by Senior Clinician Victoria Fisher

Being injured is an athlete’s worst nightmare. Having to sit on the sidelines as a spectator is almost as agonizing as the injury itself! Sadly, more and more young athletes experience frequent, chronic, or career-ending injuries. Here are some ways to help you or the athlete in your life prevent injuries and maximize their athletic potential.

Practice, Training, Conditioning
You know the saying “practice makes perfect”? For athletes, this statement is absolutely true, and not just in reference to athletic performance. Regular practice helps an athlete learn proper technique and form, which allows for the use of appropriate body mechanics during training and competition. When an athlete moves correctly, the musculoskeletal system is protected from potential injury. Proper training and conditioning increases muscle strength and endurance, which in turn improves performance while protecting muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons from injury.

Proper training includes warming up, stretching and cooling down, all of which are vital for preventing injuries. Warming up increases blood flow to muscles, mobilizes synovial fluid in the joints, and increases core body temperature, all of which make the body less susceptible to injury. Stretching (especially after exercise) balances the muscle force surrounding joints, protecting them from wear and tear. Stretching and cooling down also improve flexibility and range of motion, increase oxygenation and blood flow to muscles, and remove inflammatory toxins (such as lactic acid) from the tissue.

Hydration
Water is an essential nutrient that is required for a multitude of functions, including nutrient and waste transport, conduction of nerve impulses, cushioning/lubrication of organs and joints, and body temperature regulation. When an athlete trains or competes, heat is generated from the body. This heat must be used or released in order to maintain homeodynamics. The most efficient way to release the heat is through perspiration and exhalation. These methods of heat loss also cause athletes to lose water and electrolytes, possibly leading to dehydration. When an athlete is dehydrated, they are at increased risk of injury. Dehydration disrupts electrolyte balance, which can deprive muscles, ligaments and tendons of vital nutrients, thus decreasing function. This leads to fatigue, and can result in the use of poor body mechanics, making the athlete more susceptible to injury.

Hydration status should be addressed before, during, and after training and competing. Hydration needs vary by individual, length of training/competing, and conditions (i.e. extreme heat or cold, elevation). Here is a general guideline for rehydration during training or competition:

Everyday Drink adequate fluids. Roughly 1 mL for every calorie consumed. Generally, this should be about half your body weight in ounces, not to exceed 100 ounces (unless approved by your clinician).
2-3 hours before training/competition 17 ounces
Immediately prior to training/competition 6-12 ounces
Every 15-20 minutes during training/competition 6-12 ounces
Exercise longer than one hour Be sure to include a natural carbohydrate source in the form of solid, gel, or sports drinks.* Consume roughly 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour.
After exercise 24 ounces for every pound lost from the training session or competition

*The Well of Life does not promote the consumption of processed sugars and sports drinks. Sports drinks are often filled with synthetic electrolytes, processed sugars and/or artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and a multitude of other unsavory ingredients. For most athletes, pure, clean water is all that is required for adequate hydration. If an athlete needs electrolyte replacement in addition to hydration, please speak with your clinician regarding rehydrating beverages.

Diet
Diet plays a vital role in the life of an athlete. Food supplies the necessary fuel to keep the body going, as well as the building blocks required for tissue growth and repair. The quality of food will determine the quality of energy, muscles, and joints. Think of a contractor building a house; that contractor knows the best finished product will be a direct result of the quality of materials used in construction. The same is true of our bodies; we literally are what we eat! Athletes must be conscious of the quality of the food they are ingesting each day in order to compete well and prevent injuries.

Athletes’ bodies often have a greater demand for enhanced macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) as well as larger amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). This often means that athletes require more calories each day, along with supplementation (branch chain amino acids, fish oils and extra fat intake, minerals, etc.). The caloric intake of an athlete should be 30-40% protein, 30-40% fat, and only 20-40% carbohydrates. Just as important as what an athlete eats is when that food is eaten. The body needs proper fuel before training or competition, as well as the right resources for rest, repair, and recovery. What an athlete eats before and after training or competition can make all the difference in performance and injury prevention.

Rest
Allowing the body to rest is good for physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Athletes need the proper amounts of rest to allow their bodies to recover from training and competition. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while teens often need 9-12 hours. Being in parasympathetic mode allows our bodies to rest and digest, heal and restore. Sleep gives the immune system permission to recharge so that it can heal and repair strained or damaged tissues.

Constantly pushing through pain and fatigue is unsafe, and increases the risk for injuries. Allotting time to rest while training and competing can greatly reduce injuries. Athletes who train year-round need to take time off to protect their bodies from overuse injuries. It’s ideal to take 1 day off per week, as well as 1 month off per year from all training and competition. Use this recovery time to eat well, stretch, and care for your mental and emotional self.

Athletes should invest just as much time and effort into hydration, diet, and rest as they do to training. This will aid in prevention of sports injuries as well as help you reach your full potential as an athlete. For more information and guidance on your specific dietary, hydration, and supplementation needs as an athlete, speak with your clinician, or call to schedule a new client consultation.

Victoria Fisher, RN, NTP, certified in Autonomic Response Testing
Victoria is the Senior Clinician at the Well of Life Center for Natural Health. The Well of Life Center is a holistic wellness center that specializes in nutrition, chiropractic, massage services, and more. Celebrating their 11th year in business, the Well of Life Center has locations in Doylestown and Bethlehem, as well as a Spa & Fitness center in Ottsville, PA. For more information, please visit welloflifecenter.com.

Sources
https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/pages/sports-injury-prevention-tip-sheet.aspx
https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=sZbVLzLr80kC&oi=fnd&pg=PA31&dq=stretching+and+injury+prevention&ots=h0neF6C8tw&sig=N6YnYOQXgVgTRlsPriCjB_z_q6c#v=onepage&q=stretching%20and%20injury%20prevention&f=false
http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2010/09/08/when-and-how-should-you-warm-up-stretch-exercise-and-cool-down.aspx
https://breakingmuscle.com/healthy-eating/an-athlete-s-guide-to-hydration-when-what-and-how-much
http://www1.villanova.edu/content/dam/villanova/studentlife/documents/healthpromotion/Hydration%20guideline%20for%20athletes.pdf
Nutritional Therapy Association “Sports Nutrition” module 2011