Saturday, May 26, 2012

Turn Your Head and Cough...

Overuse injuries – found most often in low-contact sports that involve long training sessions or where the same movement is repeated numerous times – make up nearly 30 percent of all injuries sustained by collegiate athletes.

And a majority of overuse injuries (62 percent) occurred in female athletes, according to a new study published in the current edition of the Journal of Athletic Training, the National Athletic Trainers' Association scientific publication.

"Overuse injuries may present not only physical challenges but also psychological ones that could significantly affect an athlete's recovery and performance," said study co-author Tracey Covassin, a certified athletic trainer at Michigan State University and a member of the Department of Kinesiology.

"Understanding the frequency, rate and severity of overuse injuries is an important first step for designing effective injury-prevention programs, intervention strategies and treatment protocols to prevent and rehabilitate athletes with these types of injuries."

According to the study, overuse injuries tend to occur gradually and are caused by repeated small injuries, without a single, identifiable event responsible for the injury, in sports such as long-distance running, baseball/softball pitching and swimming. By comparison, injuries occurring in high-speed and full-body-contact sports are more likely to be acute injuries, which result from a specific and identifiable event.

The study sample consisted of 573 male and female collegiate athletes from an NCAA Division I institution participating in 16 team sports. Participants reported 1,317 injuries during a three-year period. Of those injuries, 386 (29.3 percent) were overuse injuries and 931 (70.7 percent) were acute. A total of 319 male athletes sustained 705 injuries, and 254 female athletes sustained 612 injuries.

The most common overuse injuries were general stress (27 percent), inflammation (21 percent) and tendinitis (16 percent).

The long-term consequences of overuse injuries include loss of playing time, reduced function and psychological exhaustion. Overuse injuries also are associated with a gradual increase in symptoms, which means athletes may go undiagnosed and untreated for longer periods of time leading to long-term residual symptoms and chronic health consequences, including deformities and arthritis.

Wrestling, football, women's soccer and other contact sports were associated with a higher acute injury risk; while overuse injuries were found more frequently in baseball, softball, volleyball, cross country, track and field and other low-contact sports.  [1]

"Better strategies for the prevention and early intervention of overuse injuries in all sports and for both sexes are imperative in order to reduce their number and severity," Covassin said.

If you have a child that plays sports you are likely familiar with the rather routine in and out style sport physical that is often a prerequisite for participation.  Is any valuable information actually attained with these physicals? The more relevant question we should consider is how much do these routine physicals miss or ignore that could be critical to keeping children injury free?

“The sports physical required by schools and sports leagues just skims the surface and doesn’t dive deep enough into the real issues that impact teen’s health,” said Jerold Stirling, MD, pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

“Many parents see the sports physical done in a school gym or quick clinic as the only medical attention their child needs when this isn’t the case,” said Stirling. “There are many issues that can’t be detected in a simple physical. In fact, many young athletes don’t get the care they need. It’s just assumed that they are healthy because all the boxes on the sports physical have been checked off, and that can be dangerous.”

“If parents wait too long if we do find a problem, we won’t have time to address it. By bringing a young athlete in early enough before the season begins, if we do find something, we can work on treatments and therapies to resolve the issue so the child won’t miss any time of the field,” said Stirling.  [2]

Dr. Stirling is referring mostly to deeper issues that impact a child’s health from a mental, social and emotional level.  While these topics are of the utmost importance to a child ‘s overall well being they are not the type of issues you would normally address during a sport physical.  And while the sport physical may be an effective vehicle to more effectively reach out to children Dr. Stirling suggests a more prudent approach would be a scheduled check up with the pediatrician or primary care physician.  

“As children grow into their teen years, social and mental health needs to be addressed in a safe, private environment. Teens need to know they can bring their questions and concerns to someone who cares and will keep it confidential,” said Stirling. “No one knows your young athlete like his or her primary care doctor. That relationship can open a door for teens to feel comfortable asking questions about their health and overall well-being.”

Clearly the express sport physical is inadequate to screen for the issues a pediatrician is most concerned with and I believe they are just as inadequate in determining a child’s physical preparation.  During the physical is posture assessed?  Do they have the child remove their shoes to examine their feet (flat feet, big red flag for injury potential)?  Muscle imbalances (from sport specialization) or motor control problems (can they skip)?  The answer to all of these questions is no and along with the concerns of Dr. Stiriling should lead to the retirement of the old model of sport physical replacing it with a model that considers the current youth sporting culture.

