Fitness Tips from Three Olympic Coaches (cont.)

"I don't take supplements, but I do believe in the wheat-grass smoothies, which I think is important if you're not going to eat a lot of vegetables," says McPeak.

For Youngs, the answer lies in avoiding carbohydrates, loading up on protein, and eating organic food whenever possible -- including not only fruits and vegetables but also organic beef and poultry.

"I think it's better for you, I feel better when I eat organic food, though it's not always possible, particularly when we are on tour," says Youngs.

For Walsh, the answer lies in just one food supplement: flaxseed oil.

"It's something that one of our trainers highly recommends. And I've found it helps my metabolism, and it helps in the recovery process. I saw a big difference after I started using it in terms of stamina and in terms of healing quicker from injuries," says Walsh.

All three athletes say they avoid heavy eating before a game, but don't hesitate to snack on high-protein bars and fruit during a match.

"I've always got a protein bar in my bag and I will frequently stop and grab a bite when I feel my energy dipping," says McPeak, who adds that doing so helps keep her blood sugar stabilized as well.

Heat, Humidity, and Safe Summer Fun

While the fun of summer activity is getting to spend your time outdoors, in most parts of the country a single day in the summer heat can go from uncomfortable to scorching before you know it. This is particularly true if you start your day at the beach or park in the early morning and playtime stretches into the hottest part of the afternoon.

For members of the U.S. Olympic volleyball team, who say they sometimes play in tropical locales where the heat is over 100 degrees and the humidity nearly as high, taking some hot weather precautions is essential to their sporting success.

All the team members agree that keeping your body well hydrated in hot weather is key to staying on your feet. But in addition to water they all say that the more demands the sport places on their body, the more they rely on sports drinks and power bars to see them through.

"I have bottled water and Gatorade with me all the time, plus plenty of fresh fruit, which I also snack on constantly," says McPeak.

While she says she rarely gets muscle cramps, even in the hottest weather, the athletes who do, she says, often rely on Pedialite and sometimes sodium tablets to prevent problems.

Youngs says she bypasses the sweeter drinks, like Gatorade, and chooses instead water and Phytomax -- an electrolyte drink that has less sugar and, she says, more power to refresh and replenish her.

"I'm also constantly eating at tournaments -- protein bars, Balance Bars, drinking electrolytes, and keeping my feet up when I'm not playing," says Youngs.

The one thing she avoids drinking is icy cold water, particularly when her body is overheated.

"When I reach for that bottle of water I always look for the one that has been sitting outside the cooler for a little while. It seems to go down easier and I can drink more of it," says Youngs.

For a quick cool down McPeak says nothing is better than a cold towel on the back of the neck.

"Sometimes I skip the towel and just pour the water straight down the back of my neck and head. It's like an instant cool down and it really works," says McPeak.

Finally, if there's one Olympic-size message that all three medal winners subscribe to, it's the liberal use of sunscreen anytime they are outdoors. Indeed, each athlete says she wouldn't dream of spending even five minutes in the sun without sunglasses, a visor or hat, and the protection that sunscreen provides.

"And we all believe it's important to keep reapplying it since heavy perspiration can reduce the effectiveness. And if you go in the water, reapply as well for continued protection," says Youngs.

In addition, all three winners say they cover their body as much as possible when they are outdoors, and, when they aren't on the volleyball court, they stay out of direct sun.

Published June 6, 2005.


SOURCES: Dane Selznick, USA Olympic volleyball coach. Kerri Walsh, 2004 Olympic gold medal winner in volleyball. Elaine Youngs, 2004 Olympic bronze medal winner in volleyball. Holly McPeak, 2004 Olympic bronze medal winner in volleyball.

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