Recommended Reading from Coach Evan
Athletes spend a lot of money and effort trying to rack up every possible advantage before a competition -- from tubs of protein powder, to $100 compression shorts, to amino acid smoothies. Want a simpler and cheaper way? Go to bed an hour early.
"Getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance," says David Geier, MD, director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Studies have found that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time in athletes.
Whether you're an Olympic athlete, a weekend warrior, or a lunch-break walker, getting enough sleep is key for a lot of reasons. Here's why sleep is important -- along with some tips on how to get more of it.
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you're an athlete in training, that may not be enough.
"Just as athletes need more calories than most people when they're in training, they need more sleep, too," says Geier. All the stress and grueling practices require more time to recover.
Jim Thornton, president of the National Athletic Trainers' Association, recommends that an athlete in training should sleep about an hour extra. Some athletes manage this with an earlier bedtime. An afternoon nap can help, too, Thornton says.
How Sleep Affects Athletic Performance
Most athletes -- and people in general -- underestimate the importance of sleep, experts say.
"Not getting enough sleep doesn't only make you tired the next day," says Geier. "It has a big impact on what's happening inside your body."
Felicia Stoler, RD, an exercise physiologist and registered dietitian in New Jersey, agrees. "Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself," she tells WebMD. "If we don't get enough sleep, we don't perform well."
So what does sleep deprivation do to your game?
• Decreased energy. Sleep deprivation reduces your body's ability to store glycogen -- energy that you need during endurance events.
• Worse decision-making and reflexes. Studies have shown that athletes who don't get enough sleep are worse at making split-second decisions and less accurate.
• Hormone changes. Not getting enough sleep can increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can slow down healing, increase the risk of injuries, and worsen memory. It also lowers levels of growth hormone that helps repair the body.
On the flip side, studies have found clear evidence that increasing sleep has real benefits for athletes.
A 2011 study tracked the Stanford University basketball team for several months. Players added an average of almost two hours of sleep a night. The results? Players increased their speed by 5%. Their free throws were 9% more accurate. They had faster reflexes and felt happier. Other studies have shown similar benefits for football players and other athletes.
Nutritional Cheat Sheet for Swimmers
Keep in mind that in order for nutrition to have an appreciable impact on your performance, you have to eat the right way on a year-round basis. Not that you can't occasionally indulge in some fast food, or sweets; just make sure that your daily diet follows the 80% rule, meaning that you make the right choices at least 80% of the time and reserve the other 20% percent for some of your favorite "cheat" foods. This way, you'll know you're supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to feel and perform at your best.
The following recommendations will help you stay on the right path:
The Right Kinds of Carbs
Make sure that the bulk of your diet comes from complex carbohydrate sources (approximately 50-60% of your total caloric intake). It's important that these carbs are predominantly in the form of whole grain breads and cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, yams (or sweet potatoes) and beans. Try to stay away from white pasta, rice, breads and bagels as much as possible. They have an unfavorable effect on blood sugar levels and can really hamper your performance.
Try to opt for quality, low-fat protein sources like skinless, white meat chicken and turkey, lean beef, eggs, tuna, flounder, sole and cod, skim and low fat milks, low-fat yogurt (not the "fruit on the bottom kind") and tofu. Limit your intake of high-fat cuts of beef and pork, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fried chicken and pretty much all fast food, as much as possible. Proteins should make up anywhere between 20-25% of your total caloric intake.
Watch the Fat
Keep an eye on your fat intake. As a general rule, try to limit your intake of saturated fats, or any type of "hydrogenated oils" and "trans" fats. You can do this by cutting down on higher-fat cuts of beef and pork and all types of fast food. Also try to read as many nutrition labels as possible, as most clearly list the breakdown of both total fat, and saturated fats. Make sure that any food you choose has no more than 3 grams of fat per every 100 calories (i.e. in a 200 calorie food, 6 grams of fat is the limit), and that no more than about 1/3 of the total fat comes from saturated fat. So, that same 200 calorie food with 6 grams of total fat should have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat. Overall, fats should comprise anywhere from 15-20% of your total caloric intake.
Don't Forget Fruits and Vegetables
Eat as many fresh vegetables and fruits as you possibly can. Most kids fall way short of the recommended 5-9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables. They provide tons of vitamins and minerals, as well as much needed fiber.
Here's a breakdown of how much you should be drinking and when:
Overall water consumption for kids age 9 to 13 should be 2.0 to 2.5 liters per day, whereas 14-18 year-olds should strive for 2.5 to 3.5 liters, with girls falling near the lower end of the range, and boys at the higher end. Keep in mind, we're talking about water here, not juices, sports drinks, or soda. This should be your target for each and every day, with your fluid requirements increasing with age and time in the water.