I have been coaching children for 14 years and times are different now compared to when I first started.  There is less general physical preparation in favor of more skill practice and game play.  Children are less physically prepared to meet the demands of sport because their base of overall athleticism is so narrow.  I have witnessed children that don’t know how to fall for example.  That might sound crazy but kids don’t experience free play when they used to roll down hills or dive into a pond.  Instead they take pitching or goalie lessons.  They never experience falling and how to manage that and keep themselves safe.  I coach children that don’t know how to fall or roll to the ground.  If you think rolling or diving isn’t a fundamental athletic skill watch a baseball, football or soccer game.  When kids fall now it makes an awful thud sound and that’s how kids get hurt.  That is only one example, and there are many more (skipping anyone), of a simple and fundamental skill that should be learned through child like experimentation but that window was closed while hitting ground stroke after ground stroke.

In my opinion the best form of injury prevention is long-term athletic development and honoring the natural childhood developmental process.  When a child learns to master the basic fundamentals of human movement then they are ready and prepared to develop and maximize more advanced sport skills.  Attempting to master the more advanced skills prior to mastering foundational skills will lead to a rash of acute and overuse injuries highlighted in the MSU study above.

I have undoubtedly revealed myself over the years regarding my thoughts and feelings on youth athletic development and sport specialization.  That said I must be aware of the brutal facts in order to make a difference in the long-term development of the children that I coach.   The brutal fact is the youth sport culture isn’t going to change.  8 year-olds are still going to play on travel teams and 10 year-olds will continue to “specialize” in one sport 10 months out of the year.  But we can still make a difference by applying relevant strategies that take into account the current youth sport and fitness culture.  A great first step would be replacing the current youth sport physical, dinosaur that it is, with a more practical approach that reveals and provides more relevant information.  Fortunately, I am putting together a team that is preparing to meet the current demands.

Food For Thought:

Many food products that are marketed to children are often times heavily processed and loaded with low-quality sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, breakfast cereal can be a big culprit.  A few things you should be aware of especially considering cereal that is marketed as healthy is anything but:

Is Breakfast Cereal Toxic?

Kashi Cereal Stirs Anger

Are Breakfast Cereals Toxic?

Have you ever noticed that all the flakes in your Frosted Flakes or the puffed rice in your Rice Krispies all look alike?  When you bake cookies do they ever turn out being the exact same size and shape?  The uniformity of your cereal is the result of the marriage between grains and food processing.

All but a few brands of breakfast cereals–even so-called organic health food cereals–are produced by a process called extrusion that subjects the grains to very high temperatures (Grape Nuts is one exception – it is not extruded but baked).  Analysis of the grains after extrusion indicates that the industrial process breaks up the carefully organized proteins they contain, creating neurotoxic (damaging to nerves) protein fragments.  Since organic whole grains are higher in protein, it is very likely that extruded health food cereals contain higher levels of these toxic protein fragments than refined grains that are lower in protein.

The following grains contain a relatively high percentage of protein:  wheat (13.7%), oatmeal (16.9%) and barley (12.5%) and are most likely negatively impacted by extrusion.

Grains that are lower in protein are less affected such as corn (9.4%) and rice (6.5%).   Grains such as corn and rice however are lower in not only protein but fiber as well.  These two grains are also the grain of choice for nutrient deficient sugary cereals like Fruit Loops and Coco Krispies.

Baked cereals are the best option to obtain grains rich in protein and fiber without the potential negatives associated with the extrusion process.  As mentioned earlier Grape Nuts are baked, as are Kashi’s Autumn Wheat varieties (similar to shredded wheat).

I contacted Kashi to ask what varieties of their cereals were extruded.  The list included the bulk of their offerings except for the aforementioned Autumn Wheat.

Whole grains contain a lot of powerful nutrients for children as well as adults such as B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, iron, and fiber.  These cereals are also very convenient for families on the run in search of a quick nutritious breakfast or snack.

There has not been a huge outcry from the media or nutrition professionals on this topic so the impact on health at least in the near term is likely very small.  However, my own experience and philosophy has led me down the path that when it comes to whole grain the less processed the better.

What I mean by that is whole grains are most nutritious when consumed in their whole unprocessed form: oats, corn, buckwheat groats (excellent replacement for rice crisps), quinoa, brown rice, and barley.   When Cheerios are made not only is the protein in the oats compromised by extrusion but processing also leaches out other nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.   Eating whole oats such as those found in your oatmeal will keep the nutrients intact.

In a nutshell all oats and other whole grains are best left as nature made them and not the result of a manufacturing process that sounds like something out of a Will Smith movie.


Cereal makers may be attempting to get out in the front of this topic and deal with it before it becomes a headache.  I recently saw a commercial for a cereal that emphasized that it’s grains are baked.  Here is a description of the product from the Post web site:

“What do we mean when we say Great Grains is "less processed"? Why is it good for me? 

Great Grains uses more "whole food" ingredients like whole grain flakes from the actual wheat berry, as well as real fruit and nuts. Rather than grinding our wheat into flour and then stamping it into uniform flakes, Great Grains Crunchy Pecans gently steams, rolls, and bakes our whole wheat. Keeping the whole grain whole means that you enjoy better nutrition.”

