3 Steps to Keep Your Youth Athlete Healthy
By: Meggan M. Brunette, B.S., C.S.C.S, USA-W
The new school year has started and the crazy schedules have begun once again! With an increased school load, lack of proper nutrition, higher intensity sports season, and a general lack of awareness for overall health and time management, many youth athletes are left wondering how to stay healthy throughout the year. Follow these 3 steps to keep them at their best level of performance.
WATCH THE DIET:
It is vital for our athletes to eat a balanced diet to compete at their highest potential. As we have been reviewing with our athletes this past month, “EAT THIS NOT THAT” has provided our athletes with the proper tools to make healthier decisions. A balanced diet of lean proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats is best to stay healthy and strong. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for an active athlete. A diet including complex carbohydrates consists of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Lean proteins including eggs, turkey, lean meats, and low-sugar dairy products will feed athletes muscles, supporting their hard work in the gym. Make sure your athlete stays hydrated while avoiding high-sugar juices or sports drinks. Watch out for meals provided by school cafeterias as they can be high in sugar, saturated fats, and overall calories. A busy schedule and improper nutrition can be a combination leading to decreased strength of immunity. Make sure athletes are eating 4-5 smaller meals each day and not skipping meals before practice or competition to keep energy levels stable and immune systems strong.
PRIORITIZE TIME and GET ENOUGH SLEEP:
It is really difficult to find this balance with some of our older athletes. High School educational requirements, team sports, private skills coaches, SAT prep classes, on top of trying to fit in a social life, leaves our athletes EXHAUSTED. Not only is it important to get enough rest to recover from the physically taxing workouts our athletes go through, it also keeps their immune system healthy and less likely to fall victim to whichever current illness is spreading through the local schools. An inability to properly prioritize time can lead to increased stress and once again, a jeopardized immune system for your athlete. It is important to maintain awareness of the demands of their school schedule and how they are handling their school requirements. Many times athletes will be leaving a session here late at night to go home and do homework for three to four more hours. This is not healthy for them in any respect and schedule changes should be made to prevent student athletes from placing these detrimental demands on their bodies. To be successful in high school and beyond, it is important they figure out time management now.
DON’T OVERLOOK INJURIES:
It is important that athletes pay attention to how they are feeling on a daily basis. Although it is important to push our athletes to get better, proper intensity of training needs to be considered each day. Staph infection is commonly seen and can spread very quickly through teams. Therefore, each cut or scrape needs to be cleaned and covered to prevent any kind of infection like this from spreading. Overuse injuries are very common among youth athletes who have limited themselves to playing one sport year-round. Additional strength and stability exercises should be completed regularly to prevent common injuries of the shoulder, knee, or back. Proper stretching before and after activity is a much needed and frequently overlooked component to injury prevention. Depending on which sport your athlete plays, certain stretches should be focused on over others. For example, for athletes in a constant squat position, special attention should be spent on the hip flexors, quadriceps, and gluteus muscles. For many overhead athletes, special attention needs to be on the muscles of and surrounding the rotator cuff. As parents, it is important to watch for a change in body mechanics, performance, or signs of discomfort to identify a possible injury. Usually, it pays off to see your primary physician right away as opposed to waiting and prolonging more advanced care should it be needed. Watch for proper body mechanics during running, cutting, lifting, as well as through sports specific skilled movements. Many unqualified coaches may overlook proper body mechanics when focusing on a group of athletes, while neglecting the different athletic levels of each individual. Therefore, proper body awareness and body mechanics education should be given to the athlete as early in their career as possible.