20 Habits of Elite Swimmers
While there isn’t an exact formula for success that can be applied to everyone, there are some typical traits and habits of those who have achieved success in swimming that are universal
Make this your best year of swimming yet by embracing some of the following habits of elite swimmers:
1. They Don’t Allow Others to Dictate What They Are Capable of. There really isn’t much more discouraging than someone you respect, admire or love telling you that your goal or dream is out of your reach, not within your abilities, or outside of the scope of your talent. Some people take this to heart, while others use it as jet fuel to light their motivation.
2. Be About It. Everyone wants to be successful; everyone talks about how they want to achieve so-and-so a time, or qualify for XYZ team. Talking about it is the easy part. But successful swimmers don’t stop at wanting or talking about it; they put words into action. You can say that you want to be a championship caliber athlete all you want, but are your actions reflecting this intent?
3. Being Elite Isn’t a Part Time Gig. You can’t be good and expect to be great. Likewise, you can’t be great once in a while, or part time. Elite swimmers show up every day, not when they feel like it, or when circumstances suit them.
4. The Journey is What Makes You Elite. Setting goals, and chasing them is about so much more than the final result, time or placing. The journey is what creates the elite swimmer, the final results are merely a symptom of what a swimmer has become by putting in work every day.
5. Elite Swimmers Have Unshakable Personal Integrity. How often do you commit to something and find that within a few days or weeks your resolve loosens, until the promise you made to yourself is broken and gone? Having personal integrity means that you not only keep your word and promises with others, but most importantly that you keep your word with yourself.
6. Embrace the Grind. Sure, it would be great if life came without friction. If things went according to plan and according to our wishes all of the time. In reality we both know this is not how things go down. Setbacks, detours and roadblocks will happen, and the choice is whether they are going to be exercises in character development or the reasons for quitting.
7. Unafraid to Plan. Success isn’t an accident; it’s the result of planning combined with focused action. Elite swimmers know to get to where they want to go they need to have a road map.
8. Look for Solutions, Not Excuses. While many swimmers will talk about achey muscles, excessive homework, or how they don’t feel up their best, your friendly neighborhood elite swimmer will find a way to be successful in spite of these same types of challenges.
9. Surround Themselves with Like Minded Athletes. How we perform is a result of the environment and the people we decide to surround ourselves with. Hanging out with naysayers and toxic people will rub off on us. Similarly, hanging out with athletes who are down to take things to the next level will only embolden and empower you.
10. Proactive. Elite swimmers take action before need necessitates it. They don’t want for things to happen to them; they go out and make it happen for themselves. They don’t hope for success to stumble upon them via luck or good fortune; they actively chase it.
11. Willing to Go the Extra Mile. This can mean that they will come in early, stay after practice for additional ab work/stretching, or step up and do a faster interval even when not prodded to do so. The adage “first one in, last one out” is highly applicable to elite athletes.
12. Set Higher Standards for Themselves. “Good enough” is not good enough. Don’t confuse this with perfection; elite swimmers understand the difference between striving for excellence versus chasing perfection (doesn’t exist!).
13. Possess a Willingness to Accept Constructive Criticism. Feedback from coaches isn’t taken personally or negatively. Elite swimmers listen to and assess criticism as objectively as possible.
14. Accept Ownership. Playing the blame game, or sugar-coating a bad swim with lame excuses is a disservice to yourself. Sure it may be an easy band-aid for your ego, but by explaining your performances away with excuses only means that you lose out on a valuable lesson and provides conditions for it to happen again down the road.
15. Take Pride in Hard Work. Hard work sounds, well, hard. And in a day and age where we expect instant results and instant satisfaction, it can be easy to cast aside hard work as something we don’t need to do anymore. Elite swimmers take pride in the fact that they work hard, that they are willing to do what others won’t.
16. Support Teammates. Whether it is cheering on teammates, helping out the youngsters, or being a friendly ear when someone is having a rough day, elite swimmers have a strong sense of compassion for their teammates and for the sport in general.
17. Make the Best of What They Have. Heaps of Olympians have come up through the ranks having trained in dark, dungy 25 yard pools. They know that all they need is a lane and a bathing suit and they are good to go. Conditions and your environment will never be perfectly ideal; the key is to maximize the resources you do have.
18. They Don’t Complain. They recognize that complaining doesn’t bring them closer to their goals. Getting bitter and dwelling on complaints and perceived unfairness only develops a negative and ineffective state of mind.
19. They Know They Deserve Success – Just Like Anyone Else. Most gaze star-struck at top-level swimmers and think of all the reasons that they will never be at that level. Elite swimmers look up and think of all the reasons why they will and deserve to be at that level.
20. Refuse to Wait. Sure, you could fully dedicate yourself to your swimming when you feel up to it. Or when you get that new suit. Or when your team gets a new pool. But at that point there will be a new excuse to delay action. Elite swimmers refuse to wait another moment to chase their goals and dreams. They recognize that starting tomorrow is a day too late.