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Optimizing Your Teen Athlete's Performance

Optimizing Your Teen Athlete's Performance

, by Dr. Jeff Pearl, MD, 2 min reading time


It is clear that regular participation in sports is beneficial to teenagers. Teen athletes are more likely to eat well, avoid drugs, and succeed academically. For most, their ‘sports career’ ends after high school or college, yet there are increasing pressures to be competitive and win. Remember, health, self-esteem, enjoyment and being part of a team are of utmost importance. To optimize success and fulfillment, teen athletes should follow a few simple rules:

  1. Eat healthy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it is true. Everything in moderation. Avoid fatty foods, refined sugars and soda, especially on game day. Eat lean proteins, fruits, veggies and whole grains. It is still okay to go out for pizza or burgers after the game.
  2. Don’t skip meals. If your teen is like mine, breakfast is not a priority. The extra 5-10 minutes of sleep is more important or you get “I’m not hungry” which may be because of late night snacking. Skipping breakfast puts kids in a starvation mode by the time they eat lunch. Even so, by the time they are ready for practice or a game after school that early lunch is long gone. Eat often and time your meals correctly for your athletics to be properly ‘fueled’ for success.
  3. Avoid excess caffeine. Although small amounts of caffeine have been shown to increase mental focus and energy, tolerance quickly develops requiring increasing dose for effect. It is best to avoid this cycle. Caffeine is also a vasoconstrictor which may impede muscle blood flow and hence performance.
  4. Hydration. Obvious, right? The problem is it is impossible to adequately hydrate during the activity. An athlete is lucky to even keep up with ongoing losses during a game where they may get infrequent water breaks. Pre-hydration is the key. In general, if you workout and sweat daily you will maintain a larger total body water reserve. Pre-hydration the day before and the day of the activity is critical. Dehydration affects all aspects of performance and can result in cramps and decreased playing time. Once you get behind it is hard to catch up during practice or a game. Low-sugar electrolyte formulations are okay, especially if exercising for long durations. In general, water is what is needed.
  5. Cross-train. Vary your workout to improve muscle strength, endurance and decrease injury. Too much of one sport without a break has been related to increased risk of certain injuries. Weight training and core strengthening activities can help all athletes. Look into conditioning programs aimed at decreasing injury risk.
  6. Rest. Sleep and downtime are as important as exercise and training. Allowing muscles to recover and heal will improve performance and decrease the chance of injury.

Cheers to your success, happiness and health.


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