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Tapering to Improve Performance in Competition

Tapering refers to the period just before a major race or game, when an athlete reduces workload to be in peak shape on the day of the competition. Ordinary exercisers can apply this training principle when they plan to enter a local race or charity event.

Top athletes must spend a tremendous amount of time training to be able to compete successfully. Their huge volume of work leaves them near exhaustion and before major competitions, they have to find the best way to reduce fatigue while retaining fitness. Many studies have been done to help athletes and coaches decide on the best strategy. Researchers at the University of Montreal compiled the results of 27 scientifically acceptable studies. They concluded that the best duration of tapering is two weeks, the optimum training volume reduction is by 40 to 60 percent, and the intensity of workouts should be maintained (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2007).

Training load during taper: Almost all of the studies agree that athletes should reduce the amount of work they do. While each athlete must decide on his optimal reduction, many bicycle racers drop from up to 400 miles a week down to fewer than 200, and many runners drop from above 100 miles to fewer than 40.

Duration of taper: A tapering period of eight to fourteen days appears to optimize performance in which an athlete can lose his fatigue and still maintain his ability to compete at high intensity.

Intensity during taper: Almost all studies show that athletes need to maintain intensity during tapering. During background training, they take workouts in which they run, skate, ski, cycle and swim very fast two or three times a week. They often continue these intense workouts during the two-week taper, stopping a few days before the competition.

While nobody really knows how tapering improves performance, most researchers believe that it increases a person's maximal ability to take in and use oxygen (VO2max). This is explained by increases of blood volume, red cell production and enzymes that utilize oxygen in the production of energy. Since fatigue interferes with coordination, tapering alleviates fatigue to improve efficiency of movement that, in turn, improves a person's ability to use oxygen for energy.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: How could exercise help to prevent skin cancer?

High doses of ultraviolet light damage the DNA in skin cells. Normally, damaged cells commit suicide by a process called apoptosis, so that they do not become cancerous. However, damaged cells that do not undergo apoptosis live to become cancerous. A report from Rutgers University showed that exercise and caffeine help to prevent skin cancer (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2007). Researchers divided mice into four groups: 1) inactivity, 2) exercise, 3) caffeine and 4) exercise and caffeine. Then all of the mice were exposed to high doses of ultraviolet B light that damaged their skin cells. Caffeine caused a 95 percent increase in apoptosis, exercise caused a 120 percent increase, and those who both exercised and took caffeine had a 400 percent increase in apoptosis.

Cells in your body have multiple small areas called mitochondria that turn food into energy by knocking hydrogen and electrons from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The freed electrons can attach to oxygen to form reactive oxygen species (free radicals) that stick to the DNA of cells to damage them and cause cancer. Exercise teaches your mitochondria to turn food into energy with far fewer free electrons, so there are fewer free radicals to damage cells. Caffeine markedly increases an animal's ability to exercise for longer periods of time.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: What can I do to avoid ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails are often caused by trimming your toenails too short, particularly on the sides of the big toes. When trimming your nails, avoid tapering the corners so that the nail curves with the shape of your toe. This can cause the sides of the nail to curl down and dig into your skin. Shoes that are too tight or short also may cause ingrown toenails.

Trim your toenails straight across with no rounded corners. If you have an ingrown toenail, try soaking your feet in warm, soapy water several times a day. If it continues to cause pain or is infected, check with a podiatrist. More foot health reports

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Recipe of the Week

Portobello Mushroom Casserole

How to cook whole grains

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

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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