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Pre-season checklist for student athletes — and their coaches and parents

Another school year is just around the corner and many athletes are already hard at work preparing for the fall sports season. Juggling a busy school schedule, after school practices, homework and more can be challenging. These activities can make a healthy lifestyle difficult to maintain. The best way to optimize your fall sports season is to start planning ahead now. The following is a checklist to consider before the season gets underway:

ROptimize your pre-season physical

Most schools require a pre-participation physical before each sports season. The extent of the examination and testing, however, can vary. If you have a history or symptoms of any of the following, you should be seen by your personal physician for a more in-depth examination:

·         Consistent low-energy or fatigue

·         Recurrent stress-fractures or injuries

·         Significant changes in weight

·         Absent or irregular periods

The above symptoms may indicate issues that can increase risk for injury such as anemia, over training syndrome, disordered eating or other medical problems. Your doctor will do additional testing to rule out more severe conditions and may refer you to additional specialists in an effort to treat or resolve these issues.

RDon’t skip breakfast!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for student athletes. It fuels your brain and helps you maintain energy throughout the morning hours. Lack of time is the most common reason for skipping breakfast, so planning ahead is key. Here are some ideas for quick and healthy breakfasts to eat on the run:

·         Peanut butter and jelly wrap (peanut butter, jelly and banana on whole wheat tortilla) and milk

·         Yogurt with berries and granola (mixed in Tupperware)

·         Breakfast burrito (tortilla, eggs, low-fat cheese: homemade or commercial) and juice

·         Oatmeal with milk, fruit and nuts

·         Frozen waffles, yogurt, berries

·         Cereal bar, milk and banana

·         Breakfast sandwich (English muffin, eggs, low-fat cheese: homemade or commercial)

RStock up on healthy lunch fixings

Taking the time to pack a healthy, balanced lunch will give you long-lasting energy during the afternoon. Make sure your lunch contains healthy whole grains, low-fat protein and fruit or veggies. Include a variety of foods from each of these groups on your shopping list and keep them stocked regularly:

Whole Grains                           Protein                                      Fruit or Veggies

Whole wheat bread                  Low-sodium deli meats            Fresh fruit

High-fiber tortilla                     Tuna / chicken                          Applesauce

Whole grain bagel                    Low-fat cheese                         Dried fruit

Whole grain crackers                Peanut butter                            Canned fruit

Whole wheat pasta                   Eggs                                         Fruit juice

Whole grain roll                        Yogurt / cottage cheese            V-8 juice

High-fiber cereal                      Veggie burgers or meats           Baby carrots / snap peas

If purchasing lunch from school, look for low-fat meal choices that contain the same combination of whole grains, protein and fruits or veggies. Good choices include:

·         Grilled chicken sandwich (lettuce, tomato, onions), fruit and milk

·         Slice of veggie pizza, fruit, milk

·         Turkey, ham or roast beef sandwich, fruit and milk

·         Pasta with tomato sauce, fruit, milk

·         Whole grain bagel, peanut butter, fruit, milk

RPack an afternoon snack

Do you go straight from school to practice without time to fuel up? If lunch is three to five hours earlier than practice, it’s likely your energy and blood sugar will be low before you start. Plan ahead and bring something for an afternoon snack or make a healthy choice from the vending machine. Here are some good ideas for pre-workout snacks:

·         Half peanut butter and jelly sandwich

·         Cereal bar and milk

·         Yogurt and granola

·         Pretzels and string cheese

·         High-carbohydrate sports bar (less than 15 grams protein, less than 5 grams fat)

·         Bagel and low-fat cream cheese

·         Cereal and milk

RFuel and hydrate during long workouts

Many athletes and coaches fail to see the importance of fueling and hydrating during practices lasting 60-90 minutes or longer. They don’t carry fuel and fluids and don’t plan for ways to consume them during workouts. Dehydration can occur during workouts lasting 60 minutes or more and athletes with sub-optimal glycogen stores can experience low blood sugar during that amount of time. Aim to meet the following requirements during activity:

·         16 - 24 ounces of fluid per hour (or enough to maintain body weight)

·         150 - 250 calories of carbohydrate per hour (from gels, sports drinks, energy chews)

REat for recovery

Consuming a mixture of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of an activity can greatly improve recovery from hard workouts. Studies have shown that including whey protein (found in dairy products) can further promote muscle recovery. Great recovery snacks include:

·         Sixteen ounces of chocolate milk

·         Eight ounces of milk and a granola bar

·         Smoothie (one cup of milk and banana)

·         Bowl of cereal and milk

RRefuel with a healthy dinner

Some athletes find that their appetites are limited after a hard workout and end up skipping dinner. They often struggle with fatigue during the evening and have a tough time completing their homework before falling asleep. A healthy, balanced dinner shouldn’t take long to eat or prepare. Just remember to include whole grains, lean protein and fruit or veggies. Quick and easy combinations include:

·         Black bean wraps with low-fat cheese and salsa

·         Salmon burger on whole wheat bun, fruit

·         Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce, chicken sausage, salad

·         Veggie pizza, green salad

·         Waffles or French toast, scrambled eggs, fruit

·         Grilled chicken salad, whole grain roll

·         Grilled cheese sandwich, tomato soup

RGet enough rest

One of the most important things you can do to stay fit and healthy during your sports season is to get enough rest and recovery. Many student athletes find this to be their toughest challenge during the busy school year. Your body can’t benefit from hard training without the proper balance of work and recovery. Without sufficient rest and sleep, you’re doing the work, but not reaping the benefits. Working “smarter, not harder” is definitely the key.

Best of luck for another successful season!

Heather Nakamura, MPE, MS, RD is a registered dietitian with Masters Degrees in both Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. She works as a “Personal Wellness Coach,” to help active individuals develop nutrition and training programs that focus on improving performance, maximizing energy and achieving optimal body composition and health. For more information, go to www.targetgoodhealth.com or call (206) 595-2688.