Two weeks ago we discussed the idea of spring cleaning for athletes. This time of year is a great opportunity for Maine athletes to try new things and develop new habits. Sometimes small changes can lead to big improvements in performance and can keep you exercising safely and successfully all summer.

Here are five more tips for Maine athletes:

1. DON’T OVERDO FLUIDS

Cynthia Lucero was a 28-year-old runner and graduate student in Boston. In the spring of 2002 she handed in her Ph.D. dissertation and the next week ran in the Boston Marathon. She drank at each water stop because she was concerned about becoming dehydrated. the time Lucero neared the finish line, she was staggering and sick. She lapsed into a coma and died of hyponatremic encephalopathy.

Most runners don’t know it is actually more dangerous to drink too much than too little. Each year runners die from overhydration.

Interestingly, there has never been a report of an athlete dying from dehydration. Because of this danger, race organizers are getting on board and actually reducing the number of water stops.

Still, many athletes aren’t familiar with the dangers of drinking too much.

The best approach is simply to drink when you’re thirsty. Don’t force fluids on yourself, and keep free of the dangers of overhydration.

2. FIND A WORKOUT PARTNER

Having trouble keeping your workout schedule? You’re not alone. Studies show that training partners are more successful in meeting athletic benchmarks. They keep each other showing up, setting goals and competing.

Individual sports like cycling and running actually lend themselves well to group workouts.

A patient named Ann came to see me two years ago with knee, ankle and back pain. She wanted to exercise more, but she wondered if she would even be able to run in a 5K race again.

Since then, she has slowly improved her performance and joined a running group. Last year she started attending weekly women’s bike rides. In a month, Ann will compete in her first half-ironman triathlon.

3. GO AERO

Last weekend about 2,500 riders participated in the Trek Across Maine. With the bike season in full swing, many Mainers are thinking about improving their performance on the bike. But with some racing bikes costing more than a car, what can we do to improve?

A group of cyclists at M.I.T. recently released a set of suggestions for the most cost-effective modifications to improve cycling speed. The winner by a long shot was an aerodynamic helmet.

Those cone-shaped helmets you see professional cyclists using cost around $150, and they significantly reduce wind drag.

The researchers’ other main suggestion is free. If you place your water bottle on the seat tube, it’s actually more aerodynamic than having no bottle at all, and much better than putting it on the down tube.

Seventy-five percent of the energy we use while cycling goes to reducing wind drag, so you may not have to splurge on that new bike.

4. KEEP COOL

Recent research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting shows that keeping cool is important. Elite athletes have discovered they can improve their speed by lowering their core temperature.

Some wear high-tech cooling vests during warm-ups. Other research has shown drinking a slurry of ice before exercising can improve performance in the heat. As the weather warms up, keeping cool can make you faster.

5. TRY CONTRAST BATHS

As we exercise, lactic acid and other metabolites build up in our muscles. Athletes feel sore and fatigued after workouts.

One way to aid recovery is the use of contrast baths: alternating very cold water with warm.

Try soaking in a cold tub or dipping into a cool lake for about a minute, then immediately switch to a hot shower for two minutes. Repeat the process three to four times.

All athletes, from weekend warriors to elite competitors, can use these suggestions to add to their training routines.

 

Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the Portland Pirates and the U.S. ski team.