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Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition

Every few Olympics comes one with hot and humid weather - Athens was hot and dry, Sydney mild, but Atlanta (1996) and Beijing (2008) had the double whammy of heat and humidity.

Physiology 102 taught us that the body secretes sweat when it’s too hot. Physics 101 told us that there is a cooling effect when water (sweat) evaporates.

However, when the air is also saturated with water vapor, sweat won’t evaporate so well and will probably fall to the ground before it has a chance to cool the skin. Since the body doesn’t get any cooler, the body continues sweating.

Obviously the hotter and more humid the weather, the more sweaty you get and hence the potential for dehydration.

These conditions motivate the sport science boffins to revisit the demands on athletes to stay cool and hydrated in conditions that make you really sweat.

Why is it so Important to Stay Hydrated When Playing Sport?

The loss of water and electrolytes from the body has a few negatives but most notable is the decrease in blood volume and resultant reduction in oxygen transport resources. Just 1-3% dehydration has been shown to have a negative impact on exercise performance.

This is a major challenge especially in sports where it’s hard to drink a lot because you’re working hard or you don’t have a free hand, such as in team sports, sailing, distance running, road cycling, etc. To overcome this the athletes need to have a strategy in place to stay hydrated during the event, especially if the competition extends over multiple days

How much/when: drink 125mls every 15 mins (500ml/hr)… or more if able.

What: A cool 6% Carbohydrate Solution with Sodium & Potassium.

The major sports drink brands have products that are ideal for athletes to drink during competition.

Also, sip some cool (16 deg C/ 60 deg F) sports drink during your warm-up. Cooler fluids are absorbed quicker and cool the body.

Athletes in multi-day events needs to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration:

  • Changes in body weight – 1kg lost in a day equals a liter of fluid lost
  • Changes in quantity and color of urine - reduced output and darker stream generally indicates fluid loss
  • Increased lethargy or elevated resting heart rates
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Increased perception of exertion

Getting Ready for Exercise in Heat & Humidity

Louise Bell, Sports Dietitian at the New South Wales Institute of Sport and to the Australian Sailing Team, has the following tips for staying hydrated in humid conditions:

  • Allow the body time to acclimatise to the humid conditions – either train in a hot, humid environment; and/or arrive 7-10+ days prior to competing in these condition.
  • Understand your body’s own sweat response and practice drinking strategies in a training situation. Develop a plan for yourself.
  • Begin competition well-hydrated and start drinking early – small amounts of fluid more often are likely to better maintain your hydration status than going long periods with little or no fluid.
  • Water may not be enough – sports drinks are a better choice in hot, humid conditions as the electrolytes assist fluid uptake and retention by the body.
  • Include some salty foods as part of your recovery meal or snack (eg, Vegemite sandwich, low fat cheese, small packet of savory crackers or chips). Salt is the primary electrolyte lost in sweat and adequate intake (plus fluid!) will enhance the rehydration process in hot conditions. But you don’t need to go overboard, as most of us consume enough salt naturally in our diet without having to add salt to a meal.

Further reading: Analysis of the Beijing Olympic marathon - how small athletes gain in the heat.

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Category : Sports Nutrition

I’m not sure if I actually have heard people ask this possibly absurd question, but I get the sense that people do all the time. Let me explain.

Many diet advertisements focus on what you eat - and whether it is yummy and filling. They’re both important things, but education as to the content of foods, their nutritional value and the role they play in a healthy diet are more important criteria to help people eat well for a lifetime and for athletes to perform their best.

There’s the simple Chinese Proverb: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

Athletes need high performance bodies and to have one it’s best that you learn and know how the fuel you’re eating will affect your performance. You need to have an idea of how every bite and every mouthful will affect your hydration, the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver, your electrolyte balance and your levels of vitamins and micro nutrients .

