As students return to school this week, athletes in fall sports are getting their bodies back into the game after summer break.
“Whether you’ve been active all summer or laying on the beach, you’re probably not ready for the competitive demands of preseason training,” said Stephanie Stefanelli, a certified athletic trainer at the UCHealth SportsMed Clinic who supports student athletes in Steamboat Springs. school district. “It’s important to keep your perspective on this increase in energy demand.”
Whether it’s football, volleyball, soccer, cross country, cheerleading, tennis or golf, teens and parents should keep safety front and center when student athletes return to the field, gym, track and course.
Heat, hydration and compatibility
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death and disability among American high school athletes.
“The best prevention of heat-related illnesses is hydration and proper acclimatization,” Stefanelli said.
Early recognition of symptoms such as heat pain, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and fatigue leads to greater recovery rates. Stefanelli emphasizes building in water breaks and, if possible, not exercising during the hottest part of the day.
“Make a hydration plan to focus on drinking water regularly and don’t use thirst as your guide,” she said. “Get in front of it and be prepared. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.”
- Monitor fluid intake and loss. If possible, weigh yourself before and after exercise. For every pound lost, drink 16-24 ounces of fluid, or 12 ounces of fluid for every 30 minutes of exercise.
- Switch to sports drinks if exercising longer than 60 minutes, and remember that hydration also comes from foods like watermelon, grapes, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
- Watch for signs of dehydration and a decrease in energy, coordination and performance. If this happens, go into the shade and cool down with ice packs or ice packs on the neck, armpits, and groin, or soak in an ice bath.
Acclimatization is the body’s ability to adapt to the environment, meaning an altitude of 6,732 feet on a steamboat. For newcomers to the city, or those away for the summer, it usually takes seven to 14 days to adjust to constant exposure. During that period, Stefanelli recommends 90 minutes to two hours of exercise per day, either continuously or intermittently, with one day off during that period.
Other prevention tips
Adequate sleep and proper nutrition are key to staying healthy for sports. The quantity and quality of sleep is important for performance as well as mental and physical health. Eat a “recovery food” consumed 30 minutes after working out and then a full meal 60-90 minutes later. Meals may include protein and carbohydrates; Dairy, such as flavored milk, smoothies or yogurt are other options.
“You’re burning a lot of calories, and you need to replace them,” Stefanelli said.
“Ask yourself, ‘Am I going to have an injury in my sport – either a pre-existing one or a new one over the summer?’ If so, you need to manage it properly before jumping back in,” Stefanelli said. “Communicate with your coach and athletic trainer, and modify the activity as needed.”
To avoid injuries like strains, sprains and stress fractures, Stefanelli says to take one day off each week and, instead, swap in low-intensity activities like yoga, swimming or biking. Also, don’t forget strength training, flexibility and stretching, as these enable the muscles to function better during activities.
And remember, your muscles aren’t the only part of your body to exercise: cardiovascular fitness—which means your heart, lungs, and organs use oxygen during exercise—is another benefit of mixing high- and low-intensity exercise.
One final reminder: there is an annual physical requirement for participation in Colorado High School Activities Association sports.
“This is the best time to talk to your primary care provider about any medical conditions or orthopedic concerns you have,” Stefanelli said.