By the way I reviewed this cereal and it’s an above average option because it contains 4 grams of fiber per serving and the first and most prominent ingredient listed is whole grain, though at 13 grams per serving the sugar content is a little high.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Concussions: Not Always a Head Case

According to a just released study in the journal Pediatrics concussions among children playing sports appeared to have more than doubled from 1997-2007.  The study, by researchers at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Brown University looked at emergency room visits for concussions for children ages 8 to 19 from 2001 to 2005.  Of the approximately 502,000 ER visits for concussions, more than 252,000 were sports related.  Among children ages 8 to 13, 58% of all concussions were sports related, compared with 46% among 14-to-19 year olds.

Little is known about the long-term consequences of sports related concussions in school-aged children because there isn’t a lot of data from studies that have mainly focused on collegiate and professional athletes.  Researchers speculate that concussions in the still growing brains of children may produce more severe long-term developmental and cognitive problems than a similar injury to an adult.  Signs of concussion include headache, nausea and vomiting.  Doctors also advise parents and coaches to seek medical attention if “your child just doesn’t seem right.”1

The study also looked at concussions in children and compared them with participation rates in five organized team sports – baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey and soccer – from 1997 to 2007.  During that decade, participation in those sports declined by about 13% (overall youth participation in sport is at an all time high also early sport specialization skews the numbers), but ER visits for children ages 8 to 13 doubled from about 3,800 to 7,800, and among children ages 14 to 19, visits tripled from about 7,000 to 22,000.  These numbers probably underestimate the number of incidences because many concussions are never diagnosed or noticed from lack of noticeable symptoms.

Researchers aren’t sure of the reason behind the increases but theorize it may be due to better reporting of head injuries or that team sports have become more competitive.  While I certainly believe the reporting/diagnosis is better than ever I don’t believe team sports are more competitive than they used to be.  If you play sports you always want to win, that’s timeless.

However, I believe the increase could be due to the fact that young children aren’t as well prepared for the unexpected.  Often times head injuries occur when an athlete is hit from the “blind-side” or is stuck in a bad position.  That “sudden impact “ or jarring of the head when caught off guard doesn’t leave time to brace or react to what they should instinctively feel is coming.

The youth sport culture has gotten caught up in attempting to anoint athletes from a young age as the next “great one.”  This has lead parents and coaches to push children into one-dimensional sporting experiences.  Kids just don’t learn to develop instincts that protect them from the unexpected.  If all you did, as a child was to play one sport 10-12 months out of the year at the expense of other sport and activities your foundation of skill and movement abilities would be under-developed.  Kids will develop these protective instincts when they are “horsing” around playing games like tag, dodge ball or when they are sliding in the dirt or diving and rolling in the grass.  Exposure to many activities and sports allow children to develop a warehouse of movement abilities that will carryover to their game of choice.  Concussions aren’t merely the result of taking a hit, smacking into the boards or hitting the ground.  They often occur because athletes put themselves in sticky situations due to a lack of coordination, balance, and general strength.  The best way to avoid concussions is not to get one in the first place.  The way to ensure your child stays healthy from head to toe is to have them experience as many games and activities as possible.  Just when you least expect it that move they made on the basketball court just may carryover in helping them avoid that big hit on the football field.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Summer Vacation and Eating on the Road

Today, nearly one in three U.S. children is overweight or obese, and while summer should be a time to get up, get out and grow (physically and intellectually), kids will be at a greater risk for brain drain and weight gain when the school year ends. Research shows that without activities to keep their minds and bodies active, kids are likely to gain weight twice as fast * and show little to no academic growth over the summer than during the school year **. Despite these findings, only 21 percent of American parents rank overall physical health as a top concern for their children, while 20 percent rank education as a top concern, according to national survey findings released today by YMCA of the USA (Y-USA).  ***

The Y’s second annual Family Health Snapshot, an online parents survey gauging how physically and intellectually active children are during the school year and summertime, also revealed that parents face many barriers to providing a healthy environment. Fifty percent of parents say technological distractions, such as cell phones and television, are a big barrier to getting their kids to engage in healthy behaviors, which is higher than last year.

“Summer weight gain and summer learning loss often go unnoticed, but they impact many of today’s youth. Some studies have shown that children’s BMI increases nearly twice as fast during the summer than during the school year,” says Dr. Matt Longjohn, senior director of chronic disease prevention for Y-USA. “To help kids stay healthy and retain important skills learned during the school year, we need to provide opportunities for kids to move and learn all summer long.”

Parents Doing a Better Job but Are Still Struggling

The Family Health Snapshot also found that although parents are spending more time with their children in general, 40 percent admit they could do a better job of encouraging their children to engage in physical activity, while 35 percent say they need to encourage more reading for fun. When asked which leisure activity parents most participate in with their children, nearly 85 percent of parents responded that they watch television with their children, which is a marked increase from last year’s survey of 74 percent of respondents.

