Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The USA Swimming Sports Medicine and Science Committee has recently reviewed the risks and benefits related to energy drinks and is providing information to call attention to the differences between energy drinks and "sports drinks" used for rehydration, to point out the risks associated with such drinks, and to provide suggested alternatives to use of these drinks.

In the coming weeks, the Sports Medicine and Science Committee will publish a series of articles on usaswimming.org on the risks of consuming energy drinks. This week, nutritionist Jill Castle covers the basic nutritional facts behind these drinks.

By Jill Castle, MS, RD

Red Bull, Rock Star, Amp, Monster Energy—enticing labels for a tired and thirsty swimmer. Energy drinks are one of the fastest growing segments of drink sales in America and their popularity is growing, especially among youth. Athletes use energy drinks to rehydrate after a workout, boost attention and focus during school, “wake up,” or as a routine beverage at meals. Don’t be misled by something that sounds too good to be true—while an all-in-one drink is tempting, it carries some serious considerations for young athletes. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children and teens should avoid energy drinks.

Confusion exists about the difference between a sports drink and an energy drink, so let’s clear this up. A sports drink contains a small amount of carbohydrate, minerals, electrolytes and flavorings and is designed to replace those nutrients lost through sweating after exercise. Gatorade is an example of a sports drink.

Energy drinks contain stimulants including caffeine, guarana and yerba mate (herbal stimulants) and taurine (an amino acid). Ginseng, if present, enhances the effects of caffeine. Other elements may be added to energy drinks, but their benefits, safety and side effects are questionable.

An average energy drink contains 70-200 mg caffeine per 16 ounces. Some energy drinks can contain up to 500 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of 14 cans of soda. For children and teens, caffeine consumption should be limited to 1.25 mg per pound of body weight (for a 100-pound swimmer that’s 125 mg caffeine per day). More than 100 mg of caffeine per day in adolescents has been associated with higher blood pressures.

Growing children and teens should avoid excess caffeine consumption. Excess consumption of caffeine is associated with agitation, anxiety, poor sleep, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and altered mental states.

Too much caffeine can mask fatigue. Gauging fatigue is important to staying fit, healthy and in the pool. If jacked up on caffeine, swimmers may miss the body’s signal for rest.

Caffeine can alter mood and behavior, resulting in physical dependence or addiction. How do you know if you’re a caffeine-addict? Without caffeine, you experience withdrawal symptoms such as headache, tiredness, depressed mood and nausea.

If that’s not enough to make you re-think your drink, here’s some more food for thought.

Energy drinks contain sugar—up to 30 grams per cup (almost ¼ cup of sugar). Limiting sugar consumption is a healthy practice, for any growing child and teen, whether an athlete or not.

Energy drinks are dehydrating. Due to the concentration of caffeine, energy drinks encourage frequent urination, and energy drinks with higher sugar content can compound the dehydrating effects of caffeine.

Feeling tired, losing focus and struggling with low energy? Rethink your nutrition, hydration and sleep program. No magic bullet replaces a nutritious diet of real, wholesome food, adequate water and other healthy liquids, or a good night’s sleep. And that’s no (red) bull.


Do you ever wonder how much fluid is needed to prevent dehydration? If you’ve experienced dehydration, you know it derails swim performance and causes other effects such as tiredness, headaches and confusion or poor judgment.

Fluid is the overlooked “magic bullet” for swimmers and one of the best ways to optimize swim performance.

Not only is it important to drink, it’s important to drink enough. Experts suggest that 2% dehydration (2 pounds weight loss in a 100-pound child) negatively impacts athletic performance.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), young athlete’s thirst should be the gauge or indicator for how much fluid to drink. Research also suggests, that if youth athletes are given the opportunity to drink during exercise, the thirst mechanism will allow for adequate fluid intake so they meet their hydration needs.

But if you want numbers, here are the latest recommendations for child athletes:

To prevent dehydration, child athletes should drink 6 ml per pound of body weight per hour (100# young swimmer needs 600 ml or 20 oz, per hour). Drink this amount 2-3 hours before jumping into the pool and during exercise.

