Now that fall sports are starting up, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how to keep your young athletes safe on the field. David Wang, MD, MS, chief of Connecticut Children’s Sports Medicine division, shares some ways athletes can prepare for the season.
Before athletes head out to the field for practice, what are some of the ways they can prepare if they haven’t spent the summer being active?
I think the key point is to start gradually, because the body has yet to acclimate to the demands that are placed on it during sporting activity. This not only includes their musculoskeletal tissue (tendons, ligaments,) it also includes their sweating and water balance. It’s still hot this time of year, and if you haven’t been exercising it will take some time to acclimate. Appropriate hydration, nutrition and sleep is beneficial to all athletes, but the other part is gradual resumption of activity. If you go all in right at the beginning and you haven’t done anything before—kind of like a car going from 0-100 really fast—you’re liable to stretch and strain tissues, and that could lead to an over-use injury quite quickly.
How can athletes make sure they are well hydrated?
Normally we believe that you should hydrate yourself well 2-4 hours before your exercise. You don’t want to do it just before because there will be a lot of water in your stomach. If you drink enough you’ll usually have to urinate, and if your urine is practically clear then that would be a good sign that you’re well hydrated going into things. Then every 15 minutes or so during the exercise you want to hydrate a little bit more. Within the first hour or so, water is usually all that is necessary. Prolonged endurance athletes do need to add a little carbohydrates and electrolytes, but the vast majority just need water.
When are sports drinks recommended?
For endurance activities greater than an hour, sports drinks tend to be somewhat helpful. You want some electrolytes and carbohydrates, but what you want to careful of is that the sports drink doesn’t have too much sugar. Sugary sports drinks can be hard on your stomach.
Are there any specific dietary guidelines athletes should follow before practice or a game?
You typically don’t want to eat too close to when you exercise. We recommend eating about two hours before and not any later than that because one might feel the weight and feel a bit more sluggish, which can be harder on an athlete. Eating two hours or more before is a good choice for meal timing. Don’t go into exercise starved and not eating at all though, because then you will not have the needed energy easily available. In the past it was thought everybody needed to “carb load” before endurance activity, but this is not the case.
To learn more about sports-related concussions, read our concussion Q&A with Dr. Wang