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by Jim Miller MD

February 3, 2010

The Masters athlete is different from younger athletes. We work, we have families, we have homes; we have to contend with the real world.

It is not a surprise that, as Masters swimmers, our training goals are frequently not met; or if they are, it is at the expense of something else, such as sleep or quality nutrition. There is also little wonder why our performances are sometimes not what our training would indicate they should be. It becomes difficult to keep to a training schedule without interruptions, even while we are training for our end-of-the-season competitions. When busy, we can go days – or even weeks – without consistent training.

We choose between a 5:30 a.m. training session and taking the car to the shop for repairs. We choose between skipping breakfast for our morning run and taking time to eat a balanced meal. Planning a training schedule around life is difficult and Masters swimmers know this better than anyone.

Last year a USMS Top 10 athlete came into my medical practice, complaining of an injury that was not healing as it should. She had been trying to maintain her swimming, anticipating the upcoming nationals competition, as well as training for a marathon. She had always run but had never factored in enough organized training for a marathon base. Her runs were pre-programmed by a “marathon-in-training” team. Everything was going perfectly until she sustained a minimal tendon inflammation in a hamstring during a half marathon training competition.

She found out the hard way that poor sleep (time not quality,) poor nutrition and long hours at work, coupled with overtraining, had taken their toll. The hamstring tendonopathy was so bad that within a week it is was difficult for her to walk. Her running became impossible and her swimming had started to decline; it was becoming more and more difficult for this athlete to recover during workouts. Her sleep was disrupted, she was losing weight and her appetite was poor. Something had to go.

This athlete had to back off and make some choices. She had to improve her hydration, sleep and nutrition. After much consideration and evaluation, this athlete decided to focus on her swimming. She backed off of the running until the inflammation was completely gone. Once her injury was healed, she returned to strength training. Since her gradual return to training, her core strength has begun to improve resulting in stroke improvement in the pool and her leg is healing perfectly.

This athlete, though trying to live a healthy lifestyle, was in too deep. Her busy schedule and overtraining led to an injury forcing her to change her training habits and mentality. Her injury and recovery forced this Masters swimmer to get back to the basics.

As Masters athletes, most of us have chosen fitness and health as top priorities. Whether you are getting back into shape, recovering from an injury or working towards a competitive goal, remember to maintain a healthy balance. As you increase your training, make sure you are increasing your sleep and focusing on good nutrition to support this change in training. Balancing your training, sleep and nutrition patterns is not the only balance you must maintain to be healthy. Balancing your work and family responsibilities in combination with your training and fitness goals is key to leading a healthy and happy lifestyle.