With regular sport and training finally getting back underway and athletes returning to normal training sessions, it’s essential to ensure youth athletes are fuelling their bodies to match the increased demands of these sessions. After several months of reduced training, home workouts and more days off than normal, the sudden increase in intensity and volume of training will mean in increased risk of injury as the body adapts. We take a look at five nutrition tips to ensure athletes stay injury free in their return to sport.
Whilst injury is often an inevitable part of sport and we're certainly not saying that you can prevent all injuries by eating right, it’s important to understand that good nutrition can prevent some injuries and enhance recovery when they do occur. Focusing on a food first approach is key to fuelling the body to maximise performance and prevent injury.
The first and most important step is to simply ensure youth athletes are eating enough food and consuming enough calories to match what is being used during exercise, but also critically to ensure there is enough left over for essential growth and development. Eating too little has been shown to weaken bones, making them more susceptible to breaks, as well as increasing fatigue and supressing the immune system . All of which will increase the risk of injury and impair normal growth and development, as well as affecting long-term health.
Most athletes know the important role that dietary protein plays in building and repairing muscles, so it’s no surprise to see this in the list. Consuming a good source of protein after exercise and every 3-4 hours throughout the day will help to prevent muscle breakdown, enhance muscle recovery and it also plays a vital role in the immune system, keeping you fit and healthy.
Keeping bones strong and healthy is critical to avoiding lengthy spells on the side lines or early retirements because of fractures or breaks. The two key nutrients for this are calcium and vitamin D. Dairy is a great source of calcium and should be a key component of any athlete’s diet.
Vitamin D is a little trickier as most of that comes from the sun. This means that lots of youth athletes are deficient in vitamin D, particularly during the winter months or in athletes who train indoors . Vitamin D also plays a key role in muscle regeneration too, so athletes may want to consider supplementing this key nutrient or eating foods fortified with it (such as breakfast cereals and some eggs) to keep their bones healthy and to reduce muscle damage!
Vitamin C and E are well known antioxidants that help to prevent damage to the cells in our bodies. When the body undergoes stress (such as that caused by exercise), compounds called Free Radicals are produced. Although formation of some free radicals is actually essential for training adaptations and improvements to occur, they can cause muscle damage. Antioxidants help to prevent free radicals from forming, therefore reducing muscle damage and potentially improving recovery times .
Ensuring your diet contains plenty of fruit and veg will provide your body with all of the antioxidants it needs.
Healthy, unsaturated fats have various health benefits and should be an essential part of all athletes’ diets. Foods high in omega 3, such as oily fish, walnuts and chia seeds have anti-inflammatory properties, which help to reduce damage caused to the muscles with exercise, as well as promoting muscle regeneration .
Athletes should aim to eat 2 portions of oily fish per week as well as incorporating other unsaturated fats into their diet regularly.
So, while nutrition certainly won’t prevent all injuries from occurring, ensuring your body is fuelled with a well-balanced diet and focusing on the nutrients mentioned here will support your bones, muscles and joints and help to minimise the risk of injury.
- Loucks, A. B., Kiens, B. and H. H. Wright (2011). Energy availability in athletes. J Sports Sci 29 Suppl 1: S7-15.
- Owens, D.J., Allison, R., & Close, G.L. (2018). Vitamin D and the athlete: Current perspectives and new challenges. Sports Medicine,48, 3–16. PubMed ID: 29368183 doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0841-9
- Close,L., Ashton, T., McArdle, A., & Maclaren, D.P. (2005). The emerging role of free radicals in delayed onset muscle soreness and contraction-induced muscle injury. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology—Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 142, 257–266. PubMed ID: 16153865 doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2005.08.005
- Simopoulos, A. (2007) Omega-3 fatty acids and athletics. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 6(4), pp. 230-236.
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