You can't overlook your health. If you don't maintain your body, you could find yourself sitting in the stands with a clipboard instead of helping your team on the field.
STACK spoke with Dr. Sampson Davis, a Newark-based ER physician and author of Living and Dying in Brick City, who has appeared on several national television and radio talk shows, about what young athletes can do to stay healthy, endure the rigors of their sports and continue to play at the highest level. Here's what he said:
STACK: You were an athlete in high school. Tell us about your athletic career.
Dr. Davis: I was very into sports when I was a kid. I had visions that I was going to play professional baseball. I was pretty great at my small high school, but once I got to college, I realized my talent didn't go much further. But I felt a certain excitement level about competing, staying involved and being active. The endorphin release made me feel alert, and it translated to my academics.
STACK: Looking back, did you make any mistakes that may have damaged your health or hindered your performance?
Dr. Davis: I did not stretch nearly enough. When you're young, you're resilient, and your muscles are like rubber bands. You can get bounced around, but you won't feel the ramifications. Stretching is so important to do before and after an event. You have to warm your body up and you have to cool it down.
Also, my diet was horrific. I'd play a game of basketball, football or baseball, and then I'd go have a sugary drink that had no minerals or electrolytes. Knowing what I know now, that really hurt my recovery.
STACK: What can athletes do to avoid making those same mistakes?
Dr. Davis: When you have a team approach, it's almost as if you feel you are being policed by your peers, and it becomes a competition. It's always good to have that team approach, because you'll stay true and not skip the little things. When you do it individually, you may have a bad snack, or you may just skip stretching. If you know your best friend on the team is stretching, then you'll do it, too.
STACK: If you get sick, you may miss a game when your team needs you the most. How do you keep your immune system healthy so this doesn't happen?
Dr. Davis: Sleep is so important. As a teenager, you feel like you're invincible and don't need sleep. But fatigue is a serious issue. It's very important to get a healthy balance of sleep. Also, you need to stick to a sleep schedule and commit to winding down before bed.
And then there's nutrition. You should have a healthy, balanced diet as an athlete. I don't like to say diet modification. Do your research and find out what you should take in before, during and after games, and during your training process.
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STACK: What's the best way to deal with bumps and bruises from playing sports?
Dr. Davis: You need to proceed with caution. Always wear the proper equipment, and if you have a bruise, make sure it's protected to prevent another injury. If something does happen, RICE (i.e., rest, icing, compression and elevation) is very important. Again, to a teenager, an injury may not seem that bad. But ice is magic, especially within the first 24 hours. It really helps minimize the swelling and inflammation that follow the day after. You need to stay true to doing that, because it will help prevent it from becoming something more serious than it should be.
STACK: Should athletes push through pain?
Dr. Davis: Pushing through the pain is never a good idea. The last thing you want to do is give up on your team, especially if there are only a few minutes left in the game. Young people have a tremendous amount of resilience and can endure pain in order to perform. But it's dangerous. You could have a minor injury and turn it into a season-ending injury. For example, look at RGIII [Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III]. He had a sprained ligament in his knee and he continued playing, and he hurt his knee severely. It's always important to know if you're injured and get treatment, whether it's massage, whirlpool or therapy. It's OK to tell a coach that you're hurt, and it doesn't mean you are a weak competitor or lack toughness.
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