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Why Athletes Should Focus on Nutrition to Reduce Injuries - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Today's athletes spend countless hours working out. Whether through sport-specific skills, general fitness, conditioning, or strength training, our sporting environments tend to emphasize the importance of physical activities and practice while undervaluing the importance of sound nutrition concepts and applications. This is a problem.

Nutrition awareness doesn't just affect goals like weight loss or muscle mass, as many athletes would readily identify. Nutrition can actually play a huge part in other elements of our performance, including injury prevention.

Energy: Risks of Working Out Tired

Especially in a world full of diet fads and nutrition strategies that may or may not be effective and safe for an individual's needs and exertion levels, it's vitally important for athletes to understand the risks of training without consuming enough calories to sustain them. Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN and Joanne Villaflor, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD explain this concept along with a number of other effects that proper nutrition can have on injury prevention in a recent sport nutrition webinar. This area is one that is particularly important to pay attention to as an athlete.

Many athletes experiment with fasting or calorie-cutting meal plans for a variety of reasons. Whether trying to cut to make their weight class, lose extra pounds, or tone their physique, athletes often attempt to survive even strenuous athletic seasons while limiting their caloric intake.

If this is done carelessly or too intensely, the resulting energy deficit can make the athlete much more susceptible to fatigue-induced injuries. Adequate caloric intake is not only vital to an athlete's performance quality, but to the prevention of injury as well.

Water: Hydration's Effects on Performance

Similarly to appropriate caloric intake, water consumption is another vital and yet often under-represented component of successful athletic training and development. There are a few reasons for this.

First, transporting nutrients and oxygen to muscles is vitally important in order to keep those muscles functioning properly. This is only accomplished with adequate hydration. This is particularly important when (like for athletes) muscles are being heavily exerted.

Second, water loosens and lubricates other elements of the body that are necessary for athletic activity. These include joints and connective tissues.

Third, water is vital to an important process that regulates body temperature (particularly when it is working hard): sweating. Without being able to sweat properly, the body can quickly overheat and eventually cease to be able to function correctly, making an athlete more susceptible to injuries.

Body Composition: How Fat Affects the Athlete

For many people, including athletes, a main incentive for fat loss is enhancing appearance. In today's cultures that still widely regard visible fat as unsightly or unattractive, the most common reason that motivates people to attempt to lose fat is to change the way they look. However, for the athlete, carrying extra fat stores within the body can have significant negative effects on athletic performance and, additionally, can make injuries more likely.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, extra body weight creates unnecessary strain on joints, muscles, tendons, and bones. Adding more mass means that those components have to work harder to make the body do what it has to do.

Second, fat can be stored in various places within the body. Wherever this happens for an individual, that fat is likely to inhibit whatever bodily components are located in that area. For instance, if fat is stored around organs in a particular athlete's personal body composition, the functions of those organs can be hampered or lessened.

The same is true when fat is stored around joints or in or near muscles. Reducing body fat not only improves performance but can mitigate risks of damage or problems that might have been caused by that fat.

Developing solid nutrition habits will not only contribute positively to an athlete's performance but will also mitigate their risk of experiencing injuries. Make this a high priority for your athletes.

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Articles by Sarah Daren