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Award-Winning Swim Coach Talks Hydration

Scott Walker’s middle name should be water. His whole life has revolved around it, first as a talented swimmer-athlete, and later as a successful swim coach and mentor. He has been in, near, or on water constantly. Even his hobbies of boating and fishing (including coaching high school fishing) involve water.

Coach Walker was a standout swimmer in Kankakee IL at Eastridge High School, where he was a conference and district champion, a state finalist, a team captain and a pool record holder. He particularly excelled in the 100 and 200 backstroke events. He continued swimming on an athletic scholarship at Western Illinois University where he was a conference and school record holder; he was a four year mid-conference and conference finalist in his backstroke events. In 2007, he was inducted into the Kankakee High School Hall of Fame.

Walker’s passion for swimming led to a career in coaching several successful age group programs and both boys and girls swim teams at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange IL. Coach Walker has been awarded sectional coach of the year a remarkable 20 times. He has produced three Illinois high school state champions and one record holder. He has trained over 50 All American swimmers and over 35 of his high school swimmers have received monetary scholarships to their universities. Coach Walker currently coaches the boys swim team at LTHS and the Bullets age group club program (pictured are his son, Spencer, a member of both teams, and wife Melanie who also is a successful swim coach). He also was a successful summer swim club coach at the La Grange Field Club, where he showed his motivation skills by recruiting his high school swimmers to help win many conference meets.

I interviewed Coach Walker about hydration health for swimmers. There is an assumption that swimmers don’t sweat like football players or other athletes because they are in the water and thus don’t need to drink water in the pool. This is false. Competitive swimming is an intense sport which requires aggressive workouts and a high energy output to be successful. While observing a boy’s high school swim practice, Coach Walker pointed out the reddish skin color of most of the swimmers – “that is their sweat “, he remarked.

I asked about the recommended hydration schedule for these young athletes. “They’ve gotta carry water bottles and sip on them throughout the school day, before, during, and after practice,” Walker stated. “They keep their water bottles at the end of the lane on deck and swig a few times during breaks between sets even if they only stop for 10 seconds”. “Watch them now” he said and I saw a cluster of boys get to the end of their lanes for a break between workout sets and they all lifted water bottles to their lips and drank before flipping around and continuing to swim.

Walker pointed to two clear plastic disposable water bottles lying sideways on deck. “Those kids must be new to the team” he said, “because I don’t like those crummy kinds of bottles you buy from 7-Eleven that get thrown out after one time. I tell them go buy yourself your own bottle to put your name on that you can refill and reuse all day long besides during practice.”

I then asked about other beverages. When my own kids swam for Coach Walker they were told to drink no soda during swim season, and while I knew soda was unhealthy I never knew the physiological reason for athletes to avoid it. Walker explained that the carbonation prevents proper oxygenation to muscles for good athletic performance, and the sugar is unhealthy. Also, caffeinated soda can elevate the heart rate above the optimal rate desired during workouts. He explained that the target heart rate during a boy’s high school swim workout is around 150 for most of the two hours that they practice. If there is caffeine in the system even from the day before, the heart rate can easily rise to 160.

Then I asked about the use of Gatorade or other electrolyte supplements. Gatorade has been popularized in the general public as a drink that boosts athletic performance. In reality, maybe it should only be used to dump over the coach at the end of a football game, because of its high sugar content. Even though elite athletes who work out for longer than an hour lose electrolytes (such as salt and potassium) they probably are getting enough salt in their diet. If muscle cramping develops, Coach Walker advises that the athletes include daily bananas in the diet for potassium.

For swimming, Walker says that sports drinks are just inferior to plain old water. “What they need is just water, water, water” Walker stated. And coming from someone who lives and breathes water, water, water, I will take Walker’s advice and bring my (reusable) water bottle to my own lap swimming workouts!

Lisa Radville

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