Top Stories From 2007 Publication Cycle of Swimming World

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 25. AS the final holiday gift of the season, Swimming World reprints Ergogenic Aids: Friend or Foe? by Carolyn Lewis and Kathleen Woolf as previously published in the magazine this past year.

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Do you ever wish for something to give you an edge over your competition? Many athletes turn to ergogenic aids—performance-enhancing substances—to help them gain that burst of energy or drop an extra second off their best time.

Are ergogenic aids safe to use? How do they work? Let's examine three ergogenic aids that athletes might choose to use: creatine, carbohydrates (carbs) and caffeine.

Creatine is found in the body as part of a high-energy compound. This compound, creatine phosphate, creates short bursts of energy (4-5 seconds long), which may help swimmers in short races, such as the 50s. Creatine comes from meat sources in the diet; however, the body makes creatine, too.

If an athlete supplements with creatine, theoretically the muscle will be primed to make more energy. Scientific studies only support a creatine advantage if an athlete does not already have a good diet.

Weight gain from creatine can cause a negative athletic side effect— muscles may retain water, changing buoyancy. At present, researchers have not examined the safety of long term creatine use.

Athletes can also use carbs as ergogenic aids by adding them in the right amounts and at the proper times during exercise. Carbs are important before, during and after exercise. Here, we'll focus on carbs during exercise.

Research shows that carb intake during long workouts (greater than or equal to 60-90 minutes) increases endurance. Carbs replenish blood glucose levels, sparing muscle glucose for later use, extending your energy levels. Approximately 30-60 grams of carb intake per hour increase endurance. For sport drinks, this equals 4-8 ounces every 20 minutes. Sport gels and bars, fruits or bagels also provide needed carbs.

Carbs can be taken in between sets during training and between races at meets. Training schedules can make intake more difficult, but carb use remains crucial. The level and length of the training session as well as the health of the individual can affect the amount of carbs needed, but these general rules for carb intake during training or competition will help to fuel your body. Carb intake is safe and considered the most healthy ergogenic aid.

Caffeine also boosts sports performance. Research has shown that it does aid athletes, helping them to train longer, burn fat more effectively and decrease pain and fatigue perception.

Similar to carbs, caffeine spares stored muscle fuel for use later in workouts or races (greater than or equal to 60-90 minutes). However, in most swimming events, this stored fuel should not be needed if carbs are replenished properly. Many beverages, including coffee, tea, some sodas and energy drinks, contain caffeine. However, if too much is consumed, restlessness, loss of focus, mild fluid loss, higher blood pressure and convulsions may occur.

A word of caution is in order. The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that children and teens should not use ergogenic aids other than carbs. FINA and the IOC strictly limit the amount of caffeine that can be legally consumed before a race. The NCAA also limits the use of caffeine as well.

When considering the use of any ergogenic aid, always refer to reputable resources (official sporting or health organizations, coaches or sports dietitians) to make the best choice. Also, always try the ergogenic aid in training first.

Carolyn Lewis is a senior undergraduate student at Arizona State University. Kathleen Woolf, Ph.D, R.D., is an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at ASU.

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