BY THESTAR.COM/ Katrina Clarke
As a time-strapped University of Toronto student athlete, volleyballer Kristina Valjas’ go-to fuel was a bowl of Kraft Dinner or a bag of chips.
Cheap, easy and tasty, but the junk diet eventually caught up with her.
“The turning point was the shin splints. It was extreme pain,” said Valjas, now 28 and a beach volleyball player with Canada’s national team. She’d developed bone density issues, partly due to a calcium deficiency.
What athletes eat can mean the difference between high level success and body breakdowns, but it takes time, effort and education to get it right, say dietitians and athletes. This can be tricky in a world where some seem able to eat whatever they want — Usain Bolt subsisting on chicken nuggets during the Olympics, Michael Phelps eating a reported 12,000 calories per day while training and Lolo Jones downing double bacon cheeseburgers to gain weight — but athletes say as they age, they know what works for them and what doesn’t.
“It’s, like, immediate now for me,” said Melissa Tancredi, a member of the Canadian women’s national soccer team who lives in Vancouver. “I’ll know right after I eat something (unhealthy) like, oh that wasn’t good. Your body’s like, no, I feel awful ... You feel sluggish, you feel tired.”
Tancredi, now 33, admits she paid little attention to what she ate as a young athlete, but now credits healthy eating with helping her to perform at her best in her 30s. She mainly sticks to organic meats, fruits and vegetables — though she’s not averse to a rich curry.
The main thing sports dietitian Melissa Kazan notices with her athletes at the Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario is that they don’t snack or plan ahead enough.
“That’s where we come in as dietitians,” she said.
Kazan teaches her athletes to pack healthy snacks, such as granola bars, soy milk packs or chocolate milk, and she advocates for an “everything in moderation” approach to eating.
“We always think, athletes, all they eat are carbohydrates or high carbohydrate diets — it really has to be varied,” she said.
Kazan said when an athlete’s training load is high at the beginning of the season, they’re likely eating more carbohydrates but as training sessions are tapered throughout the season, carbohydrate intake typically drops. Protein and fat intake typically remains the same, she said.
As for how many calories athletes consume, it depends on the athlete and the sport, said Kazan. Male swimmers competing at the national level might consume 6,000 calories per day.
The day’s schedule might also affect what an athlete eats, she said. Someone who can get away with eating greasy foods on a training day won’t be able to do so on competition day, said Kazan, since fat is a heavy nutrient to digest.
“At the end of the day, you have to realize that saturated fats, sugars and the rest of those not-as-great nutrients … still have the same effect on the body, whether you’re a runner, whether you’re an endurance athlete or not,” said Andrea Falcone, a registered dietitian and fitness professional whose clients include hockey players, marathon runners and volleyball players. “As far as performance, the best fuel is going to give you the best output.”
For some athletes, the problem isn’t eating bad food, but not eating enough or not frequently enough. High performance athletes should be eating every three to four hours — a challenge that can be overcome with proper meal planning, she said.
Falcone adds the research on sports nutrition has changed over the years, with modern research eschewing a one-size-fits all approach for a more nuanced look at what each athlete needs to perform at their best.
So could that mean chicken nuggets are the key to success? Not quite.
“Can (an athlete) eat anything they want? No, in a nutshell,” she said. “But they might be able to burn off that fuel better than your typical layperson.”
As for Valjas, she revamped her diet after meeting with a nutritionist, adding in more calcium, protein and fruits. It’s a healthful lifestyle she’s held to ever since — with the exception of the odd Coke or chocolate bar — and one that helped improve bone density issues.
“I’m mindful of what I put in my body because this is what I do for a living. It’s fuel,” she said. “I don’t even want chips anymore.”
ARTICLE & IMAGE: http://on.thestar.com/1RDjNQp
BY ACTIVE.COM/ Patrick Cohn, Ph.D. and Lisa Cohn
Too often, athletes try to be "perfect" when they perform. These young athletes set high expectations, then become upset when they fail to match their own standards.
We hear from parents and coaches who worry about young players who become easily frustrated and take disappointment home with them. You're likely familiar with athletes who display perfectionist behaviors.
Pros and Cons of the Perfectionist Athlete
Perfectionist athletes criticize themselves for making mistakes, often hold high and unrealistic expectations for themselves and tend to get frustrated easily after making mistakes. These kids are often perfectionists in other aspects of their lives--in school, for example.
On the positive side, you will find some advantages to perfectionism in young athletes. Perfectionist kids have a strong work ethic, are highly committed to their goals and are willing to learn and improve.
These positive traits often disguise the problems that are associated with perfectionism in sports. These kids are so motivated that you often don't think of them as having mental game struggles.
