Athletic performance, also called exercise performance, describes an individual's ability to use various muscles to stay physically fit.
Exercise is any form of physical activity that helps to promote overall health. Most movement of the body is considered beneficial, as long as it is done in moderation and at the skill level of the person. There are many ways for people to exercise including gardening, walking, sports activities, and dancing.
An individual's athletic performance can be measured in terms of cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and exercise capacity.
Cardiovascular endurance refers to the body's ability to efficiently use oxygen during aerobic activities such as jogging or biking. Individuals who have strong cardiovascular endurance have strong hearts and lungs. Their hearts are able to efficiently pump oxygen to the body's muscles.
Muscle strength refers to the amount of physical force an individual can exert at one time. This can be determined by how much weight a person can lift using certain muscles.
Exercise capacity, also called physical endurance, is the amount of uninterrupted physical exercise an individual can sustain.
Individuals in poor shape have an increased risk of developing many life-threatening health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Individuals in poor shape are also more likely to have bad posture. When the muscles become tired, individuals tend to slouch putting extra pressure on the back and neck. As a result, poor posture may cause back and neck pain or muscle soreness. Regular exercise may help improve posture because it strengthens the muscles needed for good posture.
There is extensive scientific evidence suggesting that regular exercise offers major health benefits. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the failure to exercise regularly is a significant precursor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Exercising on a regular basis is one of the most inexpensive and easiest measures a person can take in order to reduce the risk and/or delay the onset of serious illnesses.
Regular exercise in the elderly may help prevent fall injuries. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related visits to emergency departments in the United States. They are also the number one cause of accidental deaths in patients older than 65 years. Exercise can help patients strengthen their muscles and improve their balance, which reduces the risk of accidental falls.
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maintaining and improving athletic performance
General: Patients beginning an exercise program should choose activities that fit their levels of strength and endurance. Exercise that causes extreme pain or discomfort is considered by many experts as potentially harmful and it may even cause permanent damage to the body, especially to the joints, muscles, and tendons. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that patients choose exercise programs they will do consistently. They also recommend lower impact forms of exercise, such as walking or swimming, for pregnant patients and patients unable to handle more intense forms of exercise.
A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before starting a new exercise plan. Exercise cautiously if pregnant, elderly, or with any longstanding medical conditions. Avoid high-impact forms of exercise with osteoporosis, nerve injuries, or if pregnant.
Nutrition: According to researchers, there is a connection between food consumption and athletic performance. Studies show that a poor diet almost always has a negative effect on an individual's athletic performance, regardless of how much they exercise. Individuals should consume a healthy diet that has sufficient amounts of calories, vitamins, minerals, and protein. The amount of calories needed depends on patient's age, size, gender, as well as the type and intensity of the physical activity being performed. The U.S. government issued a revised food pyramid in 2005 in an effort to help Americans live healthier. The new food pyramid provides 12 different models based on daily calorie needs, ranging from the 1,000-calorie diets for toddlers to 3,200-calorie diets for teenage boys.
Foods that are classified as complex carbohydrates are especially important for athletes because they provide energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Examples of complex carbohydrates include pasta, whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grains, and bran. Oftentimes, athletes consume meals that are high in carbohydrates before they work out. This has been shown to improve an individual's athletic performance in endurance exercises that last longer than one hour. However, simple carbohydrates, such as sodas, white bread, jellies, and candies, are not recommended because they contain high amounts of calories and sugar, but little nutritional value. These food items may actually decrease an individual's performance before an athletic event.
Foods that contain protein are also important because they support the growth and repair of body tissues, including muscles. According to researchers, athletes only require slightly more protein than non-athletes. Also, according to the American Heart Association, most Americans already eat twice the amount of necessary protein. When an individual consumes more protein than the body needs, it is stored as fat.
In general, the Atkins diet™ is not recommended. This is a high-protein diet that involves restricting the amount of carbohydrates consumed. Patients considering this diet should consult their healthcare providers. Some medical experts question the health safety of the Atkins diet™ over the long term because the Atkins diet™ allows consumption of foods containing saturated fats and proteins without any restriction. Health concerns include the impact of large amounts of protein on kidney function, the impact of saturated fats on cholesterol and heart disease, and the potential for some types of cancers to develop from eating a diet low in complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, certain vitamins and minerals, and fiber.
