Eat. Swim. Sleep. Repeat- Swimmers preparing for the upcoming districts followed by states would barely have the time or energy to do anything beyond these three essentials. As workouts toughen every week, levels of fatigue and frequency of unusual cramps start to increase. Muscle soreness and chronic aches are common every morning; some might love their beds too much to get out of them! These are common signs of exertion; a much needed aspect of training, as without pushing our limits there is rare chance of improvement. The real issue is poor recovery; the body fails to cope up with intense practice sessions often showcasing above signs.
This article focuses on the science behind the soreness, the cramps, the body ache, a niggle here & there and intense fatigue while providing solutions to tackle these from the roots!
Free Radicals and Oxidative stress
What are Free Radicals?
Taking you back to a chemistry class in school, a free radical is defined to be a molecule with one or more unpaired electrons. Long long ago, we learnt that all electrons in a molecule should be paired to be stable, if not, the molecule can be highly unstable and reactive, having the potential to cause harm to the body. So since this free radical has an unpaired electron, it goes hunting for its pair, however as it comes in contact with stable molecules, it tries to snatch away its electron transforming it to yet another free radical. So in this way, a chain of reactions continue creating more and more free radicals.
The Anti-oxidant System and Oxidative Stress
This free radical production is however absolutely normal as it is a part of life or breathing. Every time we inhale oxygen we create free radicals. Fortunately we have a strong internal defense system called the Anti-oxidant system that often eats up these free radicals and negates its effects. However, the point at which free radicals start outnumbering the Anti-oxidant system is called as oxidative stress. General stress, poor lifestyle, environmental pollution, etc. have all been associated with free radical formation and thus oxidative stress. But what is the connection with swimming or any other sport/exercise? Let’s find out!
Physical Activity and Oxidative Stress
Like mentioned earlier, free radicals are formed in relation to the oxygen we consume. During any form of physical activity, more so if the activity is extremely high intense, the oxygen consumption increases drastically as our swimmers gasp for breath during a 20 * 100 or 8 * 200 at shorter interval times. This increase in oxygen demand triggers the formation of free radicals that may or may not be negated by the body’s anti-oxidant system. Swimmers with proper nutrition habits and enough rest usually recover well without any symptoms as opposed to others with poorer nutrition habits and no rest. These succumb to higher levels of stress hormones, increased lactic acid formation, inadequate oxygen to the muscles to use and continued rise in body temperature.
The Body’s Anti-Oxidant Defense System: Nutrients Crucial to Curb Oxidative Stress
- Found in foods such as nuts, oilseeds, wheat germ and vegetable oils;
- Vitamin E is important to scavenge a number of free radicals.
- Studies show that those deficient in Vitamin E will have a poor endurance performance and reduced energy production (Wolinsky I, 1998)
- A water soluble vitamin, Vitamin C not just acts as an antioxidant but also helps in re-generation of Vitamin E.
- Together they are much powerful in eating up free radicals.
- Include foods such as oranges, guava, capsicum, drumsticks, tomatoes, strawberries, most citrus fruits etc. as a part of your diet.
- A precursor to Vitamin A- Beta-carotene is a potent anti-oxidant.
- There are 650 natural carotenoids found in food, usually present in all dark coloured fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, papaya, mango, spinach, grapes etc.
- Make sure to add at least 2-3 colorful vegetables/ fruits per day.
- Copper (oysters, shell fish, beans, nuts, organ meats)
- Zinc (meat, meat products, nuts and oilseeds)
- Manganese (whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy, leafy vegetables)
- Selenium (fish, organ meats, turkey, chicken, nuts, oilseeds) and
- Iron (meat, meat products, fenugreek, dill, nuts and oilseeds) are all important components of many enzymes in our body
- These enzymes also form an antioxidant defense and help negate the effects of any free radicals formed to thus prevent all of the above symptoms
Should We Supplement?
Understanding that swimmers spend at least 4-5 hours in practice and another 1-2 hours in the gym/ performing dry land exercises, presence of oxidative stress may be assumed.
So would it be just wise to supplement the swimmers with all these nutrients important to curb above symptoms?
Not always- attempts should be made to improve the diet with these food sources and develop a strong anti-oxidant defense system. Only when persistent soreness to cause deterioration in performance is observed, supplementation of specific nutrients may be considered. Although, it is very important to note that most of these anti-oxidant nutrients, in mega doses, can turn pro-oxidant i.e. can become initiators of oxidative stress.
Hence following a healthy diet involving all the above nutrients is a must to enhance recovery and thus immunity while keeping all signs of fatigue at bay. Other important aspects such as adequate rest and sleep along with ample warm up and cool down are necessary to complement good nutrition.
Before self-medicating with supplements, make sure to consult with a Sports Medicine/ Sports Nutrition professional.
Author: Mihira A R Khopkar
B.Sc. Dietetics, M.Sc. Sports Nutrition
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SwimIndia does not guarantee results of any sort, before making any changes to your diet plans, please consult an expert.