To replenish fluids after exercise, drink 2 ml per pound of body weight per hour (100-pound child swimmer needs 200 ml per hour or ~7 ounces, per hour). Drink this amount 1-2 hours after exercise—it promotes adequate hydration status for the next exercise session.

Water and other beverages can help satisfy the hydration needs of the swimmer. Many parents already know that it isn’t wise to offer up sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and sugar-added fruit juices routinely throughout the day. These drinks may help keep swimmers hydrated, but they can have a negative impact on overall diet quality.

Most importantly, the choice of fluid should be something the swimmer likes to drink, as drinking adequate amounts is critical.

Sports drinks are perfect for the long workout (greater than 1 hour in duration), and provide sugar, fluid and electrolytes to help beat dehydration. And they are effective! Because they are flavored, they encourage drinking. It’s best to keep their role limited to the pool, though.

Here are a few other beverage guidelines that will help prioritize the young swimmer’s health and swim performance:

GOOD: 100% real fruit juice (maximum of 1 to 1 ½ cups per day). Infrequent use of sugar-sweetened beverages.

BETTER: Milk, or calcium/ Vitamin D- fortified milk substitutes (aim for 3 cups per day).

BEST: Drink water, more than you think! The bulk of beverages should be from water. Use Sports drinks wisely and target their usage around workouts and race day.

It’s a mistake to think that just because swimmers are in the water, they get enough fluid. Coaches and parents have an opportunity to train young swimmers to drink regularly and make good choices. Good hydration habits are learned in and around the pool—maximize this asset for great performance!


Winter brings more than its share of cold and flu viruses. The average young person gets anywhere from 6 to 10 colds a year, and the dry heat of winter air and close proximity to others means it is easier to spread those nasty germs. Instead of heading to the medicine cabinet, try the kitchen cabinet to find foods rich in the nutrients that keep your immune system strong all winter long.
  1. Probiotic foods (those foods that contain good bacteria for a healthy gut) can enhance immunity. Your guts contain 2 to 3 pounds of bacteria and emerging research shows that the type of bacteria that live in your gastro-intestinal tract can prevent disease by acting as a natural antibiotic. Registered dietitian JoAnn Hattner, author of Gut Insight (www.gutinsight.com) points out that 70% of our immune function takes place in the gut so eating foods rich in probiotics is a good idea to stay healthy. Yogurt is the most obvious probiotic food and other foods that contain helpful bacteria are kefir, miso (fermented paste of soybeans used to make miso soup), tempeh (another fermented soybean product) and sauerkraut.
  2. Citrus foods are rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that is often tied to preventing the common cold. Many people load up on vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on but research does not support that supplements can prevent a cold. But, eating vitamin C rich citrus foods contain plant compounds called citrus flavones that also have anti-inflammatory properties. Now is the peak season for oranges and grapefruit and for my favorite, Clementine tangerines. I like their size, ease of peeling and free of pips…the proper term for citrus seeds.
  3. Nuts and seeds are good sources of the fat-soluble vitamin E. In addition to being a potent antioxidant, this nutrient is also important in immune function. Sunflower seeds and almonds have the highest vitamin E content of any seed or nut and they both make great snacks. Make your own immune-boosting trail mix with unsalted mini-almonds, sunflower seeds and dried fruit.
  4. Meat and shellfish are not only good sources of protein but also contain the mineral zinc, important for wound healing and a strong immune system. Choose lean beef or pork and shellfish like lobster and crab to get a good source of zinc. And don’t be afraid of the dark; chicken thigh and drumsticks are higher in zinc than white meat chicken breast.
  5. Carbohydrate-rich foods are not only good for muscle fuel but some researchers think that carbohydrate ingested during exercise can counter the rise in stress hormones that are a natural part of exercise. During hard training, plan to consume carbohydrate-rich snacks like sports drinks, fruit or vegetable juices, fresh or dried fruit and whole grain crackers to help keep you stay strong all winter long.


By Jill Castle, Registered Dietitian and Child Nutrition Expert

My teen grabs a jug of orange juice and guzzles it! Is this bad?