Hydration is another essential nutrient for athletes. Water and other fluids help the body maintain proper body temperatures. As individuals sweat, their bodies lose water. Sweat is necessary to help keep the body cool. Individuals should drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercising. Individuals should avoid drinks that contain caffeine before exercising. Caffeine is a diuretic that promotes fluid loss.
Patients should be careful not to drink too much water because it may lead to overhydration, or hyponatremia, which may be life threatening. This occurs when the body consumes more water than it loses. When there is too much water in the body, there are low levels of salt in the blood. As a result, patients may experience swelling in the legs, shortness of breath, and enlarged organs and veins.
When individuals exercise, the body loses electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, in the blood. These electrolytes are needed to regulate bodily functions. Individuals who are participating in strenuous exercise that lasts longer than a couple hours may benefit from sports drinks. These drinks, such as Gatorade®, contain electrolytes to help replace the ones lost during exercise.
Regular exercise: Regular exercise can help patients improve or maintain muscle mass, physical endurance, balance, and postural stability. Exercise includes cardiovascular activities, such as running or walking, as well as weight training. All workouts should begin with a warm-up routine and end with a cool-down segment that includes stretching exercises. After completing a weight-training workout, wait 24-48 hours before lifting with the same muscles.
Because lifting weights increases muscle mass, this type of exercise may also improve an individual's postural stability. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that patients perform one set of eight to ten exercises with eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, two to three days per week in order to improve muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. There are three main techniques used for muscle training: isometric, isotonic, and isokinetic.
Isometric muscle training is the contraction of a muscle against an immovable force. For instance, muscles will flex and hold a stationary position when an individual pushes against a wall. This weight training technique involves no weight and very little equipment. Isometric exercise is primarily used in physiotherapy and rehabilitation following an injury.
Isotonic muscle training involves muscle contractions where tension is equal throughout the range of motion. Isotonic exercise strengthens the muscles in the entire range of motion while improving joint mobility. Isotonic muscle training is usually done with dumbbells, barbells, or elastic resistance bands.
Isokinetic muscle training is a type of contraction where the speed of movement is fixed and resistance varies with the force exerted. In other words, the harder an individual pushes or pulls, the more resistance is felt. This method is mostly used for sports training or rehabilitation following an injury. This form of training usually requires the use of a machine.
Balance may be improved with the use of physio balls, also called exercise balls. Individuals usually sit on these inflatable balls to perform sit-ups and lift arm weights. Patients can work many body areas, including the back, thighs, and buttocks. Sitting or lying on these balls forces individuals to use core muscles, including the abdominal muscles. At first, patients may feel like the ball is unstable underneath their weight. However, as muscles mass increases and balance is improved, it will become easier to use.
Cardiovascular training helps to improve an individual's physical endurance. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that individuals engage in 20 to 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent (bouts of at least 10 minutes) aerobic activity at 55-90% maximum heart rate or at 40-85% maximum oxygen uptake three to five days per week to increase cardio-respiratory fitness.
Posture awareness: In addition to regular exercise, posture awareness may help patients improve their postures. This can help prevent neck and back pain as well as sore muscles, which are often caused by poor posture. Individuals can practice good posture in front of the mirror. When standing, a patient's weight should mostly be on the balls of the feet, which are shoulder-width apart. The back should be straight and the shoulders should be upright. The arms should hang naturally down the sides of the body. Do not lock the knees. The head should be square on top of the neck and spine, not pushed forward. Patients can test their standing posture by standing against the wall. The shoulders, buttocks, and back of the head should touch the wall.
Ergonomic furniture: Maintaining good posture when standing or sitting for prolonged periods is an important part of staying fit. Individuals should sit in furniture that promotes good posture. For instance, individuals can purchase chairs that have adjustable back supports. Footrests, portable back supports, or even a small pillow can be added to chairs to improve posture.
When sitting, the back of the head should be aligned with the back of the chair. The shoulders should be upright. Do not slouch or lean forward. Office chairs should be adjusted so that the arms can comfortably bend at 75-90 degree angles. The knees should be even with the hips. Keep both feet on the floor.
