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5 Tips to Keep Your School-Aged Athlete Healthy
It’s that time of year again. Kids are hopping on the bus and practices have begun! There’s nothing quite like a few minutes of peace and quiet without the kids, right?
As a parent, I know that your child’s safety and well-being are important. It’s gut-wrenching when your child comes home and tells you they’re in pain. So, instead of just waiting for the injury to pop up, I wanted to go over several things that you can help implement to keep your youth athlete healthy over time.
Nutrition is Key
Ultimately, making sure your athlete is eating enough and hydrated are of utmost importance. When meals are skipped and fluid is ignored, performance changes occur. If your child wants to improve their performance or perform consistently, it’s not always about training more. Sometimes, it’s about training less and putting the right things in their body to prevent performance breakdown. I’m not a nutrition expert, but I can tell you that where most young athletes fail dietarily is not consuming enough food or fluids. If you do a basic google search on “how much a high school athlete should eat” you will see that female and male athletes should be consuming on average a minimum of 2,200 kcals and 3,000 kcal respectively. I’m not going to go over the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and fat here. However, if you feel as if this is something that your young athlete is struggling with, make sure you consult your local sports dietician!
If you’ve read any of my other posts from the past, you should know I am a big fan of strength training young athletes early. Why? It’s always important to improve an athlete’s overall capacity. Although you may think that your son or daughter playing their respective sport several times a week is adequate, it is not the case. Strength training helps athletes to improve their muscular strength, power production, movement patterns and most importantly decreases their risk for injuries. It also has a very positive effect on young athletes’ bone density. Now, strength training needs to be implemented in a well-tailored manner. That means supervision, education on lifting movements and the use of periodization principles. Out of season, we recommend 3-4 times per week focusing on building a proper strength base. In-season, strength training is recommended 1-2 weeks working on maintaining what your athlete developed in their off-season.
Exercise Variability & Rest
Does your child run, swim, or play one field sport 12 months a year? If so, that should change. As youth sports specialization is at an all-time high, it’s essential to recognize that even your all-star needs to do something different. This includes several periods of rest throughout the year. Yes, even your energizer bunny of a child should lay low at times.
Varying your child’s sporting activities will aid in musculoskeletal development and decrease injury risk. Lack of movement variability has been shown to be detrimental to long-term health. If your child is a swimmer, cycler, or runner, this is of utmost importance. Why? These sports have predictable movement patterns as compared to their field sports counterparts. Research shows that athletes with predictable movement patterns have lower bone density than their field athlete counterparts.
So, even if you cannot find a way to have your athlete participate in different sports throughout the year, make sure you find things to do that challenge them. This could be as simple as taking your child on a hike, playing backyard basketball, or setting up obstacle courses in your backyard.
In the past, I’ve written about something called “Identity Crisis” as an athlete. This is when an athlete loses their sense of self when they are not performing well or are unable to participate in their sport due to injury or other circumstances. Many young athletes become over-invested in their sport and lack other interests. Making sure your young athlete has hobbies outside of their sport, is extremely important for their mental health and well-being. Whether this hobby is reading, writing, singing, or even playing video games, make sure they enjoy other things!
This is where healthcare providers, parents, and coaches often go wrong. Why? We’re afraid to ask the right questions. When it comes to the health and well-being of a young athlete, there are several things you should discuss with your child athlete regularly.
- Ask about sleep. Young athletes need more rest than adults. This means more than 8 hours of sleep per night. If your child does not sleep, they will not recover, and performance will likely decline. Make sure you keep tabs on your child’s sleeping habits!
- Discuss Eating! Making sure high school athletes eat and drink enough throughout the day is extremely important. Why? If not, their bodies enter an energy deficiency and throw their neuroendocrine system into fight or flight mode. A lot of young athletes avoid meals or do not drink enough in school due to myriad reasons. So, make sure you don’t avoid the topic in conversation.
- Discuss menstrual cycles and morning erections. I know this is more than uncomfortable to discuss. However, if you realize that your child athlete’s performance is waning or they’re losing weight, you want to ask these questions. Did you know that not experiencing either of these two things regularly is a RED FLAG? No, an athlete’s reproductive system should not shut down or turn off hormones due to peak athleticism. It is abnormal for a female athlete to lose her menstrual cycle. It is also alarming when a young male does not experience morning wood. If these things do not occur, it is likely that your child is in an energy deficiency and things such as training volume and intensity as well as dietary habits need to be addressed!
- Ask your child about their day. Just a simple, “How are you doing?”, will give you an insight into your child’s well-being. Discuss stress, friends, and check in often! If you notice that they’re upset or stressed secondary to friendships, poor performance, or school find ways to help. Don’t think that poor mental health is just a phase! Stigmas regarding mental health need to change. Whether it be performance or stress related, don’t hesitate to add someone such as a psychologist or LCSW to the team!
As always, I hope this information helps you help others! If you have any questions about what you’ve read in this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Here’s to keeping young athletes healthy and happy!