What Perfectionist Athletes Focus On
Sports kids who try to be perfect can undermine their performance in many ways. They focus too much on results, This gets them stuck in a vicious cycle of working hard, setting higher expectations and then thinking they are failing to reach their expectations.
It's important for you to understand that perfectionist athletes often unknowingly embrace very high expectations. They do this unconsciously. When they don't achieve their expectations, they feel frustrated. They feel like they have failed.
Here's a classic example from a baseball dad: "My son is a good athlete who has always had good success. However, he seems to focus on the negative, not the positive. If he is practicing hitting, and doesn't make good contact, after about three swings I hear 'I stink.' Unfortunately, things tend to go down hill from there."
Perfectionists think that maintaining very high and often unrealistic expectations is a good thing. They believe that the only other option is to live in a world of mediocrity. (It's ironic because their need to succeed in sports causes fear of failure, which can undermine their performance.)
Fear of failure kicks in when kids can't meet their expectations or the expectations of others. They become frustrated, lose composure and assume they are under performing. Then they won't achieve their full potential in sports. They begin to think they are failing at some level.
What Parents Can Do
Begin by identifying the very high or perfectionist expectations that pressure your young athletes. These are the expectations that motivate them to have a "perfect" game or practice and not make any mistakes.
Once you identify these expectations--"I need to throw a no-hitter in today's game"-- your job is to replace them with simple, process-oriented goals.
Smaller, more manageable goals such as "See the ball well during an at-bat" help athletes concentrate on the process. This helps sports kids achieve better results.
Manageable goals focus your athletes on the execution of one pitch or one play at a time. For example, a pitcher might visualize good pitches before each pitch.
The Right GoalAs a parent or coach, you want to be careful about placing super high expectations on your sports kids. You may do this without even realizing you're doing it.
Some parents and coaches ask kids to perform well--and place expectations on them--in an attempt to boost their confidence. They might say, "Make six three-pointers today!" Unfortunately, such well-meaning input can cause athletes--especially perfectionists--to try to meet these expectations, They then feel let down when they don't.
By lowering expectations and helping young athletes focus on manageable goals you put them in the best position to succeed.
ARTICLE & IMAGE: http://bit.ly/1RwJAHu
BY WEll.BLOGS.NYTIMES.COM/ Gretchen Reynolds
Older athletes can be much younger, physically, than they are in real life, according to a new study of participants in the coming Senior Olympics. The study found that the athletes’ fitness age is typically 20 years or more younger than their chronological age, providing a clear inspiration to the rest of us to get out and start moving more.
I wrote last year about fitness age, a concept developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim who had taken note of epidemiological data showing that people with above-average cardiovascular fitness generally had longer life spans than people with lower aerobic fitness. So at any given age, fit people were relatively younger than were people who were out of shape.
But the researchers decided that their insight was not useful unless people could easily determine their fitness age. So using a mobile exercise laboratory, they went out and tested the fitness and health of more than 5,000 Norwegian adults and used the resulting data to create a sophisticated algorithm that could rapidly calculate someone’s aerobic capacity and relative fitness age based on his or her sex, resting heart rate, waist size and exercise routine.
They then set up a beguilingly simple online calculator that people could use to determine their fitness age.
When I wrote about the calculator last year, Dr. Pamela Peeke took note. An assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and board member of the foundation that runs the National Senior Games — which are informally known as the Senior Olympics — she is also a competitive triathlete.
And biologically, it seems, she is a spring chicken. When she plugged her personal data into the online fitness calculator, it told her that her fitness age is 36.
Chronologically, she is 61.
Delighted, she wondered whether other older athletes would be similarly youthful. And she had a plan for how to find out. Contacting the scientist who had led the development of the fitness age calculator, Ulrik Wisloff, she suggested that together they study a particular group of older people — the participants in this year’s Senior Olympic Games.
The Senior Olympics are a biennial competition for athletes over 50 and consist of a variety of sports, from track and field and swimming to pickleball. To compete, athletes must first qualify regionally.
Nearly 10,000 men and women aged from 50 to 100 have qualified for this year’s Games, which begin on Friday in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul, in Minnesota.
Senior Olympians are not professional athletes, but most train frequently, Dr. Peeke knew. They tend to be more physically active than other people of the same chronological age.
To see just how their lifestyle affects their biological age, she and Dr. Wisloff asked all of this year’s Senior Olympic qualifiers to complete the online calculator. They set up a special, dedicated site for the participants, so that their data could be isolated. (The fitness calculator itself was unchanged.)
Many of the participants complied, producing more than 4,200 responses.
