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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Irregular pulse in athletes - getting to the heart of the matter

Now that Rob Waddell's heart condition is out in the open, we should discuss the issues surrounding athletes who are troubled with an irregular pulse. This is a topic that I am very interested in and have come across many cases of over the years, including myself.

Please read my earlier article about the Drysdale-Waddell clash

When attending a workshop on heart disease by a cardiologist some time ago, he mentioned that Rob Waddell had a problem with an irregular heartbeat that interfered with his performance as a rower. Apparently, the only options were medication medication for life and/or a risky operation. This heart problem was a factor in his retirement from rowing and becoming a grinder for the Team NZ Americas Cup challenge. What really intrigued me was the observation by the cardiologist that the heart problem disappeared completely while he was with Team NZ and he could not explain why this was other than that some people seem to grow out of these things. I think I know why.

Rob Waddell subsequently made a spectacular comeback in a bid to make the NZ team to the Beijing Olympics, only to fall at the last hurdle with a reported return of his irregular pulse. It now seems his only options, if he wants to stay in rowing, is medication and/or a risky operation that has no guarantees of success. Or does he? I think there are other options that should be explored.

Irregular pulses are very common in high intensity endurance sports like rowing, running and cycling. Most go unreported. I usually suffer episodes about once every year and once to such an extent that I consulted a cardiologist. Interestingly, these always happen to me about this time of year. In fact, I have just gotten over a lengthy episode and consequently posted a 48 second improvement in my seasonal personal best over 5 km! Spectacular! This most recent episode came about when I made a crash return to running and mountain bike training four weeks after breaking both the radius and ulna of my left wrist. With just three intense rides under my belt, I entered the 80km Gentle Annie MTB race. In this event I ran out of gas and even described it in my report that it felt like riding in porridge (Waddell described feeling like rowing in mud). I finished about 20 mintes slower than last year despite being in better condition and a faster bike and tyres. I came 3rd last year and 14th this year.

I think the reasons Rob Waddell's heart problems disappeared was because he reduced the exhausting cardio exercise and dispensed with the carbo-soaked, vitamin and mineral depleted endurance athlete's diet and replaced this with nutrient rich meals prepared by A-grade chefs designed to put on bulk. When he switched back to the previous routine, including a diet that resulted in a significant weight loss, the heart palpitations returned once he hit several days of unrelenting cardiovascular intensity.

For me, the irregular pulse and the sluggish performance during the Gentle Annie signaled that it was time to ease off the intensity and to sort out my nutrition. An irregular pulse in an athlete can be from a combination of physical and nervous exhaustion coupled with one or many nutrient depletions or imbalances. It is a matter of easing off the intensity of the exercise and systematically working one's way through the nutritional possibilities - minerals, B vitamins, amino acids, body salts, fatty acids. This takes time and patience and it is not advisable to just throw in a whole lot of supplements, including the kitchen sink, since doing so makes it near impossible to figure out what is really working and not working. A hair tissue analysis can be invaluable in helping work out the most effective options. Other factors may include excessive use of stimulants, including caffeine and ephedrine. Most athletes overcome these heart palpitations and continue to have successful sporting careers.

Please read my articles here about top cyclist, Hayden Roulston who was advised by his cardiologist to stop cycling after suffering similar problems to Waddell.

Please bear in mind that heart palpitations can be a sign of serious things such as a silent heart attack. Just as I did, there is no harm in getting it checked out by a specialist.


Wayne said...

I know how rob feels. I strongly recommend the hair tissue anlysis, i came back from five weeks holiday with a lot of tramping, i had to reduce my exercise markedly due to excessive fatigue,
I was in the neighbourhood so got a hair analysis done, and it showed up some major inbalances in my nutrient levels that I"m now addressing thanks to gary's advice.

Wayne said...

its not surprising the heart problems his the best athletes, people like rob waddell and Hayden Roulston push their bodies harder than anyone else in training so if anthings wrong with their diet its going to show up with them more than the average sports person.

Wayne said...

i remember watching a yachting program about top round the world sailors, they literally took a whole handful of supplements every day to make sure they ahd the nutrients they needed to keep them going.