Key Points: Sleep around 8 hours/night, eat vegetables, eat fish!
A study of Swedish elite adolescent athletes demonstrated decreased likelihood of injury in those with a healthy diet and adequate sleep. This interesting study highlights the importance of general health habits in keeping teen athletes on the snow.
The study subjects were 340 athletes attending National Sports High Schools. About 30% were snow sport athletes, including 72 cross-country skiers (39 men and 33 women), 12 downhill skiers (5 men and 7 women), 10 free-style skiers (8 men and 2 women), and 8 ski-orienteering athletes (4 men and 4 women.)
The athletes were surveyed in the autumn and again in the spring. Most athletes got enough sleep on the weekends, but 18.5% did not meet the sleep target of at least 8 hours/night during the week.
Diet shortfalls were in consumption of fruits and vegetables and fish. Almost 40% of athletes did not eat enough vegetables. (Nutrition intake was assessed by the Swedish Nutrition Food Agency index.)
This study was unique in looking at multiple variables that can affect risk of injury. Those athletes who slept more than 8 hours/day on weekdays AND met recommended nutrition intake had a significantly reduced risk of injury. (Injury was defined as physical complaints or pain resulting in decreased training volume, difficulty participating in normal training or competition, or reduced performance.)
How does this translate into every day practice? It looks like it is really important to be sure to get enough sleep! The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8-10 hours of sleep daily for teens aged 14-17. For those 18-25 years old the recommendation is 7-9 hours a day. Getting enough sleep may require careful organization to try to complete school assignments during the day where possible. For serious athletes sleep should be prioritized over social media time.
For the healthy eating piece, planning is helpful. Know when and how you will get your meals and snacks each day. Think about how to fit more vegetables into your usual meals. At breakfast sauté some spinach with your scrambled eggs or add a grilled tomato on the side. At lunch add some veggies to your sandwich – baby spinach, tomato slices, cucumber slices, lettuce, onions, and even shredded carrots are good on sandwiches. Choose vegetable side dishes like raw veggies, coleslaw, side salads, roasted veggies, or vegetable soup. At dinner be sure to include an ample portion of steamed veggies. For snacks try celery with peanut butter or raw veggies with hummus.
In this study a healthy diet also meant adequate fish consumption, and 43% of athletes did not meet the target. Fish is a great lean protein source and also supplies omega 3 fatty acids that play a role in reduced inflammation. Try a scoop of tuna on a salad or a tuna salad sandwich. Foil pouches of tuna are also convenient for snacks, and are tasty with some whole grain crackers like Triscuits. Grilled salmon or shrimp are popular dinner choices.
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Reference: von Rosen P, Frohm A, Kottorp a, Friden C, Hejne A. Too little sleep and an unhealthy diet could increase the risk of sustaining a new injury in adolescent elite athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2016. doi: 10.1111/sms.12735
© 2019 Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
Nutrition expert and snow enthusiast! Follow this blog for news and info to help move your skiing/boarding forward with good nutrition.
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Kathy advised me in my role as Headmaster of Carrabassett Valley Academy, a high level competitive ski academy located at Sugarloaf, Maine. Kathy worked with the CVA coaching and kitchen staffs to help design a more nutritious menu for adolescent snow sport athletes. She very wisely directed how coaches could encourage good eating habits of athletes when traveling on the road. Kathy is always expanding her scope of service and is innovative in designing cutting-edge nutrition programs. – John Ritzo, Maine Ski Hall of Fame