The results were impressive. While the athletes’ average chronological age was 68, their average fitness age was 43, a remarkable 25 years less.
“This is a massive difference,” Dr. Wisloff says. “I had expected a big difference,” he continued, “since these people have trained for years. However, I was surprised that it was this big.”
The effect was similar for both male and female athletes, he pointed out. Virtually every athlete, in fact, had a lower fitness age than his or her chronological age.
Dr. Peeke and Dr. Wisloff have not yet determined whether athletes in certain of the sports at the Senior Olympics, particularly endurance events such as distance running and swimming, have a younger fitness age, in general, than athletes participating in less-vigorous sports.
But they plan to parse the data extensively in the coming months to answer that question and to look for other patterns among the Senior Olympians. They expect to publish their findings soon.
Even in advance of that information, though, the takeaway message of the data should be inspiring, said Dr. Peeke, who will be competing in the triathlon event at the Senior Olympics.
“A majority of the athletes at the Senior Games didn’t begin serious training until quite late in life, including me,” she said. “We may have been athletes in high school or college. But then, for most of us, jobs and families and other commitments got in the way, at least for a while.”
Few Senior Olympians returned to or began exercising and training regularly until they were middle-aged or older, she said.
“So you can start any time,” she said. “It’s never too late.”
Qualifying competitions for the 2017 National Senior Games begin next year.
ARTICLE & IMAGE: http://nyti.ms/1JugUNq
Are synthetic playing surfaces hazardous to athletes' health? The debate over 'crumb rubber' and cancer
When doctors found Stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma in her lungs, Emily Prince had questions.
The college biology major wanted to know why cancer would strike someone so young and healthy. She found little help in existing research, which has yet to clearly identify a cause for the disease.
"I was obviously looking for any type of answer," she said.
It was her golf coach at Vassar College in New York who mentioned the debate over synthetic turf and, in particular, the crumb rubber often used as infill on artificial fields.
Prince recalled playing soccer as a girl and coming home with tiny black granules stuck to her skin and caught in her hair.
"When I heard about this," she said, "it made sense to me."
More than 11,000 playgrounds and athletic fields across the country employ pulverized tires — sprinkled between the blades of artificial grass — to create a surface that feels soft and natural. There are dozens of such fields at Los Angeles schools, parks and colleges.
Synthetic turf manufacturers say more than 60 studies over the past two decades have shown no elevated health risks associated with their products, but not everyone is convinced.
Environmental health advocates worry about a complex brew of chemicals, metals and suspected carcinogens that may be found in crumb rubber. They characterize past research as incomplete.
It's absolutely fair to ask questions. As long as people produce substantive, scientific answers.— Al Garver, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, a national trade associationA few of the rubber granules used as infill on the UCLA intramural field are shown across a fingertip.
With legislators asking for more information, the federal government recently announced a multi-agency study and plans to issue a draft report by year's end.
Athletes, parents, school administrators and parks officials remain caught in the middle, wondering about artificial fields that can be so beneficial because they use less water and are more durable than grass.
"I know that when these things pop up without scientific evidence, it's hard to believe at first," Prince said. "This is an issue that needs to be addressed."
Synthetic fields have been popular since the mid-1960s and the debut of "AstroTurf" at the Houston Astrodome.
In those days, artificial turf wasn't much more than carpet laid over concrete. Manufacturers introduced a gentler surface using crumb rubber in the 1990s.
Athletes took fewer hard falls and, as a side benefit, millions of tires were diverted from landfills.
"This is bio-friendly," said Al Garver, president of the Synthetic Turf Council, a national trade association. "You don't need any pesticides or herbicides."
But the list of potentially harmful elements that have been found in tires includes benzene, mercury and arsenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Ingredients vary by manufacturer and the recycling process blends different brands into the same batch, so it is difficult to predict what will end up on a specific field.
Some older types of synthetic turf have been found to contain relatively high levels of lead. In 2009, the California Attorney General's office sued three manufacturers for violating state law by failing to provide "clear and reasonable warnings" about lead content in turf fibers and crumb rubber.
The following year, the companies agreed to pay more than $650,000 in fines and reduce the lead in their products.
At the federal level, the EPA and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have examined crumb rubber and found no elevated health risks. But in a statement this month, the EPA acknowledged "existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate" all concerns.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have pointed to a recent analysis by a Yale University professor that found 96 chemicals, including probable carcinogens, in tire rubber.
The new "Federal Research Action Plan," which pairs the EPA with the CPSC and the Centers for Disease Control, will examine how players on synthetic fields might be exposed through skin contact, inhalation and accidental ingestion.
