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QUESTIONS FROM HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES
“What Can I do to recover and prepare for an upcoming competition or match?”
Over the years we have had the luxury of working with many high school (HS) athletes and now we’re going to let them take the wheel for some info. They’re speaking, and they have some great questions.
In my first attempt at this task, we’re going to discuss three critical pieces of the recovery pie. And how those three things will put a youth athlete into the best possible situation to succeed because they are all within the athlete’s control.
This particular question came into the clinic from a couple of different athletes about mid-way through the Fall season. They wanted to know what are the best tips for recovering and making sure they are rested and ready as can be for competitions. Phenomenal question!
**Preparation for competition starts days before the actual match**
And the three areas I would have a HS athlete focus on for recovery and prep for an upcoming competition or match are sleep, nutrition, and hydration. They facilitate physical recovery, and are all within the control of the athlete. It’s a no-brainer!
I’ll say that again because it bears repeating. Preparation for any match starts days before the big day because it is important to check off all boxes for sleep, nutrition, and hydration. And you can’t make up for lost time. In order to ensure you are rested and recovered you should really give yourself a three-day buffer to assess your situation and make a plan.
This is also important because you may have school assignments, meetings, group projects, rehearsals, homework, tests, etc., or anything in between in any given week and they are also important for your schedule. Take a look at your upcoming week and make some plans. It’s great to have a routine for eating, hydrating and sleeping. In fact, it is encouraged for your body to ensure quality preparation, but more importantly, these routines will help you when you get a curveball thrown at you so you can shift things slightly without compromising quality. Because sometimes if you can’t get the quantity of sleep, let’s say, due to late obligations or unforeseen circumstances, you can’t buffer yourself with good quality by making sure your routine is the same and you’re not too stressed out about the change. Usually, you can always have water and food with you to ensure proper hydration.
NUTRITION & HYDRATION
Nutrition and hydration are important to fuel the body. It seems common-sensical, but the more I work the more I see a lot of athletes are under-fueled and under-hydrating. This is some of the easiest low-hanging fruit for them to pick to make the most return on their investment for performance and health.
Hydrating can start hours before a competition. You don’t need to start hydrating the day before because you may end up just peeing a lot and getting your steps in as you hit the bathroom 20x a day. So while this doesn’t need to start days before, the assumption is a HS athlete will be practicing most days so some consistent hydration is crucial throughout the week.
When it comes to nutrition, I really don’t want to get too deep because I think HS athletes have a buffer. Based on the trends I’ve seen in the clinic, they just need to eat more. Seriously, most HS athletes will benefit from eating more quality meals throughout the day and not skipping out on carbs. Too many skip breakfast and too many have long gaps between their meals for whatever reason. Yes, that may be a school-scheduling hurdle, but you can still plan ahead with some small meal prepping at your locker or in your bag at regular intervals.
My recs for food are to ensure a quality breakfast with a decent amount of calories, not just a pop tart with OJ although that’s better than nothing. Get a few decent-sized meals throughout the day because most HS athletes are up very early around 6-7 am if not earlier, and don’t practice until the afternoon. That’s too long to go without food so plan a snack every 2-3 hours and don’t skip out on carbs. I don’t care how shredded or lean you want to look for social media pics. Carbs are the priority for youth athletes with packed weekly schedules.
And don’t wait until it’s too late. Start fueling the body days before the event also. You can’t make up for lost time. Don’t starve your body of quality and necessary calories that are needed to heal from previous practice sessions, but also necessary to fuel your upcoming efforts. The calories can’t be split like that. Your body needs consistency in intake for that reason.
Sleep aids recovery. Period. Most HS athletes need more sleep. Their sleep requirements are off the charts and I’d say a conservative number would be saying 75% are below the necessary threshold. We will talk more in-depth about sleep next time. But for now, focus on getting good quality sleep three days before the event, not just the night before.
Three days is the magic number for HS athletes because you can’t make up for lost time. You want to accumulate good sleep throughout the week because you have busy schedules as it is, and you can’t wait until just the night before to get your quality and quantity in. Your body needs a few days of good sleep to recover adequately from all physical, emotional, and psychological stresses, etc. Even good stress is still stress. So again, put yourself in a position to succeed.
Have a good sleep routine and get in a good headspace before bed so you can ensure you’ll fall into deep restful sleep cycles. Ditch those screens an hour before bed, and don’t wait till the last minute with homework and other chores because then your mind is racing and you’re not in a routine for “shut down” mode. This is perhaps one of the most important tips and tricks (this is what you asked for) for helping recover and helping to prep for a stellar match-day performance. And it is completely within your control. Make your sleep a priority. Make your bed a personal space for restfulness and don’t stress yourself out before bed.
So for all of you HS athletes looking for an edge over the competition, these are our suggestions to recover and prepare for game day. Don’t skip out on your nutrition and hydration, and maximize the quality and quantity of your sleep starting days before that circle on the calendar.