In the nutrition world of hype and hysteria, you may think orange juice is a no-no. But is orange juice really as bad as everyone makes it out to be? Let’s take a look:

Orange juice contains key nutrients, such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, and phosphorus. More and more, you’ll find fortified orange juice, which has these nutrients plus calcium and vitamin D. All of these are important for growing athletes, but a few get honorable mention.

Vitamin C and Potassium

Vitamin C is a protective antioxidant and helps the body absorb iron from meat and non-meat sources of protein. Potassium is important for athletes who lose this nutrient through sweat losses. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) state vitamin C is a nutrient of concern for children and teens, and potassium is a shortfall nutrient, lacking in the diet of most Americans, mostly due to lack of fruit and vegetable consumption.

A cup of orange juice provides about 90 mg vitamin C, which amply meets the requirements for young swimmers: 4-8 years: 25 mg/day; 9-13 years: 45 mg/day; 14-18 years: 75 mg/day (males) and 65 mg/day (females).

A cup of orange juice offers ~445 mg potassium, which contributes to daily requirements: 4-8 years: 3800 mg; 9-13 years: 4500 mg; 14-18 years: 4700 mg.


Calcium requirements jump to 1300 mg/day for swimmers 9-18 years, yet intake of calcium-containing foods (milk and other dairy products) is decreasing. Why? Soda and sports drinks are taking the lead, crowding out calcium from food sources.

All young swimmers need calcium for bone development. Teens are especially needy due to their rapid growth rate and limited time to reach peak bone mass (by age 20-25 years).

A cup of calcium-fortified orange juice delivers ~500 mg calcium, meeting up to 35% of daily calcium needs for children and teens.

Vitamin D

New recommendations for vitamin D have jumped to 600 IU/day for children over the age of one. Vitamin D is necessary for bone development but also plays a role in immunity, infectious disease, cancer prevention, and cardiovascular disease. While exposure to sunshine helps, sunscreen and other factors can inhibit vitamin D activation in the skin, making food sources an important player in meeting this requirement.

Natural food sources (fatty fish) or fortified sources (dairy products, eggs) can meet this need, but the truth is, consumption of these foods by children and teens may be limited.

A cup of vitamin D-fortified orange juice can provide ~135 IU, helping young swimmers get closer to their daily requirement for vitamin D.

Other Nutrients

Drinking 100% juice in recommended portions (see below) can improve nutrient intakes for several nutrients, including energy, carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, riboflavin, magnesium, iron and folate, according to one study in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The Juice on Orange Juice

Orange juice can be part of a healthy diet, and its nutrients can help your young swimmer meet critical nutrition requirements, especially calcium and vitamin D.

But with everything nutrition, balancing orange juice in the diet is the trick:
  • For children under 6 years: limit juice to 4-6 ounces per day (1/2 to 2/3 cup).
  • For children over 6 years: limit juice to 8-12 ounces per day (1-1 ½ cups).

Monday, June 4, 2012


Recovery is a hot topic for swimmers and for good reason. A long pool and/or land workout burns muscle fuel and causes muscle protein breakdown. Eating a recovery snack within an hour of a workout speeds needed carbs and amino acids (the building blocks of protein that make up the protein-rich foods you eat) to replenish muscle glycogen and repair and build muscle tissue. Do you need to buy expensive protein shakes? No, because the same amino acids found in shakes can be found in food for less money and more taste. Here are recovery snacks that provide some carbohydrate and about 20 grams of high quality protein…the amount that most researchers agree is the optimal protein dose for recovery.

1. 2Chocolate Milk cups of low-fat chocolate milk provides two important sources of protein: whey and casein. Chocolate milk may truly be nature’s recovery beverage because in addition to high quality protein it contains the natural sugar lactose that stimulates insulin, a hormone that helps feed the amino acids into the muscle. Milk also contains as much calcium and 10 cups of spinach to keep your bones strong.