It was seven years ago that Amy Griffin, an associate soccer coach at theUniversity of Washington, heard about two players she knew who were battling cancer. Both were goalkeepers.
"I really didn't think anything of it at first," Griffin recalled. "Then I kept bumping into other goalkeepers who had lymphoma."
The position involves frequent diving, which makes goalies more likely to get crumb rubber on their skin and in their mouths. They are also susceptible to inhaling vapors or gases emitted from volitive organic compounds in crumb rubber.
Griffin began an informal list of athletes who had cancer, about 90% of them soccer players, with lacrosse goalies and football players included. As the total grew toward 200, she spoke out in the media.
Though some people dismissed her unscientific tally, word spread and she heard from more afflicted players across the country.
Arshaad Rahh, who competes for Cal State University Northridge in track and field, warms up on the artificial turf field at Rancho Cienega Recreation Center in Los Angeles.
"I know it's 100% anecdotal," she said. "But if you were in my shoes, listening to these stories, you would say this is too coincidental."
Washington state health officials recently asked for her data so it can be compared to the official cancer registry and, perhaps, used to find correlations or patterns. Griffin welcomes a methodical approach, though officials caution the study might not be conclusive.
"An increased rate of a specific cancer among soccer players wouldn't show us what caused the increase, only if one exists," the Washington health department said in a statement. "Historically, even when increased rates for certain cancers have been identified, a common cause or environmental contaminant has rarely been shown."
If you had to pick two people at polar ends of this issue, they would probably be Garver and Nancy Alderman.
Garver's trade association represents more than 200 turf manufacturers, architects and builders. Alderman heads a nonprofit health advocacy group in Connecticut. Both have become major voices in the crumb rubber debate.
"It's absolutely fair to ask questions," Garver said. "As long as people produce substantive, scientific answers."
The Synthetic Turf Council believes potentially harmful chemicals in old tires are rendered inert through processes that extract steel and fiber, then break the remaining rubber into bits. The council says no link to cancer has been found by researchers at the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and numerous universities. It also cites studies conducted in France and Norway.
"All the information is there if you look at it rationally, logically, reasonably," Garver said.
Alderman views the current literature in a different way.
The Yale-educated woman and her small organization — Environment and Human Health, Inc. — began focusing on crumb rubber a decade ago when parents complained about synthetic fields in two Connecticut communities.
"We had only a small amount of money," she recalled. "We took a few samples and took them to a laboratory and found some bad chemicals."
In addition to questioning the scope of past studies, Alderman considers some unreliable because they were funded by the industry. She mentions an oft-cited report produced by CalRecycle, a state agency that promotes recycling.
"It is not a great system and it has not worked," she said.
Some agencies share her doubts. In 2008, the New York City parks department stopped using crumb rubber in new fields. The Los Angeles Unified School District followed suit the next year, switching to non-recycled infills.
We had to stop and have a thorough discussion.— Rich Mylin, the director of UCLA recreation venuesKyle Urban, competitive sports coordinator for UCLA's recreation program, grooms the artificial turf at the campus' intramural field.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)Athletic fields are only part of the concern — Alderman and others worry about crumb rubber in playgrounds for small children.
LAUSD removed crumb rubber from early education centers but left pre-existing fields for older students intact, noting the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health had placed no warnings or restrictions on crumb rubber.
Alderman sees momentum growing toward what she hopes will be a moratorium on all types of infill, including non-recycled alternatives such as coconut husk and cork.
"Now there are lawyers hovering around this," she said. "Eventually there will be class-action suits."
Such talk clearly frustrates Garver. The industry representative said his members are confident future tests will confirm their products are safe, though he isn't sure that will do any good.
"It's never enough," he said. "There's no way to satisfy the alarmists."
The 11-acre recreation field at UCLA, just behind Pauley Pavilion, had become a problem. It required too much water and needed to be shut down for four months each year to let the grass recover from constant use.
When university administrators explored synthetic turf as an alternative, they became aware of the crumb-rubber controversy.
"We had to stop and have a thorough discussion," said Rich Mylin, the director of recreation venues.
Non-recycled infill was not considered a viable option; they represent only a small percentage of fields in the U.S. because they can be costly to maintain and might be more likely to harbor bacteria from sweat and blood.
Choosing to proceed with crumb rubber, administrators say they worried about reports of lead levels in some foreign-made tires.
"We made sure our crumb rubber was sourced through the U.S.," Mylin said, adding: "We felt comfortable."
I don't see this cabal of rubber manufacturers sitting around with sacks of money wondering how they can kill people.— Paul Bahou, former college soccer player and cancer patientA close-up view of synthetic turf and crumb rubber.