Supportive footwear: Wearing comfortable and supportive footwear may help improve posture. Avoid wearing high-healed shoes because they affect the body's center of gravity, which changes the alignment of the body.
supplements and enhancers
Energy boosters: Energy drinks, or energy boosters, are beverages that contain stimulants, vitamins, and/or minerals. Common ingredients include caffeine, guarana extracts, taurine, ginseng, maltodextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine, and Ginkgo biloba. Energy drinks may contain as much as 80 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of one cup of coffee. Many also contain high levels of sugar or glucose. There are many different types of energy drinks. Some examples include Adrenaline Rush®, Red Bull®, Sprint®, Monster®, Diesel®, and Venom®. Most energy drinks contain some combination of B vitamins, which are thought to help the body convert sugar into energy.
Few studies have evaluated the safety or efficacy of energy drinks. Most scientific studies have investigated the role of energy drinks in obesity. Research suggests that energy drinks high in sugar lead to weight gain. Energy drinks act as diuretics and may potentially cause dehydration. Drink plenty of water after consuming energy drinks.
Because energy drinks contain stimulants, they may potentially interact with alcohol, a common depressant. Theoretically, the combination could lead to cardiopulmonary or cardiovascular failure. Two people died in Sweden after consuming Red Bull® and vodka. However, it is unclear whether the energy drink was the cause.
Avoid consuming energy drinks in excess, mixing them with alcohol, or using them during or immediately before or after rigorous physical activities. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and other professional sports leagues have banned certain energy drinks, such as Red Bull®, due to potential health risks. Avoid energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine with heart disease, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
Protein powder: Protein powder is a powdered and refined protein intensive dietary supplement used by fitness enthusiasts and muscle builders who are trying to increase muscle bulk and strength. These powders can be mixed with a liquid for consumption as a protein shake, sprinkled on top of cereal, mixed with soups, or cooked into baked goods. Protein is necessary in the diet because of its role in muscle and tissue structure and function. Some examples of protein-rich foods include meats, fish, dairy products, dried beans and peas, and tofu. Protein powders are usually made from one of four basic sources: whey (from milk), egg, soy, or rice. Protein powders may be made from just one of these sources or may be a combination.
A study from Ohio State University, Columbus compared the effects of consumption of soy and whey protein bars in athletes. Researchers found that both the soy and whey groups showed a gain in lean body mass. However, the whey group, but not the soy group, showed a potentially harmful post-training effect on two antioxidant-related parameters. This led the researchers to conclude that soy and whey protein bars both promoted exercise training-induced lean body mass gain, but the soy had the added benefit of preserving two aspects of antioxidant function.
Recent studies involving whey powders have focused on its effects on muscle mass and resistance training in elderly males. Subjects who took whey protein powder immediately after exercise achieved positive results (less muscle wasting), while those who took the formula two hours or more after exercise had no significant change.
The consumption of too much protein may be unhealthy. Protein is broken down in the body by the kidneys. If a person has kidney problems, the consumption of protein may need to be limited. The daily recommended consumption of protein is based on a patient's weight, age, and activity level.
Testosterone enhancement: Testosterone enhancement is the illegal use of anabolic steroids to boost athletic performance. Anabolic steroids are male sex hormones, collectively known as androgens. Although these drugs may be prescribed for certain health conditions, such as hormonal disorders, it is illegal to use them without prescription. Many athletes illegally take these hormones to build more muscle and endurance than would normally be possible. Because anabolic steroids offer athletes an unfair advantage, they are banned by all major sporting organizations. Athletes are regularly screened for steroids in professional sports.
The most popular steroid used is called testosterone. This man-made chemical imitates the effects of the male hormones that are naturally produced in the body. Testosterone and other anabolic steroids that are used to increase muscle mass are taken by mouth or self-injected. Athletes often take multiple anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroids may have significant adverse effects. In men, shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, and increased risk for prostate cancer have been reported. In women, growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, menstrual irregularity, enlargement of the clitoris, and a deepened voice have been reported. In children, prematurely halted growth has been reported.
There is widespread evidence that the use of testosterone and other anabolic steroids may have permanent harmful effects on the body. Anabolic steroids have been linked to many health conditions including liver tumors, cancer, high blood pressure, increased bad cholesterol (LDL), and kidney tumors. Psychiatric side effects may include extreme irritability, delusions, paranoia, unabated jealousy, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.
Individuals who share needles to inject steroids have an increased risk of developing infectious diseases, including hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.