Just Keep Swimming

By Laura Ligos, RD Jul 13, 2016

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It’s Olympic season, so that means it’s time for a few sports to grab a bit more of the spotlight than usual. In particular, swimming seems to be the defining example. As a sport, swimming comes to the forefront every four years, peaks in popularity, and slowly treads its way back into the deep. But if you're a swimmer like me, whether you were an age-group swimmer, club swimmer, college swimmer or even a Masters swimmer, a certain sense of pride and awe comes over you as you watch the world's best swimmers go stroke-for-stroke in the Olympics. Though, perhaps more people should ride this wave and jump in. Swimming might just be the sport you've been looking for.

Since the media is doing a great job of letting you see your favorites (ahem, Michael Phelps is STILL competing), we figured we’d touch on the sport that sometimes gets overlooked. Swimming requires intense training, and if we don't give the body the support it needs while going back and forth in the water, we may not see the results we're aiming for. On the flip(turn) side, we may benefit from adding swimming to our routine as it might be relaxing and incredibly beneficial to our health. Either way, it is important to know how swimming can play a role in your health and we want to show you how.
Subscribe To Our BlogI was a swimmer myself, now quaintly referred to as a “swammer,” and love dipping my feet back in the water and of course watching the sport I love and cheering on the amazing athletes. This summer, I along with my team here at InsideTracker, will be rooting for all you swimmers... from the backyard pool to the Olympic lanes of Rio. 

Let’s dive in…

While you are sleeping, chances are there is a swimmer waking up at the crack of dawn to swim lap after lap. When you have already done your workout for the day, they are onto their second workout. When your season ends, their season keeps going. It is not to say swimming is harder than other sports, because most swimmers would tell you they really do feel like a fish out of water, it is just that the every four-year spotlight it receives does not do justice to the hard work and dedication it takes to be a swimmer - nevermind at an Olympic-level.

Benefits of Swimming

Many veer away from adding swimming to their daily routine. Why? Plenty of reasons. They don’t have a pool, they don’t want to ruin their hair, they don’t like putting on a bathing suit, or they simply don't know how. All fair points. However, swimming is an essential sport to learn to be comfortable and safe in the water, and to have a lifelong sport to partake in.

Swimming is a way to get your heart rate up without having to put any wear and tear on your joints. It is very low impact, and can be a great stress reliever. Swimming has been shown to reduce inflammation, which can be helpful for those that want to exercise without increasing the stress and inflammation in their body.

For the competitive athlete, swimming has been shown to reduce inflammation1 as well as reduce creatine kinase levels2. As an athlete, you can add swimming to your cross-training routine to reap the benefits of training without putting your muscles and body at an increased risk of injury.

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The Toll of Competition

There is always the thought process that more is better, and in the case of chocolate, I would sometimes agree. However, any sport pushes the limit of health when pushed to the extreme. After all, extreme results at some point require extreme measures to get there. When an athlete becomes competitive enough and there is more at stake, the benefits of swimming may at some point decline. Like any sport, there is the risk of overtraining and many swimmers put in more than their fair share of hours.

Overtraining and under-nourishing are trends I find in competitive sports. While most people speak in terms of under or over eating, I think in a swimmer’s case, and perhaps many athletes, it may very well be a case of under-nourishing. I remember being able to house just about anything that was placed in front of me during my prime, and while I looked the part, my guess is my body was not fully nourished. After all, how can a swimmer who practices indoors in Upstate New York ever really be fully nourished? I am sure my Vitamin D and other nutrients that cannot be found at the bottom of a pint of ice cream were in the tank.

Eating enough calories is incredibly important, but if you don't have the correct macro (i.e. protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals) available, your body may not function at its peak. Imagine putting regular gas in a car that requires premium. The car will still run, but will it be efficient? Will it run optimally? Maybe. But only in the short term if you are not asking it to perform at a high level. It's worth taking a peek under the hood and reading the owner's manual if you want to ensure your engine runs like a well-oiled machine it was built to be.

Swimming & Blood work

You did not think I’d go this whole way and not talk about blood work did you? I wish when I was a competitive swimmer InsideTracker was around. No, seriously. I wanted any advantage I could get as I had a small build for a swimmer and I had long been done growing. Nutrition and health tend to be the last thing swimmers focus on. Sure we can eat whatever we want because we were swimming it all off, but the real question is should we? Definitely not. 

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As we all know, getting to the top of a sport requires hard work, talent, and that special something else. While we cannot give you talent or force you to work hard, what we can give you is that something else. By crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s through diet and lifestyle changes based on your blood work, we hope that no matter what level you are at, you can reap the benefits of health optimization and use that extra edge to your advantage both in the pool and on dry land.

Who should test?

Plain and simple, everyone! Any swimmer from beginners to Olympians (or even the one considering swimming) can benefit from testing. Knowing where you are now can help make sure that your swimming is benefiting you and optimizing your health.

When to test?

If you have not tested in a while, do so now. Sure, your diet starts on Monday and your exercise routine is just about to pick up, but why not know what is going on so you can make the necessary changes now instead of 6 months (or longer) from now?

Certainly, everyone is a little different, but if you are struggling as to how often to get tested as a swimmer, here are my recommendations:

If you swim for exercise and for fun but do not necessarily have the Olympics in your sights, that’s okay! I recommend you get tested to see if there are any foods that might improve your performance. Two or more times per year are recommended.

If you are a bit more competitive and want to see that 1% improvement to make 100% of the difference in the pool, then you might want to test multiple times throughout the year to follow along with your training. Start by testing in pre-season, sometime in the middle of your season before a major competition, and again post-season. It will keep you accountable and ensure what you're doing with your training and nutrition are on point.

Not a swimmer? Your results might tell you it’s time to start! You can (and should) get tested too.

There is nothing like jumping in the pool knowing that you have full control of your outcome. If you touch the wall first, you win! The smell of chlorine will probably always linger in my hair and I am not planning on throwing in the towel anytime soon. In my opinion, swimming is a skill everyone should learn. It's easy on the joints, good for the heart, and excellent for your mind and body.

Good luck to all those who will be competing in the Olympics! If you get a chance to watch swimming, make sure to tip your cap to their hard work and beautiful strokes.
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Citations:

[1] Katz, A., D. Costill, D. King, M. Hargreaves, and W. Fink. "Maximal Exercise Tolerance After Induced Alkalosis." International Journal of Sports Medicine Int J Sports Med 05.02 (1984): 107-10. Web.


[2]  Mougios, V. "Reference Intervals for Serum Creatine Kinase in Athletes." British Journal of Sports Medicine 41.10 (2007): 674-78. Web.


 

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