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Adventure Magazine

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First Responder
In the ever diversifying world of outdoor sports, we all hit a few road blocks en route to peak performance. First Responder, a monthly column in our new Performance section, seeks to demystify the everyday snags that miff your game. By Mike Benoist and Tess Weaver

Do the low-carb energy bars recently introduced by Balance Bar, PowerBar, Atkins, and others actually boost energy levels?

"In my opinion, the terms 'low carb' and 'energy' don't belong together," says sports dietician Bob Seebohar of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado. "For people engaged in endurance pursuits, the only thing worse than a low-carb [diet] would be not hydrating." Exercise burns carbohydrate stores; energy bars replenish these carbs, creating a spike in blood-sugar levels and a boost in energy. Accordingly, "low-carb bars have little effect on blood sugar," Seebohar says. Ironically, conventional energy bars and the new low-carb ones both contain around 30 grams (1.6 ounces) of total carbohydrates and up to 30 grams (1.6 ounces) of protein—the difference is in the type of carbs. About 90 percent of the total carbohydrates in the new products come from sugar alcohol, which doesn't affect blood sugar. "That's why low-carb bars won't stave off the infamous bonk session for more than a few minutes," says Seebohar.

Last summer, a friend was stung by a bee and ended up in the E.R. because of a previously undetected allergy. How can I be ready for something like that in the backcountry?

"Allergies have a strong genetic component," says Tammi Young of the Colorado Allergy and Asthma Center. "Generally, if no one in your family has allergies, it is less likely one will come out of the blue." On the other hand, if you already have hay fever or allergic reactions to dog dander or anything else, you could suddenly find yourself suffering after a bee sting—even if you've been stung without incident in the past. Prior to heading into the wilderness, ask your allergist about a prescription for an EpiPen, which allows you to inject a dose of epinephrine to stop a dangerous anaphylactic reaction. Many people suffer milder, non-anaphylactic reactions to insect venom; standard antihistamines can usually relieve symptoms in these cases.

I often twist my ankles during trail runs. Otherwise, I'm pretty coordinated. What's going on?

"Runners with weak ankles often have nerve damage from previous sprains and can't feel their ankles' position," says Stephen Pribut, vice president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. This can lead to more missteps and twisted ankles. To make sure your foot meets the trail at the proper angle, invest in a comfortable lace-up or neoprene ankle brace. These braces can help your foot strike the ground in a neutral position. Second, you can improve your balance and strengthen your ankles by using a wobble board (basically a round plank atop a halved ball). "You'll want to start slow, rocking front to back for about 30 seconds a day," says Pribut. Each week, incorporate an additional 30-second exercise (side to side, clockwise then counterclockwise, on one foot, etc.) until your daily wobble-board session lasts a total of at least four minutes.

Contact lenses are a pain at home and even worse in the woods. Glasses don't stay on when I sweat. I'm thinking about eye surgery—should I do it?

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (the $2,000-per-eye mouthful better known as LASIK) came on the scene in 1995 and has since received a steady flow of praise—and some criticism. A new procedure called Custom LASIK is resulting in fewer of the complaints—halos, problems seeing in dim light, lack of color contrast—associated with conventional LASIK. "There is no doubt the accuracy is better," says Carl Ryan, a Bend, Oregon, optometrist. "The results are improving with LASIK, but with Custom LASIK, many customers see clearer than they ever had [with corrective lenses]." But, according to Samuel Masket, clinical professor of ophthalmology at UCLA, "replacement lenses are the wave of the future." These $2,500 synthetic lenses are swapped in for a patient's malformed corneas. The FDA approved the first of these lenses, called Crystalens, late last year. However, Masket advises you to cope with the hassle of contact lenses for a while longer: "If people are patient, they will be able to achieve the best possible vision within the decade."

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What's your performance question?

Send your health and performance questions to adventure@ngs.org, subject line: First Responder, and we'll bring back answers from the experts—all you have to do is e-mail us >>

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September 2004

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