Thomasville Times Enterprise

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March 15, 2014

Finding the edge

High school athletics have changed over the years.  Gone are the days, in most cases, for the opportunities to play a different sport every season. If you are running athlete, you run all year; if you are a swimmer, you swim all year; if you play baseball, its baseball all year.  Teens train hard all year and search for those ways to propel them to their goals. Maybe it’s the fast suit in swimming, the spikes in track or the bat in baseball. Doing everything right is no guarantee that all will go perfectly, without an injury or illness that results in a break or missed competition. But there are certain things that are in the athlete’s control.  Stepping up the effort to do those things that can keep athletes healthy and make a real difference in their performance, daily training and the outcome of their season goes hand in hand with that fast suit, bat or spike shoe. Food, drink and sleep are all factors that, with some attention, could make the finish line that much easier to reach.

Get enough sleep. That is easier said than done for all of us, but especially our high schoolers. The importance of sleep is highlighted by studies that show that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy and reaction time in athletes (and school performance too, of course.) Just as athletes in training need more calories, they also need more sleep. Sleep is recovery time for the body, so it is needed for good performance. Sleep not only helps boost athletic performance, it also boosts the immune system so it can build resistance and fight illness.

Eat the right foods. Depending on the intensity and length of training, athletes have their own individual nutrition needs. But for most athletes sound nutrition can generally be achieved by consuming a diet that includes a variety of foods from different food groups throughout the day. A diet that promotes good health and peak performance is made up of appropriate amounts of carbohydrate-rich fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products and whole grain foods, along with adequate protein and healthful fats for optimum performance. In addition to healthy food choices, consuming adequate calories, ensuring appropriate hydration and planned meal timing can power an athlete to proper health, growth and top performance. How an athlete fuels will make a difference in how he trains and competes.

Eat what you need. Each athlete and sport is different. Some sports, no matter how many hours practiced, aren’t going to require a significant increase in calories. But when an athlete increases the intensity of play and frequency of concentrated training or competition, the number of calories needed to maintain body weight increases. If an athlete is growing, the calorie needs go up even more dramatically.  Athletes should have their weight checked regularly on a calibrated scale to look for chronic weight changes. Weight fluctuations between weeks are normal, but a continual downward trend is troubling. For these “lucky” individuals, eating must be a priority to prevent weight loss.

Make hydration a priority.  A lack of fluids can without question hurt athletic performance. Fluids are important for your health, too. Fluid in blood transports glucose to the muscles and carries away lactic acid. Sweat dissipates heat via the skin and urine eliminates waste products. Adequate fluid is necessary for the body to perform those functions. It is necessary to monitor hydration and ensure sufficient intake of liquids. On a daily basis, the athlete should drink enough to be properly hydrated when training begins. Water is perfect for everyday hydration while sports drinks have a role to play in exercise that lasts more than an hour.

What the athlete does every day is just as important as his habits on game day. By emphasizing proper nutrition, hydration and sleep, competition day can bring more best times, PR’s, homeruns, 3 pointers, or touchdowns.

Crumpacker is a registered dietitian and owner of Go Nutritious. Visit Barbra at gonutritious.com or email her at rd@gonutritious.com.

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