As Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games approach, experts give tips for athletes, weekend warriors, and travelers

With less than a month until the Summer Olympic Games in Paris, and with Olympic Trials taking place all around the world in different sports, Virginia Tech experts offer perspective on aspects of the competitions, applying Olympic habits to our own lives, and how the Games are impacting both travel to and life on the ground in Paris. To schedule an interview, please contact [email protected].

How aerodynamics and hydrodynamics can be the difference between winning gold and missing the podium

Ever wonder why you see open water swimmers form an arrow pattern or cyclists riding in tight packs? Just how much of a difference can drafting really make? It turns out, quite a lot more than you might think. “You can save up to 20% of effort while drafting during open water swimming, and up to 35% of effort when drafting in a big pack during cycling,” says Chris Roy, who teaches in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, and who is also a former college swimmer and current competitive triathlete. Streamlining body position is also key in both disciplines, with more efficient body position making a bigger difference when drafting isn’t an option. For non-drafting events, such as Olympic pool swimming and cycling’s individual time trial, “optimizing the aero/hydrodynamics of body position is just as important as generating power,” says Roy.

From Olympians to weekend warriors, how peanuts can deliver the lean mass muscle gains athletes seek

One of the most effective ways for athletes to get stronger without adding unnecessary bulk is by increasing their lean mass. Compared to the massive amount of research that has been conducted on weight loss, very little is understood about the best energy and micronutrients to fuel healthy gains in lean mass and overall body weight. Enette Larson-Meyer from the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture recently conducted research on the impact of introducing peanut-based foods to athletes’ diets, providing them with a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fats in a calorically-dense form.

Olympic athletes consume more than a gallon of water a day. But how much do we really need?

Recommendations for elite athlete water consumption can range from four to six liters per day. But how much water should the rest of us really be drinking? “It comes out to about eight glasses of water a day, but we get water from different sources other than just drinking it, so the answer is not as straightforward as it seems,” says Stella Volpe, head of the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. That number fluctuates depending on both your level of activity, as well as your environment, with both exercise and the summer heat and humidity increasing the body’s hydration needs.

If you’re worried you’re not getting enough water, Volpe says to be on the lookout for thirst, dark urine, and noticeable weight loss following physical activity. While it’s rare, an overconsumption of water can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, in which the body’s water-to-electrolyte ratio can become too high. This can happen more often for marathon runners and triathletes, who have unusually high electrolyte needs. “But the average person who is physically active and healthy doesn’t need to take in a lot more electrolytes than a person who is healthy and not exercising much,” says Volpe.

Can exercise be better than medicine at preventing diseases?

Every Olympic cycle inspires people to take up new sports. And we’ve long known that exercise improves overall health and helps prevent disease. But the reasons why exercise does that haven’t been fully understood. Zhen Yan, a professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, recently helped discover thousands of alterations in bodies after various durations of endurance exercise training.

“For most people in most situations, exercise is better than medicine,” says Yan. “This data suggests that exercise can be a very potent and profound protection against diseases, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and many others. This study unveiled things that we did not know, and I think it’s the beginning of revealing significant impacts of exercise in how it promotes health and prevents diseases.” Read more.

Why the 2024 Games will define the legacies of some of Team USA’s biggest stars

The Olympics have always provided a platform for lesser-known athletes to springboard into global superstars. And while there will no doubt be new stars born in Paris, the 2024 Summer Games also offer a spotlight for the likes of Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky to cement their legacies in their respective sports. “These two athletes have compelling stories that will broaden and draw returning audiences to this year’s summer Olympics,” says communications professor Megan Duncan. “It’s great to see people paying attention to these athletes’ stories and showcasing the competitiveness and skill of women on Team USA.”

The presence of such giants in their sports also offers the possibility of developing underdog stories. “I’m excited to see who emerges as a heroine that we don’t yet know their name,” says Duncan. “Someone parents and children can bond over and inspire the next generation.”

How AI is impacting your Olympic travel plans

An event the size and magnitude of the Olympics not only dramatically impacts price and availability of travel to and from Paris, but also for the entire region. One study found hotels around Paris charging an average of 226% more than normal for rooms, as well as spikes in flight prices to Paris and surrounding cities, while Paris itself will double prices for its public transportation during the Games. Whether you’re trying to attend the Games, or just looking to travel to Europe this summer, artificial intelligence is likely playing a role in your planning and your budgeting.  

Zheng “Phil” Xiang, professor and the department head of the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, studies travel information search. He can explain the significant technological shifts in the tourism industry over the past decade, including the influence of social media and artificial intelligence on trip research and the experience itself. More here.

A first-person view of how the ‘greenest Games’ are shaping up

From the massive project to clean up the Seine river and make it swimmable, to urban infrastructure overhaul, the Paris Games are trying to be the greenest on record. That’s even led to some pushback, especially over the choice to not use air conditioning, with delegations including Team USA planning to bring their own air conditioning units with them. Professor of French Richard Shryock is on the ground in Paris this summer and can speak to how some of the green overhauls are actually functioning in and around the city as it swells with tourists for the Games.

Virginia Tech athletes/coaches who have qualified for Paris 2024 so far

Ian Ho, Hong Kong, Swimming & Diving, 50-meter freestyle

Mario Molla Yanes, Spain, Swimming & Diving, 100-meter Butterfly + 4×100-meter freestyle relay + 4×100-meter medley relay

Carmen Weiler Sastre, Spain, Swimming & Diving, 100-meter backstroke + 200-meter backstroke

Carles Coll Marti, Spain, Swimming & Diving, 4×100-meter medley relay

Luis Dominguez Calogne, Spain, Swimming & Diving, 4×100-meter freestyle relay + 4×200-meter freestyle relay

Emily Santos, Panama, Swimming & Diving, 100-meter breaststroke

Sergio Lopez Miro (Coach), Iceland, Swimming & Diving

More on these Hokie athletes can be found here. Olympic Trials are ongoing and more athletes will be vying to secure their tickets to Paris in the coming days and weeks.

For interviews with athletes and coaches, please contact Olivia Mensch in the Athletics Communications office at [email protected].

For more experts on other topics and research related to the Olympics, click here.

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