Cottage Cheese.2. 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese with peaches, pears, or pineapple…or any fruit you like. Cottage cheese is rich the amino acid leucine which is thought to be the trigger for muscle protein synthesis. Although cottage cheese doesn’t taste salty, it has a higher sodium content than other dairy foods and this might be a good thing if you are a salty sweater (if you see white, salty streaks on your clothing or cap after it dries, you are probably a salty sweater.)

3. Turkey Sandwich.3-ounces of turkey breast on a wheat bagel. Meat and fish provide about 7 grams of protein per ounce, so a 3-ounce portion gets to the needed 20 grams of protein. A three-ounce portion of meat is about the size of a deck of playing cards or a computer mouse.

4. Peanut butter sandwich.4 Tablespoons peanut butter and strawberry jam on wheat bread. This is an especially good recovery snack for those who are trying to gain weight. Peanut butter is higher in fat than other protein foods so means higher calories, but not to worry, the fat is the heart-healthy kind of fat.

5. Greek yogurt7-ounces of Greek yogurt with granola or fruit. Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt and has a thicker consistency. Because it tastes a bit more like sour cream, sweeten it up with fruit or granola to add the carbs. Greek yogurt also makes a great topping for baked potatoes or cheese nachos as a substitute for higher-fat, lower-protein sour cream.

To get the most out of your training, practice good recovery by eating within the hour after exercise. You will be strong and ready to go for the next workout, which is most likely tomorrow!

Common Swimming Injuries: How To Prevent Them

Even if swimming has the reputation of being a low-impact exercise, swimming injuries can nevertheless occur due to over-demanding workouts or incorrect technique.
By the way, this article assumes that you swim in a responsible way in a safe environment (with supervision). Otherwise more serious injuries or even death could occur. Please don't take risks!

Swimmer's Shoulder

Swimmer's shoulder is the most common injury in swimming. It can be caused by bad technique, excessive or quickly increased workload or the use of swim paddles and pull buoys. I have written a detailed article about swimmer's shoulder here.
A young woman holding her aching shoulder

Breast Stroke Knee

The breast stroke knee or swimmer's knee is an injury that can be generated by the stroke mechanics of the breaststroke kick. Basically, when the legs extend, then are brought back together during the propulsive phase of the kick, the knee is subject to external rotation, for which it isn't designed. The inner ligament of the knee, called the medial collateral ligament, is then put under stress.
To avoid the breast stroke knee, it is advisable to:
  • Alternate the swimming strokes.
  • Have rest periods during the year where you don't swim breast stroke.
  • Properly warm up and do stretching exercises before a swim session.
  • Do strengthening exercises for the hamstrings and quadriceps. AskTheTrainer.com for example describes the best leg exercises you can do to strengthen your legs.

Neck Injuries

The neck is very mobile and this is why certain precautions must be taken to avoid swimming-related neck injuries. Neck Injuries are often due to incorrect technique.
While swimming the freestyle stroke, you should keep the head in line with the spine and the eyes should be looking straight down. Avoid looking to the front or lifting the head to breathe. Also avoid over-rotating the head during the inhale. Rotate the body more so that the head doesn't need to rotate so much to clear the water.
While swimming the breast stroke or butterfly stroke, keep the head aligned with the spine at all times. When you breathe in, look rather down than to the front so that the head stays in a neutral position.
Finally, in backstroke, swim distances must be increased gradually so that the anterior neck muscles have time to adapt.

Lower Back Injuries

Lower back swimming injuries are also often due to incorrect technique.
While swimming freestyle, it can happen that you swim with a high head position and/or your hips and legs sink. As a consequence you may be kicking hard to keep the legs up and be overarching the back. If this is the case, you should work on your position and balance so that you can find a relaxed horizontal position.
While swimming butterfly, it may be that you have poor technique and lift your upper body out of the water with the strength of your back. If that's the case, work on your body undulation and dolphin kick so that it's the body wave that lifts your upper body out of the water and not your back. Also warm up and stretch properly before attempting this swim stroke.