The new field, which opened last spring, will save an estimated six million gallons of water annually — even with regular washings — and never need a rest.
Still, Mylin suspects not everyone will be pleased. "To me, it falls into that environmental sphere, like climate change," he said. "People can be very passionate about that."
Like a growing number of athletes stricken by cancer in their youth, Paul Bahou had suspicions about crumb rubber.
When the Temecula man was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma after college, he thought back to his childhood days playing soccer.
"I was a goalie," he said. "And I remember playing on lots of synthetic fields."
But something kept Bahou from rushing to a conclusion: His family owns a company that transforms used plastic bottles into food packaging. He knows the recycling business.
"People think the evil oligarchs are poisoning our children for profit," he said. "I don't see this cabal of rubber manufacturers sitting around with sacks of money wondering how they can kill people."
Bahou does not believe an immediate moratorium on crumb-rubber infill is warranted, but he would like to see more research.
In addition to the federal effort, California officials are conducting their third study of crumb rubber, with the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment seeking to close "data gaps" — things not yet known about the subject.
The state will look at inhalation, skin contact and the effect weather has on deterioration of the material. With a final report expected in mid-2018, there will be no quick answers.
Bahou, who is 33 and has been cancer-free for years, does not mind waiting.
"We have to be realistic," he said. "And patient."
ARTICLE & IMAGE: http://lat.ms/1QQan6Q
It has frequently been emphasized that children are not simply "small adults". They are different anatomically and physiologically in many ways. Knee injuries in children and adolescents frequently demonstrate these differences.
The primary difference between the adult knee and the child's knee is the growth center or epiphysis. These are regions in the end of the femur and tibia on both sides of the knee that provide most of the growth of the leg. They are usually the weakest part of the knee. The same injury pattern that would tear a ligament or cartilage in the mature knee is much more likely to fracture the bones through the growth center in the child.
"Adult" type of the knee injuries can, however, occur in the child. Anterior cruciate ligament tears, once thought to be extremely rare in children, are receiving more attention in recent years. It is unknown whether or not the rise in the number of reported tears recently are related to increased awareness by physicians, better diagnostic techniques, such as MRI and arthroscopy, or that possibly more kids are involved in competitive sports. ACL tears have been reported in children as young as two years of age. The true incidence of ACL tears in the pediatric population is unknown, but some studies report a tear in as many as 50% of children with blood in their knees after an injury.
The treatment of ACL tears in the young, athletic, skeletally mature (adult) knee is usually reconstruction. A tendon is usually taken from another part of the body and used to rebuild the torn ligament. Simple repair of the torn ends usually fails. Non-operative treatment with braces and exercise usually fails. These patients frequently have "giving way" episodes with tearing of other structures, usually meniscal cartilages. This may lead to premature arthritis later in life. This reconstructive procedure usually involves placing the tendon graft through drill holes in the femur and tibia.
Unfortunately, the growth centers in the knee are directly in the path of these drill holes, screws, and staples. It has been shown that standard reconstruction in the growing child or adolescent may cause a growth abnormality leading to leg length inequality, or to angulatory deformity at the knee. The younger the child, the greater the chance of deformity, and the more severe the deformity is likely to be.
As a result, non-operative treatment is usually suggested initially. This usually involves bracing and strengthening exercises. The results are generally poor. A temporary change in activity level or sport may also be indicated. Sports that involve sharp cutting and sudden change of direction, such as basketball and soccer, may have to be put on hold until the injured knee can be properly repaired. There is a high incidence of instability, meniscal tears, and a significant change in activity level.
If conservative management fails, surgical options can be considered. The patient and family must be aware of the complications noted above. If the adolescent is within a year or two of skeletal maturity, most physicians feel the risks are small, and a standard ACL reconstruction is usually performed. In the younger child, alternative techniques have been developed recently to try to lessen the possibilities of growth arrest. These techniques involve placing the graft in a non-anatomic position, or one that does not quite duplicate normal ligament function. This is done by either drilling holes that go around rather than through the growth centers, or by avoiding holes altogether, and wrapping the graft around the bone. Growth abnormalities can still occur, but the incidence is much less than with standard techniques. These procedures are designed to be a temporary measure to control symptoms until maturity, when a traditional reconstruction can be done. The results of these procedures have been surprisingly good, with many children returning to sports and not needing a later procedure.
In summary, the anterior cruciate ligament can be torn in growing children. The incidence is higher than previously believed. Choosing the best treatment is much more difficult than in the adult. While growth abnormalities can be serious after surgical repair, their incidence is fairly low. With newer surgical techniques, good results are possible.
A collection of Competitive Athlete articles and selected content from various online sources to help you achieve your winning goals