3-on-3: Keep Yourself Healthy!

In 3-on-3, our experts answer three questions and offer unique insights that have helped them and others along the way. This month, we talked to Marc Nowak (physical therapist for the USRowing Training Center – Princeton and Olympic team), Dr. Peter Wenger (sports medicine specialist at Princeton Sports & Family Medicine) and Liz Fusco (sports nutritionist at USRowing).

November 3-3

1) What is an easy-to-instill good habit that every athlete should have?

Liz: “Eat breakfast. With early morning practices, it can be easy to skip out. Aside from fueling your workout, breakfast also helps you feel energized and with making good food choices all day long. Choose something easy to digest, like overnight oats (oats, milk, frozen berries, Greek yogurt). If you don’t currently eat breakfast, start with something small and simple like a cereal bar and work your way up to something more substantial – your gut can be trained to tolerate different types and volumes of food.”

Marc: “Breathe while you are training. Make sure to really exhale during exertion. That sounds like the silliest, most logical thing to tell someone, but people actually tend to hold their breath while working out. When you breathe while practicing in rowing, breathe from your abdomen and really take conscious breaths all the time. Relax your neck while working out and don’t chest breathe too much because tensing up your torso hurts your ability to breathe.”

Peter: “A good habit comes down to the mentality of getting the job done. That’s not just true for work on the erg or the water; it’s also about taking care of yourself and rehab. That’s especially the case for upper respiratory tract infection, which is fairly common. Don’t try to ride out any illness, and make sure those things get taken care of. I would also get your flu shot. It’s highly effective; flu is very contagious and it rapidly spreads from teammate to teammate. There may not be disastrous consequence for young athletes, except for a decrease in performance, but it could also be an elderly person or a baby who picks it up. It’s beyond just being compromised yourself.”

2) As the workload increases over the course of the season, what’s the secret to a solid recovery after practice?

Marc: “Get your legs up on the wall. Blood circulation in your legs is very important. You can wear compression stockings or take half an hour to lay down, and put your legs up against a wall. It’s something very simple that anyone can do, and it will really help you as a rower. It’s also very important to hydrate. This will help your whole body, not just your legs. Your body wants to get back to where it was before the workout and hydration is a crucial part of that. For the upper body, use a foam roller for five minutes after the workout. This will help stretch your back, as well as open up your hips, especially if you are suffering from tight muscles in your core after erging.”

Peter: “Maintenance is incredibly important. Be proactive and don’t wait until you are injured. Doing the right work before you get injured decreases long-term risk, and if you do end up injured after all, you can draw from that strength to recover quicker from whatever is bothering you. Also, if you have a fever, don’t exercise with anything over 101.5. Your risk for developing heat illness is significant and you could be breaking down muscles by continuing to work out. Working out indoors has additional risks due to the temperature and conditions in the workout space, and you may be exposing yourself to a risk of superinfections or muscle damage.

The not-so-secret secret is to seek help if there are problems. Don’t try to be your own doctor, because you’ll end up your own worst enemy. A doctor can help you maximize your recovery and maybe a small change will help you out instead of overreacting to the issues you might be experiencing. You need to know for sure what you are truly working against when you don’t feel well.”

Liz: “There are no ‘secrets’ per se, but recovery nutrition becomes more and more important with higher volume training. Be sure to have a recovery snack or meal within 30 to 60 minutes of completing a session. This snack should include around 20-30 grams of protein. If the session was longer than 90 minutes and higher in intensity, you may want to add a few extra servings of carbs into your meals or snacks before and after that session. If keeping weight up becomes an issue, adding healthy fats can help (e.g. drizzling olive oil over steamed veggies). Fats also help decrease inflammation from exercise.”

3) When training moves indoors for winter, what are specific health risks to keep an eye on?

Peter: “Infection is the biggest risk getting indoors. It’s in smaller quarters, you deal with recirculated air and people are much closer to each other. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections all happen to athletes. Bacterial infections can wipe out an entire team at a time, so keep any open wounds you may have, such as blisters, covered and clean. You want to not just take care of yourself, but also take care of the others. Don’t share water bottles, wipe off your machines and maybe not high five your teammates all the time!”

Liz: “A few things come to mind. First off, being in close contact means more potential for germs to spread, so practice good hygiene. Second, it’s common for people to load up on vitamin C supplements to avoid illness, but there is no evidence that using high doses of antioxidants does anything to reduce the occurrence of a cold. In fact, getting too much vitamin C or E can reduce gains from training! The best way to get enough, but not too much, is to eat vitamin C-rich foods: citrus, peppers, strawberries, and spinach are just a few. Probiotics may actually decrease the incidence and severity of the common cold and other illnesses (e.g. yogurt, fermented foods, supplements).

Lastly, indoor training means little sunlight, which can decrease vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays important roles in bone strength and muscle function, so it’s a good idea to get vitamin D status checked before and after winter to keep it in a healthy range.”

Marc: “The transition from rowing to erging requires different body parts to work in different ways. You need to take the first two weeks to gradually progress yourself back into whatever you are doing. Whether you are going outdoor to indoor or indoor to outdoor, don’t stay at the same pace. If you were doing two-a-days indoors and it’s suddenly nice out, you may not want to immediately row two-a-days on the water as well. That transition takes time and a common time for injuries is when people rush into the new workload while going from the boat to the erg or vice versa.”

Written by Jules Zane

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