This weekend's tragic death of a Virginia Union University football player has brought up the often forgot about topic of athlete health, especially during the hottest days of Summer. Though the cause of death is not known in the case of Panther's defensive end Quandarius Wilburn, it does spark a much needed review on ways athletes can stay healthy on and off the field. You can read the full story here.
High School and College athletes are known for pushing past pain and fatigue in hopes of landing a coveted spot at the next level. This often comes at the risk of severe injury, or worse, by not taking care of themselves health wise. Though not exhaustive, this list of tips will help ensure you or your athlete stay healthy this summer/fall season.
Sounds simple, right? When you get thirsty drink water, right? In reality, by the time your body is telling you it's thirsty you are already in the early stages of dehydration. And when you use as much energy as athletes do, coupled with the amount of sweat expelled from your body, simply drinking water isn't enough.
To stay hydrated before, during, and after playing/practice, incorporate foods into your diet which are high in water content. These foods include fruits such as watermelon, grapes, oranges, and strawberries just to name a few. Many vegetables are high in water content, such as carrots, zucchini, and cucumber. The key is to use these foods to help replenish and build your body's water supply naturally versus gulping abnormal amounts of water or sports drinks, which doesn't add much to your overall health.
We here often how bad too much sodium is for our bodies. What we don't here often is how much our bodies need sodium, or salt. The average person only needs 2,000 mg of sodium, on average, per day. When getting this amount of sodium per day, even a regular exerciser, meaning someone who exercises 30-60 minutes a day 5-7 days a week, doesn't need any additional sodium in their diet. Athletes, however, do.
Athletes produce massive amounts of sweat which essentially leaches sodium from their bodies. When this sodium loss isn't supplemented, adverse health issues might occur, such as cramps and headaches. These often happen during exertion, so you need to plan ahead to combat it.
Many sports drinks do have sodium and/or electrolytes in them. The problem with these, though, is the added sugar which is not needed. Instead of sucking down excessive amounts of those drinks, try eating foods rich in sodium a couple of hours before play or practice time. These can be crackers or pretzels.
On the flip side, some can be too sensitive to sodium, meaning it could cause a rise in their blood pressure. If you are in this category, check with you team's medical experts to see what they recommend you do to balance your sodium.
All athletes in all sports are accustomed to stretching together during the warmup portion of the practice or game. What doesn't happen often, though, is stretching after play is over, and in the days following. Stretching should be done every day as part of your normal workout and exercise routine. Without proper stretching you are opening yourself up for muscle cramps, or more severe sprains and tears.
Get proper nutrients throughout the week
Many teams have a team meal the day of a game meant to fuel your bodies for that evening's matchup. The problem with this is the body doesn't have time to process the meal and pull the nutrients from the food before your team plays.
Food takes at least 24 hours to digest through our bodies, sometimes even longer. The best way to ensure you have the nutrients you need to exert yourself during practice or a match is to eat proper foods throughout the week rather than "carbo-loading" the day of, or even the day before. While we practice to play better, we should be eating better throughout the week as well.
At the very least, the night before a hard practice or game is when you should have a meal rich in protein, fats, and carbs to ensure you have the calories in store to exert the next day.
This isn't an exhaustive list, nor one meant to fully prevent any injury or tragic loss. It is, though, meant to be a starting point to ensuring you and/or your athletes are physically ready to play while avoiding any adverse reactions to their health.