As athletes progress in their sport, both intensity and time spent in training increase. This can leave the body short on nutrients that provide protection against illness or injury. It is not uncommon for athletes to suddenly become sick or suffer from an injury after a change in their workout schedule or when transitioning from high school to collegiate athletics. Stress fractures are especially common in athletes who participate in cross country, track and field, basketball, gymnastics and tennis as a result of repeatedly striking the foot on the ground. To prevent occurrence or re-occurrence of stress fractures, athletes should allow enough time for rest between workouts and practice these four eating habits:
1. Eat to accommodate increased energy expenditure.
As exercise intensity and amount increase, so do energy needs. Increase overall caloric intake, but especially carbohydrate foods, to assure working muscles have enough fuel to recover. Some examples are: whole-wheat bread/ pasta/rice/tortillas/bagels, Triscuits, quinoa, and fruit. Also, eat the most in the beginning of the day (breakfast!) and less as the day progresses to assure muscles have sufficient energy on board heading into practice. Adequate caloric intake also means adequate vitamins and minerals to protect bones (see more in number four).
2. Eat a post-workout snack within 60 minutes of finishing practice.
This is one of the most important eating events of an athlete's day. Within 60 minutes after training ends, athletes need to be eating either their next meal (typically dinner) or a sufficient snack if no meal is in sight for more than an hour. Examples of good recovery snacks include a PBJ, two cups of low-fat chocolate milk, or a Nature Valley granola bar. Avoid "protein shakes", which are often too high in protein and too low in carbohydrate for proper muscle recovery and repair.
3. Eat healthy fats to decrease inflammation.
Healthy fats help decrease inflammation in the body caused by intense activity. Excessive, long-term inflammation can lead to illness or injury. Instead of a supplement, increase intake of foods that are high in healthy fats. Examples include: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna, and walnuts, avocado, olive oil, Smart Balance brand butter and sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. Note: canned tuna or canned salmon are just as good as fresh!
4. Focus on calcium & vitamin D intake
Calcium and vitamin D play a key role in building new bone, as well as maintaining bone your currently have. Aim for at least 4 servings of high-calcium foods daily. One serving is equivalent to 1 cup calcium-fortified milk, 1/2 cup calcium-fortified OJ, 1/2 cup white beans, 10 almonds, 1/2 cup calcium-fortified cereals, 1/2 cup tofu, 1 cup yogurt, 2 slices cheese, or 3 oz salmon. Many of these food are also fortified with Vitamin D (particularly cow's or soy milk).
For females, getting adequate calories is especially important. If energy intake drops too low, periods become irregular or non-existent. This affects a hormone called, estrogen, which plays a key role in bone health.
Therefore, not enough calories coming in = no period = weak bones = HIGH risk for stress fractures. Remember this!
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