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Returning to sports: how student athletes can stay safe and avoid injuries

Posted at 4:03 PM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 11:04:05-04

Student athletes are returning to the field and court as they get ready to start the fall sports season. Sports medicine physicians with Intermountain Healthcare want to remind athletes and their parents how to stay safe and avoid injuries as they prepare for the upcoming season.

For many athletes stretching and hydration seem like obvious areas of focus, but nutrition and properly taking care of injuries can be major factors in performance, as well as the athletes’ overall health.

“Student athletes in high school can be out of practice after a summer off so they need to be especially careful when they return to intense exercise,” said Anthony Beutler, MD, associate medical director of sports medicine at Intermountain Healthcare. “They need to ease into their exercise as their body gets used to sports again."

This time of year, hydration and avoiding heat illness is a big concern with higher temperatures.

These problems can be exacerbated depending on the playing field because artificial turf and concrete have higher surface temperatures than grass. Athletes are encouraged to drink lots of water and occasional sports drinks to stay hydrated, but also need to take more breaks while competing.

Dr. Beutler says one of the most overlooked issues he sees for athletes’ health is nutrition. He says a balanced diet taken at the correct times can make all the difference in performance.

“Eating fruits and vegetables can help keep athletes hydrated, but it’s also important to be consuming the right proteins and carbohydrates for energy,” said Dr. Beutler. “At this age kids eat what they want with few consequences, but they may not realize the impacts it’s having on their performance.”

For example, trainers encourage their athletes to eat something with sodium after practice or a game so they can better retain the water they’re drinking. They say athletes should also avoid fatty and greasy foods at least two hours before competing.

Jenna and Jamie Shepherd know all too well the importance of nutrition and staying hydrated while working out in the hot summer, preparing for soccer season. Jenna is a defender for Utah Valley University women’s soccer team and her twin sister Jamie is a midfielder for BYU women’s soccer team.

They both say soccer is an intense sport which requires a lot of running and stamina.

Although many universities have programs for their athletes to ensure they’re focusing on health and nutrition throughout the year, many high school athletes do not. Jamie knows from experience the important role nutrition plays in performance.

“Food is fuel and when you don’t have the right nutrition you can feel it on the field,” said Jamie. “When you’re competing at this level every small detail makes a big difference.”

Along with nutrition Jenna has seen firsthand the important role conditioning plays in preventing injuries during the season, especially before the first whistle blows.

“Being in shape for sports takes a lot of work long before the season starts,” said Jenna. “Knowing the steps to get there and how to take care of injuries is what helps keep athletes on the field.”

Dr. Beutler says focusing on all aspects of an athlete’s health can ensure they’re better performance at a top level. Doing so can help avoid injuries while also helping athletes to recover faster when they do occur.

“Injuries are going to happen it’s a part of the game,” said Dr. Beutler. “It’s easier to recover when a person is already taking care of their body and knows the steps to take.”

For more information on sports medicine or to find a provider click here.