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  • Assessing Energy Requirements for Para-Athletes

    by Guest Blogger | Sep 15, 2016

    By: Laura Newsome, Ph.D.

    From September 8 through September 18, the ACSM Sports Performance Blog is featuring a special content series in celebration of the achievements of elite athletes participating in this month’s international competition. Be sure to follow the blog as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (acsm1954) and share using #ScienceofSport.

    The competition this month in Rio DeJaneiro is a chance for athletes to showcase the strength of will and the power of the human spirit, no matter their level of physical ability. We can see the tremendous growth in the support for these athletes in a variety of settings, including increased funding, increase scientific research, improved training programs and more effective rehabilitation. Since para-athletes have such a wide variety of impairments and classifications within each impairment, there has been a greater push to understand the physiological responses to exercises and how to train within these unique parameters.

    Assessing the energy requirement for athletes with tetraplegia or quadrplegia has been relatively underinvestigated in the research arena but, like with all aspects of disability sport, it is slowly starting to gain ground. Understanding the energy requirements needed to train for and compete in the games is essential for ensuring the athlete’s peak performance and ample recovery between events. Not unlike their able-bodied competitors, these athletes take a great interest in preparing their bodies to perform at the highest level, but unlike able-bodied athletes, athletes with tetraplegia or quadrplegia have varied heart rate responses (accelerated or blunted) that make exercise intensities an unreliable way to estimate energy expenditure.

    Within each sport, the energy expenditure will vary with the level of the athlete’s impairment type and involvement. Energy expenditure can range from as low as 1.5 METS in archery to the upper level of ~8 METS in wheelchair basketball. Using these numbers to attempt to make a blanketed statement regarding the needs of these athletes is erroneous. With the limited research performed in this area, there is a lack of normal values and outcomes for comparisons, which increases the challenge to develop an exercise program with appropriate periodization to meet the functional needs of the athletes. As more information becomes available, better training regimens will be developed based on the specific sport and classification.

    The basic training principles used with able-bodied athletes does not always hold true for para-athletes. With the increasing awareness and accessibility to adaptive sports, higher levels of research are being perfomed to assist these elite athletes in better understanding their bodies and how to train, eat and perform at the highest level. Para-athlete competition is a great opportunity to observe how incredible these athletes are by highlighting the obstacles they have had to overcome to train and compete at the elite level.

    Laura J. Newsome, Ph.D., ACSM-CEP, EIM-3, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at Radford University.

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