No, I don’t expect you’ll have access to blood and biopsy results to give you this information. But you should learn about effective nutrition for athletes and to notice the signs of health in your body. You can use these indicators:

  • Changes in your body weight, measured daily, will indicate your hydration status and also your general volume of food intake.
  • Poo : Changes in the size will indicate how much food the body has absorbed. Very large stools may indicate overeating. Very soft stools may indicate a low fiber diet.
  • The color and volume of your urine will indicate your hydration status.
  • Heart rate in the morning will indicate your recovery from the previous day’s training - 5 bpm above average resting HR indicates fatigue; 10 bpm above means the body is struggling and you should probably have the day off (or you’re very dehydrated).
  • You may be able to sense your immune status by sinus discomfort, a craggy throat or just general tiredness.

Principles of the athlete’s weight loss:

  • Energy out needs to be more than energy in - but not by a lot, or training will suffer.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to reduce your fat levels. Set a goal - say 2kg/4.4lbs over two months - that works out at just 33g/1.2oz a day. Weigh yourself each day and keep a graph.
  • Increase fiber intake a little eg, change from white bread to wholemeal. Check the nutrition labels on packaged foods – anything above 8g dietary fiber per 100g of food is pretty good. The fiber will pad out your meals but is not digested.
  • Make sure the timing of your meals is good - help your recovery from training with some high GI foods.
  • If exercising in the morning try some diet coke (<200mls) 10-45 mins before starting – it can help get your metabolism going to break down the fats and provide a bit more stimulation when you might otherwise be feeling flat. For exercise sessions later in the day, begin them just when you start to feel hungry as this will also help delay the meal and burn fat.
  • Generally aim to reduce the fat content of your meals – trim visible fat from meat and again check the nutrition labels where possible to find foods with fat less than 5g/100g.

If you’re a small female (<62kg/136lbs) who wants to loose weight and still train well you've got a formidable, but doable challenge. To ingest all of your daily nutrient requirements you have be quite careful with what you eat because the total volume of food you can eat is relatively low, so each meal should be thought out.

Since you will be limiting your food intake, quality is important and keeping up a regular course of multi-vitamin supplements will help you avoid missing out on any nutrients. You are likely to feel more tired at times than normal. Too bad! Your performance will improve, making light of the short-term discomfort.

If you like, you can view it in terms of personal sacrifice, but if you’re goals are firm and motivation high, then it’s just part of the job.

To learn a lot more:

Sports Nutrition Guide Book

Sports and Exercise Nutrition

Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

Survival for the Fittest

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Category : Sports Nutrition

Stretching is kinda boring. It’s sometimes uncomfortable. And it’s not obvious that it actually achieves much.

That is, until you go to a physiotherapist with an injury, they have a look over you and tell you that part of the reason you got the injury is that your muscles are unbalanced or too tight, thereby stuffing up your joint mechanics.

That sort of thing happens to many athletes who like to push themselves hard, and even those who don’t! So a little daily prevention can save a lot more pain later.

The research on stretching and athletic performance is still in progress but the quick summary is that stretching is somewhat useful before exercise and definitely important after exercise to speed up recovery and add looseness to the exercised muscles.

To check what the top sailors do, I asked some experienced and successful competitors their thoughts. My subjects were Malcolm Page, 470 World champion and 2008 Gold medalist and Michael Blackburn, Laser World Champion, Olympic medalist and 2008 Olympic Coach.

I asked them to name their favorite stretches to do after a day on the water racing or training.

Mal Page
1. Back rotation stretch “a good all round back stretch.”
2. Forearms “a great stretch after a windy day as the forearms do a lot of gripping work especially when pumping downwind.”

Michael Blackburn
1. Hip Flexor “This is probably the most important stretch for any sailor who hikes.”
2. Lower back “Another great one to stretch the lower back after a day spent hiking.”

My Own Favorite Stretches for Sailors

Here are my two favorite stretches for any position on any type of boat. I like these because they are great “bang for your buck” stretches. Ie, they hit many muscle groups at one time and stretch in the opposite direction to many movements done during dinghy sailing.

1. Posterior chain stretch A great stretch for the calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
2. Bench stretch Another great stretch for hamstrings, mid spine, chest and back muscles.

