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Champion Athletes Are Born AND Made

Lance Armstrong is arguably the greatest endurance athlete of all time. Edward F. Coyle, professor at the University of Texas, has tested him in his laboratory several times over the years. (Journal of Applied Physiology, March 17, 2005). We can be certain that Lance has extraordinary genetic attributes. A laboratory measure of a person’s genetic ability to compete successfully in endurance events is called the VO2max, the maximum amount of blood the heart can pump in a given time span. Lance’s value was 6 liter/min (expressed per body weight as 75-85 ml/kg/min). Of the hundreds of athletes he has tested, Coyle has found only two other athletes in that range. To have great endurance, (and a high VO2max) you have to have a large heart that has to be able to pump huge amounts of blood with each beat. You also have to have a dense collection of blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the muscles and the types of muscle fibers that can generate, power efficiently and resist fatigue.

This doesn’t mean that training is not important. An athletic, lean 20 year old usually has a maximum oxygen uptake of around 40-50. If he stops exercising, it may drop to 30. If Lance becomes a couch potato, his VO2max would drop, but only to about 65. That means that he would still be able to beat most bicycle racers, even when he stops training.

Now we know that if you want your child to grow up to be a champion athlete, he or she must have the right genes, choose the right sport and train very hard in that sport from an early age. With few exceptions, the time of multiple-sport athletes is gone. Champion gymnasts, runners, swimmers, and power athletes usually start training before age 10 and specialize in their chosen sport 12 months a year. Before you expose your child to such intense specialization that it limits his other interests, it is reasonable for you to see how he compares to other children at the same age and experience. A test of VO2max may help you decide if your child is spending his energies in the right place; if the base VO2max is less than 40, he has little chance of being a world-class athlete in an endurance sport.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How can I get the most out of my daily walks?

To become fit you need to exercise vigorously enough to increase your heart rate by at least 20 beats a minute. Walking slowly doesn’t do much to make you fit. There are two ways to walk faster: take longer steps or move your feet faster. To lengthen your stride, twist your hips from side to side and reach forward with your feet. Pointing your feet forward after your heel strikes the ground helps you gain a few inches.

It’s easier for most people to increase their speed than to lengthen their stride. If you move your arms faster, your feet will move faster also. Every time one leg moves forward, the arm on the same side moves back and the arm on the other side moves forward. For every step forward, there is an equal number of arm movements forward. It takes more time for your arms to swing further with straight elbows, so keep your elbows bent.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is it better to eat one or two large meals or many small ones?

Your body temperature rises for about an hour after you eat. Eating frequently raises your body temperature for longer periods of time, causing you to burn more calories and store less as fat. Several studies show that nibblers are thinner than gorgers. Animals that nibble throughout the day have lower cholesterol levels and less body fat than those that eat all their calories in one meal.

You can shorten your life by drinking a cup of coffee for breakfast, having a small snack at lunchtime and then eating a huge meal in the evening. One study of adult diabetics showed that those who skipped meals were far more likely to be fat. Frequent small meals can help diabetics to lose weight and control their blood sugar levels. The more a diabetic eats at a meal, the higher the blood sugar rises. The diabetics who ate small meals frequently had lower blood sugar levels and produced less insulin throughout the day.

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Recipe of the Week:
If you have a bumper crop of summer squash, try:
Ratatouille with Baby Potatoes

List of Diana's Healthful Recipes

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June 26th, 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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