Additional Tips To Prevent Swimming Injuries

  • Warm up and stretch before a swim session.
  • Cool down and stretch after a swim session.
  • Follow a general program to develop your functional strength. An exercise ball is an excellent low-cost solution for this. Check out the swim workout exercises at www.exercise-ball-exercises.com.

Swimmers: Common Injuries & Prevention

Engaging in any kind of athletic activity puts an athlete at risk for sustaining an injury. Even so, the benefits of engaging in a sport or other athletic activity far outweigh the risks of sustaining an injury due to athletic participation. Swimmers are no exception to this and just as in any other sport, there are specific injuries that swimmers are more likely to sustain.
Common swimming injuries
It might seem as though swimmers are less at risk for sustaining injuries than athletes who engage in physical activity on land, but that is not the case. Swimmers are susceptible to many different types of injuries. Some of the most common injuries that swimmers sustain include swimmer's shoulder, breast stroke knee, lower back injuries, neck injuries and injuries to the arms and legs.
One of the most commonly sustained injuries among swimmers is that of swimmer's shoulder. Much like the name implies, swimmer's shoulder is an injury to the shoulder. Due to the repetitive use of the arms and shoulders in swimming, excessive strain is often placed on a swimmer's shoulders and arms. Swimmer's shoulder may result from injury to the rotator cuff muscles, and in some cases, may be related to tendinitis of the arms.
Another common injury among swimmers is breast stroke knee, which is also known as swimmer's knee. Breast stroke knee results from the repetitive movements involved in performing the breast stroke. Swimmers that develop breast stroke knee are likely to suffer from pain, soreness and stiffness of the knees, caused by the excessive strain placed on the muscles and tendons surrounding the knees.
Preventing swimming-related injuries
One of the most important things that any athlete of any sport can do to prevent injury is to warm up before engaging in any type of intense physical activity. Swimmers can warm up by stretching for ten 10-15 minutes before entering the pool, or by swimming a few laps around the pool at a leisurely and relaxed pace.
Every swimmer can perform better and prevent injuries by ensuring they are using the correct form and posture when performing specific strokes. Swimmers should observe their peers, as well as seek counsel from their coaches to ensure they are practicing the right techniques when performing a stroke. By using the correct technique, a swimmer is less likely to place unnecessary strain on their body.
Lastly, swimmers may reduce the risk of injury while swimming by alternating activities. As demonstrated in injuries such as the breast stroke knee injury, continually repeated movements can place excessive strain on the body. By alternating activities, swimmers can ensure lesser-used muscles are kept active, as well as making sure that well-used muscles are given the opportunity to recover and rest.


This article will focus on injury prevention of groin injuries specifically for breaststrokers.

If you have sustained a groin injury, your orthopedic physician, physical therapist, or athletic trainer should be consulted. An accurate diagnosis of tissues involved will help develop an appropriate treatment plan. Within this plan, the following discussion of flexibility and strengthening exercises can be incorporated. Determining frequency, duration and intensity of these exercises will vary along the spectrum of injury through to prevention.

Breaststrokers need to have a balance of flexibility and strength between their pelvic and thigh musculature. Your thigh muscles originate off of your pelvic girdle, which is the center of your core stability.

A variety of muscles are constantly working against each other during the breaststroke kick. Flexibility is essential in the following muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors (inner thigh), abductors (outer thigh) and hip rotators.

Breaststrokers typically perform the “butterfly sit” stretch but should also follow with positioning one leg out straight to the side while the other leg stays bent to isolate each inner thigh/hip.

You should never experience pain when you are stretching. Experiencing pain during stretching or strengthening can be an indication of damage to tissue whether it is muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia, capsule, nerve or bone. A mild soreness is acceptable if it resolves soon after the activity. Breaststrokers should choose both static and dynamic flexibility exercises.

Static stretching should be held 30-60 seconds with a range of 3-6 repetitions. Static stretches are productive following an increase in your core body temperature and can produce benefits in tissue elongation.

Dynamic stretching is helpful in warming up the tissues and stimulating the body for performance. An example of dynamic stretching beneficial to breaststrokers is leg swings.