So there are just a few great stretches to help you recover from a day on the water. For more info on things to do to help your daily recovery see Daily Sailing Regatta Plan . To finish, a quick a reminder about how to stretch:

  • Do each stretch for 20-30 seconds on each side. No less.
  • Repeat if you feel one side is tighter then repeat this side again.
  • Hold to the point of approximately a feeling a stretch of 7-8 out of 10.
  • Do not bounce or hold your breath. Breathe as normal.
  • Keep good posture at all times.
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Category : Sailing

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    Category : Sport-General

    It’s so easy to say sleep is crucial in the restorative process. But how much sleep do athletes really need?

    As the levels of physical and mental stress increase so does the amount of sleep we need. I was working with an athlete who competed at the last 4 Olympics and is now more or less retired - he reckons he can easily sleep some 2 hours less each night now he’s not training as hard.

    However, sleep seems to be the first thing to suffer with athletes needing to combine training with study and/or work. Late nights followed by poor quality sleep and early starts will clearly hurt training quality.

    Sleep can impact performance in three main ways:

    1. Lost sleep reduces the performance of the cerebral cortex in the frontal lobe of the brain which is responsible for the most important mental functions in sport- focus, concentration, flexibility, decision making and information processing.

    2. The very deep or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep helps consolidate activities, tasks and skills undertaken that day. It is indispensable for helping motor learning and skill acquisition.

    3. Sleep is a significant stimulator of growth hormone release - the body’s natural agent for cell growth and reproduction. In addition to acting to increase muscle mass, growth hormone also stimulates the immune system. Sleep deprivation raises levels of the stress hormone Cortisol which may interfere with tissue repair and growth.

    7 Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep:

    1. Have a regular wake up time and go to bed time each day. The body loves consistency and your internal body clock will be set around this regular patterning. It’s best to follow this pattern through weekends too, so as to reduce disruption to your body clock.

    2. Avoid coffee, alcohol and other stimulants prior to heading to bed. Aim to reduce stimulant intake after 4-6 pm.

    3. Try to avoid high intensity exercise and large meals after 7:30pm (assuming bed time of 10pm).

    4. Create quiet time before bed. The aim is to reduce stressors and stimulators to allow the mind time to wind down. Just as we do with small children, you might like to create a bed time ritual to allow sleep fullness to grow. Also, limit exposure to loud music, bright lights, computers and work related stress just before bed.

    5. Your sleep environment is important so aim for a quiet dark bedroom with a cool temperature. Get the best quality linen, mattress and pillow possible. Consider taking your own linen and pillow when traveling

    6. Some say that if you are not asleep in 30 minutes then get out of bed, read or undertake another quiet activity and return to bed when drowsy. Try it and see if it works; otherwise, just lay there quietly and rest - you can’t force sleep but if you’re relaxed and peaceful you’ll rest nicely and likely go to sleep. (My friends at Sports Mind Skills may be able to help if you’re having consistent trouble getting to sleep with their Sleeping Better for Sport MP3 download).

    7. Do not nap within 1-3 hours of bed time. If you do nap in the day then aim for 20-40 minutes around lunch time.

    How Much Sleep for Athletes?

    Many would say as much as possible! However, we don’t all have that luxury.

    It’s worthwhile taking note of an ongoing study which suggests that athletes who get an extra amount of sleep are more likely to have better performance, mood, and alertness.

    These findings spring from an albeit small investigation involving five students on the Stanford University men’s and women’s swimming teams.

    The participants maintained their usual sleep-wake pattern for the first two weeks of the study, and then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for six to seven weeks.

    With extra sleep the athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51s faster, reacted 0.15s quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10s, and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.

    Researcher Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory said “Typically, many athletes accumulate a large sleep debt by not obtaining their individual sleep requirement each night, which can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time. These negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one’s sleep debt.”

    “It is interesting to note that many of the athletes in the various sports I have worked with, including the swimmers in this study, have set multiple new personal records and season best times, as well as broken long-standing Stanford and American records while participating in this study,” Mah said.

    The findings led Mah to recommend that athletes make sleep a part of the training program, aiming for 8+ hours most of the time. Also, athletes should extend nightly sleep for several weeks before competition to reduce sleep debt.

    Maybe it’s time for coaches to consider slumber parties rather than 6 a.m. practices!

