Too Much Caffeine, Too Little Time

It was YMCA States for swimming, and everyone was so excited to be there.  YMCA States was the last meet of the year for people that didn’t swim USA Winter Championships or decided not to attend another meet at Harvard.  We were all tapered and ready to go.  Most of the swimmers that were going on to USA Winter Championships were relaxed and just awaiting to see how taper had treated us, but others were so uptight and focused that it was difficult to be around them.  One of my teammates, who will remain unnamed for anonymity, was dying to drop just three seconds in her 200 yard freestyle to get the record at our home pool.  She had decided that the best way to do this was to only eat carbohydrates for almost two weeks leading up to the meet, and load up on caffeinated sports drinks before the race.  None of us thought that her life choices were particularly healthy, but we knew how serious she was about her race.  No one said a word to her.

Her 200 eventually rolled around, and we watched her stretch behind the blocks.  She looked a little jittery, but we assumed it was because of her stress.  She climbed onto the starting block with ease, took her mark, and flew into the water.  She was on the right pace after the first 100, but then she started slowing down.  She ended up staying fairly even with the pack, but she did not make the time drop that she needed for the race.  When she came over to talk to the coach, she tumbled onto the pool deck as she continued to shake.  There was obviously something wrong.  She was rushed to the hospital where she was hooked up to a breathing device and monitored closely.  She had too much caffeine in her system, and not enough of everything else that she needed to race at that high intensity.  She recovered and went home later that same day, but I can still remember the panic that was felt by her entire team when she went down that day.

Although I cannot remember how old I was, I know I was younger than fifteen.  I did not completely understand what had happened that day besides the fact that she had taken in too much caffeine, but now I realize that caffeine was not the only deciding factor in her health issue.  Because she only had carbohydrates leading up to the meet, her body had depleted her protein stores that should be refilled each day.  She had been training hard for two weeks on her strict carbohydrate diet, and I am surprised that she made it that long.  Even though I now understand what happened that day, I will never forget the image of my teammate hooked up to a breathing aid in the ER.

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3 Responses to Too Much Caffeine, Too Little Time

  1. Fearless Leader ugogal says:

    And it’s driving me crazy that I can’t figure out who you’re talking about…I never heard this story before, and I know all those girls…

  2. Sibs Sibs says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I swam in middle/high school and my 100meter backstroke was half a pool length ahead of my competitors at sectionals, which thrilled my teammates and disappointed me (I finished two seconds later than my normal times, let alone my best time). Looking back on it I had little to no energy to burn. I was so concerned with slicing through the water and being the best that I ended up starving myself, and only eating right before my races. My times went up as a result. Sometimes our drive to be the best at being the best, well, gets the best of us.

  3. Fearless Leader ugogal says:

    She probably wasn’t used to caffeine, and so it had a huge effect on her…highlights the importance of NOT trying something like this for the first time at a competition…there have been several energy-drink related deaths when people overdo it…caffeine is a powerful drug. No need to carbo load for a 200-meter race, and you are very right that she needed protein leading up to the race!

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