Radford Professor trained with, researched Paralympic athletes leading up to 2016 Games

RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) The 2016 Paralympics kicked off in Rio on September 7 with the top athletes from around the country competing.

There are athletes there from Team USA who trained this Summer with a Radford University professor to prepare.

While Olympic athletes have teams helping them train for the games, experts in the Paralympics found there wasn't much help anywhere when trying to prepare an athlete.

"The nutritionist, when she went looking for information, had a difficult time finding proper nutrient needs for short events, long distance events," said J.P Barfield, an associate professor of Exercise Science at Radford and the assistant chair of Health and Human Performance. "So our work essentially helped their team identify what they may need in Rio during the actual games."

So Dr. Barfield and a team of nearly 12 worked with eight Paralympic athletes this Summer tracking their carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and see how those were used in creating energy.

Dr. Barfield explained, "We essentially had athletes wear a mask during about a 12-13 mile simulated race, and then every minute or every 30 seconds we looked at energy use to identify exactly what each individual athlete would need."

He went onto say, "One of the benefits of looking at energy expenditure is so we can understand what type of nutrition they need, not just for one event but for multi events. Many people have seen Tatyana McFadden is competing in seven events during the Paralympics this year."

McFadden has won 11 Paralympic medals since 2004 and she's already added a gold and silver to that medal count in these games.

Dr. Barfield now gets to watch McFadden and the other athletes that he worked with over the summer compete in Rio.

"It's impressive when you think every day they're dealing with an impairment or everyday they're in a chair and how much work it takes just to do their everyday activities and then on top of that they're an elite athlete," he said.

But that doesn't mean the work is done. Dr. Barfield said much more research is needed in preparation of the next Paralympic Games in 2020, and all the games after that.

"With Paralympic athletes there's a huge amount of variation and it's so important for competition because people are classed so that competition is equal," he said. "So there's needs to be much more research on what makes people equal, what makes them not equal, so it's their skill that's defining their performance, not the impairment."