Back To School: Five Tips To Keep Your Student Athlete Healthy

Back To School: Five Tips To Keep Your Student Athlete Healthy

This blog post was written by Dr. Mia Finkelston, a doctor on Amwell.

Many of our children are student athletes and quite often we, as parents, assume they are learning the appropriate things to do to take care of their athletic forms.Though I know each state requires coaches to be certified, not all coaches are as well informed or take the time to ensure proper understanding of physiology and care of the athletic physique.

As a parent of three student athletes and as a head coach of the local high school field hockey team, I try and combine the things I know as a doctor with the instruction I have been given by the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) and apply it on the field. Here are my top five tips to keep your own student athlete healthy this season:

Tip #1: Stay hydrated before and after competition.

Sure, all kids know to drink water but do they realize that they need to drink extra to prepare for an after school practice? Do they realize that when they sweat they lose even more fluid? Do they realize that they may perspire during the course of the day without any cardio activity?  A good rule of thumb is to drink from the water fountain whenever you pass one in the hall and to drink 1-2 cups of fluid at lunch. On your way to the field after school, you should drink another cup of water. Once out there working out, your coach will take breaks (frequency may vary) and encourage water consumption. If you are actively doing a cardiac activity for longer than 60 minutes, then you may want to re-hydrate with a sports drink or chocolate milk *(excellent evidence that this protein-carb combination may be the best replacement for you) if you can keep it cold. If you are exercising for less than 60 minutes, water is an adequate replacement fluid.

Tip #2: Acclimate to the heat.

Yes, your coaches should be helping you along with this, by gradually doing more in the heat every few days and by slowly adding in pads or gear, but it helps if you start out doing this yourself in the summer months. It may be too late this year, but remember to start getting in condition for your fall sports in the summer, preferably 4-6 weeks before you get out there for your tryouts. Make a note on your calendar now and you will be ahead of the game next year. Most coaches will make it known what is expected of the student athlete come tryouts so that you can prepare accordingly.

Tip #3: Get adequate sleep.

The evidence is solid that most children in K-12th grade, require 9 ½-12 hours of sleep a night.  It may vary slightly but these recommendations have been suggested by research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. In order to be in top performance shape on the field (and off) sleep is of paramount importance. It can help you with your daily energy as well as your ability to recover from physical stress. Your immune system will be in top “fighting” shape and so you can use your reserve for the field rather than to fight off infection.

Tip #4: Eating a healthy diet is a clear tip for best performance.

A basic rule of thumb is to eat everything you like in moderation and avoid processed foods as much as possible. Remembering that fatty foods take the longest to digest so they should be reserved for early morning eating and after practice or game meals. During the day, proteins and complex carbs are the best. One thing I find at our practice is that athletes forget to pack an extra snack to eat on the way out to the field. They often are tired, sometimes with a headache or they cannot run as well because of a lack of energy. I try to get parents or the athletes themselves to throw granola bars, fruit, peanut butter crackers or bags of nuts into their school bags or lockers for a quick but nutritious snack on the way out to the field. A palm size serving is all they need.  Sometimes the distraction of the Cheetos and Chips in the vending machines is too tempting, so having a snack already there will squelch that desire quickly.  I can’t speak for all coaches, but our coaching staff provides back up snacks for our athletes. We get large quantities of granola bars, nuts and dried fruits just for this reason.

Tip #5: Wear your safety gear.

You may not realize this but many studies have demonstrated that most injuries occur on the practice fields, not in the big games. That means that awareness and prevention are important on a daily basis. Wear your mouth guards, your helmets, your eye protection, and your appropriate shoe wear no matter what on the practice field. Concussions are occurring at an alarming rate, teeth get knocked out, and ankles get sprained when we are not wearing the correct equipment and when we are not conditioned adequately. Be smart and don’t take a chance.

As a coach, I am happiest when my players are well conditioned and are not negligent on the field. It starts at home, however, with a respect for the games, the rules and a knowledge base that can reinforce these good habits off the field.

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