Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Short term weight gain seen when traveling

Recently the question has been posed: Why do athletes tend to gain weight on travel days and is there anything that can be done to minimize it?  It usually seen on travel days and goes away over the next day or two after the travel is complete. This can pose a problem for performance as it can make the athlete feel “sluggish” and “stale” on the day of competition.  In that respect, we will give it some time on this blog as it is something to worth addressing.

Ultimately, the issue at hand is due to water retention. Unless the athlete truly makes an effort of it, there won’t be any weight gain due to fat.  Also, there is the increase of stress when traveling as the athletes’ normal life (diet and schedule) change. 

Some findings, and how they relate to athletes…

Dietary Sodium. 
It’s well documented that in the American diet, sodium consumption runs rampant.  Sodium has effect of holding water within the body as it stimulates the kidneys to re-uptake it.  This leads to “cankles” and the bloated feeling in athletes. 

Also, it can and does have the effect of elevating blood pressure.  Many athletes will run blood pressures on the low side of “normal.” Elevated blood pressure increases the afterload of the heart, meaning that more pressure must be generated to overcome systemic resistance, which means that stroke volume is decreased, which decreases performance. Many on the road eateries have menus overloaded with sodium which leads to water retention via sodium’s chemical properties which can hinder performance.

Glycogen storage:
The USOC started has funded many studies looking at different strategies as ways for prolonging exercise/ training capacity.  They confirmed that Glycogen storage is in a 1:4 ratio, glycogen: water and will lead to some weight gain in the form of water. 

With that knowledge and that of athletes and how fast athletes can burn and thus synthesize glycogen, it is reasonable that the athlete’s “normal” diet is very rich in carbohydrates (CHO), which are then converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver along with water, lots of water.  Some of the water retention isn’t so much retention as it is the athlete topping off the glycogen stores.  In short, the athlete is actually rested and ready to go.  In this instance the short term weight gain actually helps the athlete.

Treatment: advantages/ disadvantages

They’re quick and as easy as eating tic tacs.  But the repercussions can be widespread, problematic and possibly illegal (I’m not up to speed on the WADA list). 
Common drugs- I could list some common ones, but Wikipedia is better! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diuretic
Foods-  Really?  Yes.  Watermelon, Green Tea, Tomatoes, Asparagus, Apple Cider Vinegar (stabilizes potassium), Artichokes, Cranberries, Parsley, Horseradish, Oats (silica).

Low sodium diet:
Sometimes it’s best to pack your own food and take it with you on long haul road trips so you don’t end up eating at Applebee’s or something equally as gross.  If you have to eat out, aim solely for the low sodium items, if you can.  Here’s a link to the restaurant nutritional info:
or the iphone app, just search “restaurant nutrition”

Compression Garments:
They promote circulation and re-circulation which prevents the blood from pooling and at least lets everything recirculate and return to the kidneys for reabsorption or secretion. They are very good for after events when athletes are dehydrated and orthostatically intolerant.

Flushing with water:
Also a good idea provided enough is consumed to make you urinate every hour-ish.  However, when driving all day, no one likes to stop that often.  And holding it that long on airplane is tortuous! Also, there’s the possibility of hyponutremia from drinking too much water.

Travel Schedule:
Perhaps the best way to deal with this is to get to the event site a day earlier, say 48 hours before the event is scheduled to start.  That gives athletes a chance to re-adjust and to “deflate.” Also, it provides the opportunity to do an actual ride the day before the race.  Many athletes tend to do better the 2nd day, and if the first day can be done before the event, it could help.