It’s back to school time, when more kids are involved in sporting activities. Although being part of a football, soccer or Little League team is an important rite of passage for many children, parents and their children could be overlooking the importance of proper nutrition and body-conditioning needed for preventing injuries on and off the playing field.
Highly competitive sports such as football, soccer, gymnastics and wrestling follow rigorous training schedules that can be potentially dangerous to an adolescent or teenager. The best advice for parents who have young athletes in the family is to help them prepare their bodies and to learn to protect themselves from sports related injuries before they happen.
Proper warm up, stretching and strength-training exercises are essential for kids involved in sports, but many kids learn improper stretching or weight-lifting techniques, making them more susceptible to injury.
Proper nutrition and hydration are also extremely vital. Athletes need to drink even more than the eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water each day for proper absorption. Eating a healthy meal 2-4 hours before a practice or a game and another within 1-2 hours after a game or practice allows for proper replenishment and refuels the body.
Young athletes today often think they are invincible. Encourage your child to:
- Wear the proper equipment. Make sure all equipment, including helmets, pads and shoes fit your child or adolescent. Talk to your child’s coach or trainer if the equipment is damaged.
- Eat healthy meals. Make sure your young athlete does not skip meals. Avoid high-fat foods, such as candy bars and fast food, and provide fruit rather than cookies, and vegetables rather than potato chips.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Certain sports, such as gymnastics, wrestling and figure skating, may require your young athlete to follow strict dietary rules. Be sure your child does not feel pressured into being too thin and that he/she understands that proper nutrition and caloric intake is needed for optimal performance and endurance.
- Drink water. Hydration is a key element to optimal fitness. Teenage athletes should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Younger athletes should drink five to eight 8-ounce glasses of water.
- Drink milk. Make sure your child has enough calcium included in his/her diet. Milk is essential for healthy bones and reduces the risk of joint and muscle related injuries.
- Avoid sugar-loaded, caffeinated and carbonated drinks. Sports drinks are a good source of replenishment for those kids engaged in long duration sports, such as track and field.
- Follow a warm-up routine. Be sure your child or his/her coach includes a warm-up and stretching session before every practice, game or meet. A slow jog, jumping rope and/or lifting small weights reduces the risk of torn or ripped muscles.
- Take vitamins daily. A multi-vitamin and vitamin C are good choices for the young athlete. Vitamin B and amino acids may help reduce the pain from contact sports. Thiamine can help promote healing. Consider Vitamin A to strengthen scar tissue.
- Avoid trendy supplements. Kids under the age of 18 should avoid the use of performance-enhancing supplements, such as creatine. Instead, they should ask their coach or trainer to include weekly weight training and body-conditioning sessions in their workout.
- Get plenty of rest. Eight hours of sleep is ideal for the young athlete. Lack of sleep and rest can decrease performance.