To stretch and stimulate the inner and outer thigh muscles, swing the leg back and forth through abduction/adduction directions across your body. To stretch the hip flexors and extensors, swing the leg forward and back in front and behind your body. These swings provide an increase in extensibility of the muscles that attach from your pelvis to your thigh and also stimulate the muscles to prepare for activity in the water.

The leg swings can also be useful as an actual strengthening exercise for breaststrokers who need an increase in strength and range of motion in their hip muscles. This exercise helps address the concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) demands of the inner and outer thigh muscles.

A swimmer can perform these swings through different angles for an increased amount of time to build range of motion and strength. Imperative to hip strength is a balance of lower abdominal strength.

Core training includes abdominal and low back strengthening. There are many ways to increase strength utilizing medicine balls, swiss balls, body blade, ab rollers or just your own body weight.

Hamstring strength is involved in appropriate groin strength. The adductor magnus muscle is an example of the inner thigh’s coordination with the hamstrings as it works to do both muscle actions. Hamstring curls can be incorporated with core training when using swiss balls and maintaining a “bridge” position with feet on the ball and pulling the ball up underneath you with your feet.

Often there is an imbalance between the power of the quadriceps being much stronger than the hamstrings. The weaker hamstrings get overloaded and strained and can lead to a groin injury. A weakness in gluteal and outer thigh muscles can be present as an imbalance with tightness of the inner thigh muscles.

Exercises to increase outer thigh strength can be traditional leg lifts lying down, leg pulls against resistance in standing or become more sport specific by adding hip external rotation as you abduct your leg. You can utilize a band around your thighs in sidelying position and lift one leg up and away from the other while keeping your feet together.

The Slide board is another excellent concentric/eccentric exercise for thigh/hip strengthening. Lunges front and side stepping directions should also be included.

The breaststroke kick involves multiple joints moving through rotation angles at the same time while abducting and adducting the legs. An exercise that I have found successful for breaststrokers is “standing hip rotations."

External Hip Rotation

START - External Hip Rotation
START - External Hip Rotation
FINISH - External Hip  Rotation
FINISH - External Hip Rotation
Begin with the standing leg firmly planted, the free leg bent to approximately 90 degrees and hip internally rotated with the knee facing the floor, and the arms reaching toward the lateral (outer) side of the standing foot. This reach of the arms and torso internally rotates the standing hip slightly. (see START - External Hip Rotation)

To complete the movement, open the arms and torso toward the free leg, opening the hips to externally rotate the free leg. The arms and free leg knee should now be facing the ceiling. This movement also externally rotates the standing leg from the hip. (see FINISH - External Hip Rotation)
Internal Hip Rotation
START - Internal Hip Rotation
START - Internal Hip Rotation
FINISH - Internal Hip Rotation
FINISH - Internal Hip Rotation

Begin with the standing leg firmly planted, the free leg bent to approximately 90 degrees and the hip in a neutral position with the knee facing the floor. Reach with the arms and torso toward the medial (inner) side of the standing foot. This externally rotates the standing hip slightly. (see START - Internal Hip Rotation)

To complete the movement, transfer the arms and torso inward, closing the hips to internally rotate the free leg. The arms and free leg knee should now be facing the ceiling. This movement also internally rotates the standing leg from the hip. (see FINISH - Internal Hip Rotation)

In each of the exercises above, the standing leg is rotating while balancing and the free leg is actively rotating through a plane of motion. Hip and knee rotation are involved in both legs and ankle rotations are included in the weight bearing leg. Core stabilization is included with abdominal and erector spinae (back) co-contractions during trunk rotation motions. The swimmer should perform as large an excursion of diagonal motion as he/she can control the technique of all the combined rotation motions. Perform as many repetitions until “burn” is felt in the weight bearing leg and then switch legs.

With all exercises, the swimmer can increase the speed of the exercises to increase sport specific demands. Once the technique is mastered, increasing speed will advance strength and stability through hip and pelvic musculature. Preventing groin injuries is possible if you maintain the proper balance of flexibility among different muscle groups as well as a balance of flexibility and strength throughout the hip and pelvis muscles.