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Fewer Intense Workouts for Maximum Performance

How much time should you spend working at your maximum level in your sport, compared to miles or days spent going at a relaxed pace? Researchers at the University of Madrid in Spain divided competitive distance runners into two groups. One group did frequent intense workouts and fewer slow recovery miles, while the second group did fewer intense workouts and more slow miles (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, August 2007). At the end of five months, the runners who did fewer intense workouts and more recovery miles improved far more than those who ran fewer miles and spent a lot of their time trying to run very fast.

All competitive athletes from marathon runners to weight lifters know that they must exercise intensely to compete successfully in sports. However, every time you exercise intensely, your muscles are damaged and you feel sore on the next day. If you try to exercise intensely when your muscles are sore, you are liable to injure yourself, break down, or become chronically fatigued with muscles hurting all the time. So athletes train by taking a hard workout that makes their muscles sore, and going easy for as many days as it takes for the soreness to go away. This study shows the importance of allowing adequate recovery time between intense workouts. Recovery workouts make your muscles more fibrous so they can take more abuse when you exercise on your hard days.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Does it matter what I drink during heavy exercise?

For many years exercisers have been told to drink whatever tastes best to them so they will drink more and reduce their chances of suffering early fatigue caused by dehydration. Researcher at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia did an experiment that showed this recommendation is irrelevant for competitive athletes (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Volume 17, 200). The subjects were given drinks every 20 minutes. After 80 minutes of steady cycling, they either continued drinking the same-flavor drink or switched to an alternate flavor of sports drink or soft drink. All of the beverages were carbohydrate and volume- matched. Changing drink flavor caused no significant change in the amount they consumed. It also did not affect performance on time trials, heart rate, blood sugar, or rating of perceived exertion. When athletes compete, they drink when they feel the need, and the flavor of the fluid does not influence how much they drink.

In endurance sports, the first cause of fatigue is loss of muscle sugar, not dehydration. Recent research shows that athletes also benefit from protein taken during exercise (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, August 2007). Muscle damage can be measured with a blood test called CPK. In this study, CPK levels were lower in the subjects who took gels containing both sugar and protein, compared with those who took only sugar. If you plan to do any exercise for more than a couple of hours, you need a source of sugar and protein starting after you have been exercising for 30 minutes. You can use a sports beverage or gel that contains both sugar and protein, or any combination of food and drink that gives you these nutrients.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: You have talked about cold hands (Raynaud's phenomenon), but what about cold toes?

Raynaud's phenomenon can occur in toes as well as fingers, and is treated by keeping your toes warm. We use adhesive toe-warmer packets on our socks when we cycle on the coldest days. However, if your toes feel cold even when it is not cold outside, or if you have loss of feeling or tingling as well, you need a complete work-up for causes of nerve damage. Numb or tingling feet can be one of the first symptoms of diabetes. Your doctor will also want to rule out pernicious anemia, lyme disease and other treatable sources of neuropathy.

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Recipe of the Week

Another tasty, easy lentil soup –
Lentil – Carrot Soup

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 25th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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