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    Category : Coaching | Sport-General | Sports Psychology | Training Programs

    Some classes have events that you have to weigh in for. As the risk of doing things out of order, this post is about how to recover well when you have to take steps to dip your body weight in the last few days before a regatta.

    A future post will cover how to easily execute a short-term weight loss for the weigh in.

    So for now, I would like to give you some tips for what to do following the weigh in with regards to nutrition and hydration so you’re in the greatest possible condition for racing.

    I always try to encourage crews to weigh in the day before the first race day if possible as this gives more time to refuel and rehydrate and prepare to race

    Here are some key strategies to ensure recovery between weigh in and the first race (expected the next day):

    1. Replace fluids: If you have restricted your fluid intake for the final dip to weigh in then 150% of the fluid loss should be replaced within 2 hours of weigh in. For example, if you have dipped 1kg in body weight then 1.5 liters of fluid should be consumed to rehydrate.

    2. Sports drinks: Rehydration can be rapid if electrolytes are consumed in this fluid. A sports drink is ideal - the sodium facilitates water absorption and maintains the drive for thirst. Plain water can reduce the drive to drink. Most sports drinks contain some sodium and other electrolytes and minerals.

    3. Carbohydrate meal: Energy restriction from reduced food intake can cause a drop in muscle and liver glycogen levels. Glycogen is how carbohydrate is stored in the body. Thus a high carbohydrate meal should be consumed post weigh in.

    4. Hi GI! Glycogen storage can be maximized if this carbohydrate meal has a high glycaemic index (GI). A high GI food is something that is absorbed rapidly into the blood stream. A banana smoothie would satisfy all these requirements.

    If you weigh in the morning of the first race then the ideas above need to be compressed into the time between the weigh in and the first race - even on the way out to the start line.

    Oh, and Merry Christmas!

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    Category : Sailing

    Here’s a question I get asked a lot around one design keel boat regattas where the crew hikes from behind life lines (as opposed to hiking out from foot straps dinghy style). I find it quite common in Sydney 38s and Farr 40’s where the crews hike very hard with the upper body extended from the lower life lines.

    The pressure from the lifelines cause impingement of a sensory nerve, most likely the Lateral Femoral Cutaneous nerve of the thigh. This nerve is a sensory nerve, which means it supplies sensations back to the brain via the central nervous system. It runs from the spine around the abdomen and down the outside of the thigh. This condition is known as Meralgia Parasthetica. Big scary words but what does this mean?

    It’s cause by pressure over the nerve, particularly where it passes under the inguinal ligament, just below the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) the bony prominence on the front of your hip bone.

    If there’s a lot of pressure being put through that area it compresses the nerve and results in pain or loss of feeling on the outer side of the thigh, occasionally extending to the outer side of the knee, with people often describing a burning sensation, tingling, or numbness in the same area. Other people often note pins and needle like feelings extending down towards the feet. It is usually only on one side of the body and is more sensitive to light touch than to firm pressure. These symptoms are due to partial damage to the nerve and often gets worse as the day progresses. Not very pleasant!

    How do we avoid this? The best treatment is to remove the cause of the compression by modifying your actions and position. The following may be helpful:
    • Rest periods to interrupt long periods of aggravating activity- move around as much as you can during tacks and between races
    • Weight loss in overweight individuals
    • Core and trunk exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles
    • Padding it up might be a good idea to relieve the pressure around the front of the hip

    Basically you want to take off as much load as possible from just under the ASIS. Changing position slightly whilst hiking should also ease the feeling of numbness but this might be difficult to do at times!
    It may take time for the pain to stop and, in some cases, numbness will persist. In severe cases a combination of local anaesthetic and non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be administered.
    In persistent and severe cases, surgery may be needed to decompress the nerve but be aware this treatment could result in permanent numbness in the area.

    I heard reports from crew members after the windy 2005 Farr 40 Worlds in Sydney that they had no feeling in their outer thighs for up to 4+ weeks following the event. This is not a good sign as it means the nerve ( a pretty major one) has stopped working for this period. Get it checked out by a good quality sports physiotherapist or doctor if symptoms persist.

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    Category : Sailing

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