With Michael Phelps well on his way to a record haul of gold medals in the Olympic pool, and much discussion in the media about the 12,000 calorie diet he eats in training (don’t try it at home, is the message from most writers), a timely addition to the Cab Abstracts database this week looks at the effects of supplements on swimming performance. The paper by Lindh et al. (2008) in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examines the effects of sodium bicarbonate supplementation on 200 m freestyle swimming performance in elite male competitors. The research finds that sodium bicarbonate increases post-200 m blood lactate concentrations, and suggests that use as a supplement can improve 200 m freestyle performance time in elite male competitors, most likely by increasing buffering capacity. In another recent paper, Pruscino et al. (2008) investigated the effects of combining sodium bicarbonate with caffeine on repeated 200-m freestyle performance. Results suggest that the benefit of taking caffeine alone for repeated swimming performance are limited, but that when combined with sodium bicarbonate its negative impact on repeated maximal exercise performance is reversed.

A number of papers on the database look at physiological factors associated with performance in elite swimmers, and factors in technique and training that affect performance. Heart rate variability is studied by Ataoui et al. (2007), and the effects of altitude training by Roels et al. (2006) and Schmitt et al. (2006). Technique and coordination for Michael Phelp’s favourite strokes are discussed by Seifert et al. (2005) for front crawl and Chollet et al. (2006) for butterfly.

Training in the right conditions and environment, and attention to diet and supplements, are vital to all elite athletes in these days when nothing in competition is left to chance. Sadly though, they are unlikely to turn the rest of us into a Michael Phelps.


1. Heart rate variability, training variation and performance in elite swimmers. Atlaoui, D., Pichot, V., Lacoste, L., Barale, F., Lacour, J. R., Chatard, J. C. / International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2007, Vol. 28, No. 5, pp. 394-400

2. Arm to leg coordination in elite butterfly swimmers. Chollet, D., Seifert, L., Boulesteix, L., Carter, M. / International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2006, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 322-329

3. Sodium bicarbonate improves swimming performance. Lindh, A. M., Peyrebrune, M. C., Ingham, S. A., Bailey, D. M., Folland, J. P. / International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2008, Vol. 29, No. 6, pp. 519-523

4. Effects of sodium bicarbonate, caffeine, and their combination on repeated 200-m freestyle performance. Pruscino, C. L., Ross, M. L. R., Gregory, J. R., Savage, B., Flanagan, T. R. / International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2008, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 116-130, 33 ref.

5. Is it more effective for highly trained swimmers to live and train at 1200 m than at 1850 m in terms of performance and haematological benefits? Roels, B., Hellard, P., Schmitt, L., Robach, P., Richalet, J. P., Millet, G. P. / British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2006, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. e4, 32 ref.

6. Heart rate variability and performance at two different altitudes in well-trained swimmers. Schmitt, L., Hellard, P., Millet, G. P., Roels, B., Richalet, J. P., Fouillot, J. P. / International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2006, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 226-231

7. The spatial-temporal and coordinative structures in elite male 100-m front crawl swimmers. Seifert, L., Boulesteix, L., Carter, M., Chollet, D. / International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2005, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 286-293


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