cross training can help an athlete prevent injuries and improve his fitness level. You will be in better shape and injured less often by alternating sports on consecutive days, rather than by exercising in both sports every other day.

Every time that you exercise, you stress the muscle fibers that are used most while competing in your sport. It takes at least 48 hours for muscle fibers to heal. If you exercise in the same sport every day, you stress the same muscles and increase your chances of injuring them.

If you run on one day, you stress the muscles in your lower leg. Then when you cycle on the next, you stress primarily the muscles in your upper legs and give your lower leg muscles a rest.

The best athletes are not the ones who do the most work. They are the ones who take the hardest workouts, then rest long enough to recover before they take a hard workout again.

If you run hard one day, then run again the next day, your muscles will still be sore and you will delay recovery. If you cycle on the day after you run, your lower leg running muscles will not be stressed and they will recover faster, so you can run hard again sooner.

Q: Is there any new information on why some people eat a lot and stay skinny, while others eat like birds and stay fat? -- P.L., Worcester, Mass.

A: Recent studies from Denmark help explain why. An obese person's metabolism burns a greater percentage of fat than does a thin person's (40.5 percent compared to 36 percent), even when they both take in exactly the same type and quantities of foods.

Burning fat in place of carbohydrates makes you fat, whether it comes from eating too much fat or from being fat. When you take in more calories than your body needs, the extra calories are converted to fat in your body.

It takes only 3 percent of the calories to turn extra dietary fat to body fat, while it takes more than 15 percent of the calories to turn dietary carbohydrate to body fat. In other words, the body's processing of dietary carbohydrates consumes far more calories than does the processing of dietary fats.

This principle supplies valuable insight on how to eat. When food is scarce, try to eat fatty foods and you will have more calories to meet your needs.

When food is abundant, try to eat carbohydrates, so your body wastes lots of extra calories in converting the dietary carbohydrates into body fat.

In the United States, food is abundant, so Americans should try to eat a diet based primarily on carbohydrate sources such as grains, vegetables and fruits. They should try to avoid fat sources such as meat, oils, diary products and eggs.

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

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