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Shape Up For Fall

For many high school students, summer is the chance to sleep in and hang out with friends. But for committed athletes looking ahead to August practices, it can mean a workout-filled schedule.

“There’s a lot of demand on high school athletes in the preseason,” says Maurizio Cibischino, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)– Pocono and a sports medicine specialist with Mountain Valley Orthopedics in East Stroudsburg. “Sometimes those early practices determine who makes the team and who doesn’t.”

Student football and soccer players and cross country runners exercising in hot, humid conditions can be susceptible to dangerous heat-related illnesses. To keep middle and high school youth athletes safe while training, don’t sweat it. These summer training tips can help them stay in the game and on the field.

Drink up!

Although athletes can become dehydrated any time of year, it’s more likely to happen in the hot summer months because they lose more water through the skin as perspiration. When the body loses too much water through sweat within several hours, heat stroke can occur. With this potentially fatal condition, body temperature rises to dangerously high levels because the body gets so hot that it can’t cool itself.

Another heat-related concern is rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition in which the body starts breaking down muscles and releasing their byproducts into the bloodstream – this can lead to kidney failure. “Heat-related illness can kill,” says Cibischino. Symptoms to warn student athletes about include dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, drenching sweats and feeling short of breath, like you’re going to pass out or like you can’t perform.

Because water helps control body temperature, it’s the first line of defense against heat-related illnesses. Cibischino advises against routinely giving kids and teens sports drinks that contain salt and sugar. “Sugary drinks can make you more thirsty, and you can get sick of drinking that much sports drink. Water is the best. It’s what your body is craving,” he says.

And don’t wait for thirst to hit. “By then, it’s too late. You’re already dehydrated,” says Cibischino. Instead, encourage student athletes to carry around a water bottle and drink throughout the day. “If you have practice at 4 p.m., you need to hydrate all day long,” he says. “Make sure you stay tanked up. Just drink, drink, drink,” including during practices.

Eat to win

Three balanced meals are an athlete’s best bet for maintaining the right balance of vitamins and nutrients. To use food as a tool to boost athletic performance, opt for meals featuring protein, such as lean red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, tofu and peanut butter. High school athletes who are vegan (who don’t consume animal products, including eggs), but don’t like peanut butter or tofu, need to search for alternate protein sources they will consume regularly. Protein is an important component of an athlete’s diet because it’s the building block of muscles.

“It’s what you need to rebuild and replenish your muscles,” says Cibischino.

Again, pay attention to timing. Athletes shouldn’t eat a large meal within 60 to 90 minutes of practice. “Your muscles will demand a lot of oxygen from your blood while you’re exercising,” he explains. “If you eat a large meal right before a workout, your stomach will use the oxygen to digest the food instead.”

Eating too close to practice can also cause stomach cramps. To fuel up for a 4 p.m. practice or workout, athletes should eat a balanced lunch and keep themselves hydrated with water throughout the afternoon.

Similarly, avoid sugary snacks such as ice cream and candy bars, especially before practice. “Complex sugars are harder for the body to break down,” says Cibischino. When you’re working the body hard in heat and humidity, you want to consume food that’s as easy to digest as possible. For a quick energy boost, orange and other juices that are packed with vitamin C are better options, he says.

Mix and match

If your student athlete concentrates on one sport, “the summer is a great time to cross-train,” suggests Cibischino. If your child is a swimmer, encourage her to hit the weight room. If your child is a football player, encourage him to go to the swimming pool.

Depending on the sport, repetitive activity can lead to stress fractures, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, ankle sprains, shin splints and shoulder tendonitis. But cross-training can help prevent these and other overuse injuries. “Cross-training can help student athletes stay in shape for their sport without using the same muscles,” Cibischino says.

Are you gearing up for fall sports?

Connect with a sports medicine provider. Call 888-402-LVHN (5846).