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Back to school: A look back at our best book reviews

Nov 9, 2014  - Nikki Dryden

Over the last 10 years, SwimNews has covered many a book launch. From the best bios to the latest in nutrition and recovery, we look back at the words behind the water.

The Performance Zone

By John Ivy, Ph.D., and Robert Portman, Ph.D

134 pages

Basic Health Publications, Inc., North Bergen, NJ

Nikki Dryden (SwimNews May-June 2004)

The Performance Zone is not the latest diet plan trying to compete with the Zone, Atkins, or South Beach, nor is it just another sports nutrition book for athletes. Rather The Performance Zone focuses on the most crucial period of the day for any swimmer: 30 minutes prior to work out, during work out, and 15 minutes after. Basically, this book is about winning, keeping healthy and getting an edge over the competition.

The authors call it the 30W15 rule and set out to show the reader why timing is everything when it comes to preparing for, performing in, and recovering from work outs and racing. 30W15 stands for starting your nutrient intervention 30 minutes prior to exercise, continuing it through the entire workout, and consuming your recovery nutrition within 15 minutes of getting out of the pool.

The book follows an easy to read and easy to comprehend format with graphs and charts that illustrate both simple and more complex concepts. It starts by taking you through the basics of how our muscles work, then from energy production through muscle fatigue and even to muscle damage. Next it walks you through pre-workout eating, workout nutrient intake, and post workout nutrient consumption in order to prepare the body for workout, to limit dehydration, electrolyte loss, muscle damage, and suppression of the immune system all so that you can set the stage for a faster recovery.

In between major chapters are shorter segments that focus on topics such as fueling the young athlete, fueling the female athlete, cold and sickness prevention, and improving body composition. The authors then help you create your own nutrition action plan based on your personal exercise level. They teach you how to compute your total caloric expenditure, calculate your fluid and carbohydrate needs during workout, establish your fueling schedule, and determine your nutrient and fluid needs post-exercise.

About 20 pages are dedicated to sport specific nutrition tips, including two pages written by 5-time Olympic medallist swimmer Josh Davis. Other sports include soccer, running, hockey and skiing, making the book a great purchase for a multi-sport family.

The final portion of the book quickly runs through a few supplements that are useful for athletes as well as several illegal and harmful drugs. But one of the best pages contains a chart entitled, “Are all sports drinks the same?” which outlines the nutritional values of almost 20 popular drinks from water to Gatorade to Coke.

At $17.50, this book is the best investment any coach, parent or swimmer can make today in order to ensure a better performance tomorrow. Dr. Portman emphasizes the importance of instilling good habits in children as young as 10, so it is never too early to start. “These habits should begin very young. For example, teaching kids the importance of drinking fluids and not relying on their thirst mechanism to tell them when to drink is a primary lesson. I am not talking about making a kid into an Olympic athlete, but whatever their potential they shouldn’t be limited by what they consume. Nutrition is the easiest thing that we do every day, and building strong habits now is crucial.”

The authors do a great job of laying out the basics, breaking down myths, and showing how small choices can bring huge improvements in a swimmer’s ability to trainer harder and faster. But whatever you do, do not dismiss this book just because you think you know what you are doing. I thought I knew a fair amount about nutrition and training, but in speaking with the author I realized just how misled I had become over the years. My ideas about Gatorade and sugar consumption, the role protein plays during workout, and losing weight were very, very wrong.

I always thought that sports drinks were bad for you because of all the sugar they contained. However, Dr. Portman explained that you have to consume different nutrients during a workout than you otherwise would consume during the day. “When you are sitting on the couch there is nothing happening to your body equivalent to what happens to it in the pool so during the period of the exercise interval, simple sugars are what you need. Your muscles are starved since they have a small amount of energy within them. The harder you train, the shorter it lasts, so you have to replenish it quickly.”

Consuming a sports drink during your workout will help ensure that your muscle glycogen does not get depleted, or at least it will help to delay it. “You won’t replenish everything that you are burning up in a workout, because you burn it up faster than your gut can take in. But you can delay it.” The role of protein in this area is crucial. “If you add protein to the sports drink, you increase the ability of the carbohydrate to get into the muscle cell and spare glycogen.” Studies have also shown that carbohydrate-protein sports drinks improve endurance, quicken recovery, and decrease muscle damage.


As a female swimmer I was always obsessing about my weight. I purposely did not eat before morning workout and tried not to eat for as long after workout as possible, thinking that by doing so, I would burn more fat. Boy, was I wrong. “A big problem with female athletes is that they starve themselves and what happens is that later in the season they are more susceptible to colds and injury and their performance actually goes down. Every study done on what athletes eat in a 24-hour period post exercise, whether they eat directly after or several hours later, it is found that they eat the same amount of calories. So if you are going to eat it later, you don’t get a deficit, but by not having eaten those calories in that 15 minute window after exercise, you lose the anabolic advantages of that window. Timing is critical.”

Dr. Portman emphasizes the importance of educating coaches in this area since they play a crucial role in athlete health. “This is not about nutrition, it’s about winning. It’s about techniques that you can use to get an edge over someone else and it’s about not getting passed in the last 10 yards of a race or petering out in multiple events. If coaches are concerned about these things, if they are concerned about making sure their athletes don’t get injured, then this is important. Remember, this is about winning, keeping healthy and getting an edge.”


Unfortunately, there are still coaches today that think withholding water or sports drinks from their athletes during workout will toughen them up. Instead, this behaviour ends up limiting the athlete. According to Dr. Portman, your body will reach a plateau as you lose water and muscle glycogen in a workout because there is insufficient recovery taking place as your muscle protein breaks down. “You can’t build beyond that point and it results in classic over-training syndrome; the harder you train, you just don’t seem to improve. The whole purpose of training is to improve your training level, have a strong workout, and come back the next day and be stronger.”

Withholding water or sports drink during workout actually teaches the athlete to train worse. “It is not a question of training, but simple thermodynamics. You build up heat and that has to do with the laws of physics. If you don’t maintain a certain body temperature, your cardio will decline and you don’t want to do that because you are still performing at the same energy level. Instead you are also training yourself to train at a lower level.”

So when athletes say they are going to a hot climate to train themselves to deal with the heat or humid environments can they actually do that? “You won’t change your body’s thermodynamic mechanisms, but you can change your body’s ability to consume water. How you adapt to that type of environment is to consume more fluids and you can train your gut to consume more fluids while you are exercising.”

The Performance Zone is a must have for any swimmer, coach or parent looking for the edge, be that in training or racing. We all suffer from the onslaught of messages in the media about nutrition, dieting, and supplementing to win. But if you are concerned about increasing your endurance and strength, reducing injuries and muscle soreness, accelerating recovery after training and competition, and reducing your chance of catching colds, then you need to read this book. Swimmers pound up and down the pool for hours a day and tens of thousands of metres a week. If you want information that is specific for your needs, then this resource will be invaluable.

The Performance Zone is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and at GNC stores.