During the school year, only 19 percent of kids play outside and get at least the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity seven days a week; only 17 percent of kids read books for fun every day; and only 12 percent of kids eat at least the recommended eight fruits and vegetables daily.  Parents are also struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle: only 11 percent get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity for adults each day; only 9 percent eat at least eight fruits and vegetables each day; nearly 50 percent report reading books with their kids less than one day a week and 30 percent admit only playing with their children three to four days a week.

With summer only a few weeks away, keeping kids healthy and active requires planning and preparation. To help parents begin thinking early about what their kids need to grow and achieve all summer long here are five ideas to help families combat summer brain drain and weight gain:

1.     Plant a garden or visit the farmers market with your kids and prepare meals with the fresh produce, local farm raised meats and eggs.
2.     Take a bike ride or walk/run to visit your local library. Explore new books you and your kids may have missed to keep your mind sharp during summer.
3.     Have a family outing at your local park to get your heart pumping before evening meals. Play ball, run or create an obstacle course by using equipment in the park.  Take turns letting everyone in your family make up something and have fun!
4.     Start a book series and read together each night as a family. Reading at night keeps the brain buzzing and young minds active!
5.     Check out your local parks and recreation department for youth sport camps.  And here is an even better idea for overall development, enroll your child in a sport camp for an activity they have never tried or haven’t participated in for several years.

I will be holding two summer athletic development camps (emphasis on speed and quickness) at Troy Athens high school this summer June 18-22 from 9-10:30AM, and July 30-August 3 from 9-10:30AM.  I expose the kids to a wide range of drills, games and activities that will plant a few seeds in their fertile soil that along with a commitment to honoring the laws of nature will bear fruit in the form of highly refined sport skill while developing fitness that is durable.  For a more in-depth explanation of the above analogy read this:

With a commitment to improving the health of your family and the overall development of your children through active play and social interaction you can make a significant impact on the relationships with your children while also providing a foundation for health that will serve them for a lifetime.

Summer provides a tremendous opportunity to create real change while building strong bodies and minds in the process.  Enjoy the natural wonders this state has to offer.  Get your family and friends together, go outside have fun and get your body and mind fit!

Food for thought:

Last week I wrote about how many go-to snacks for children are laden with low quality ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.  I know many of you are on the run and preparing nutritious meals is not always an option in spite of your best efforts.  Here are few snack ideas and places to stop in a pinch:

Best snack ideas for convenience and when you are on the road.  At most you will need a small cooler bag:

Grass fed hard cheese varieties.  Sliced into cubes and placed in snack bags.  Cheese goes well with fruit or nuts.

Nuts are an excellent snack that travels well, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews to name a few.

Fruits that travel well are grapes, bananas and apples.  Even dried fruit without added sugar is a good snack option when combined with nuts or cheese.

Make your own trail mix with variety of nuts and dried fruits (figs, blueberries, cherries, raisins, apricots, goji berries) and even some dark chocolate chips (70% cacao content or more).

Beef, turkey and chicken jerky are also good sources of protein.  Just look for varieties that don't contain high fructose corn syrup or crazy preservatives or artificial flavoring like MSG.

Most protein bars out there are loaded with low-quality ingredients.  I have been using the Vega bar below and it's a nice option to have in a pinch. Contains no low-quality ingredients.  I would advise buying one or two bars to sample first.  I like the taste but see if it passes the kid test before buying a whole box.

Vega Sport Protein Bars:
You can pick these up at Whole Foods or Plum Market.

Great snack options here like nuts, dried fruits, grass fed beef jerky, free-range chicken jerky and granola.  Plus 15% of the proceeds support youth fitness and character development.  All of these products are made with high quality pure ingredients:
I used to eat Clif Bars for convenience but have gotten away from them because they are heavily processed with as much if not more sugar than a candy bar.  In addition the protein source in these bars is of low quality.  I would recommend them only if nothing else is readily available and only before or after intense physical activity.


Panrea Bread-Most of their salads are good options and they use antibiotic and all natural chicken and turkey.  The sandwiches are loaded with more calories than you may realize.  Solution, buy one and share with your child.

Chipotle-Their slogan is food with integrity.  Chipotle states that they prefer to work with family farmers who are good stewards of their land.  They attempt to work with small and local farmers when possible but the sheer size and scope of that operation makes the quest nearly impossible.  Chipotle is still a far better option than most quick serves.

The Big Salad-Pretty simple concept here, build your own salad with various ingredients.  Watch out for the dressings and load up with vegetables, dried fruit and nuts.  Go lighter with the meats and cheeses as they are processed in some manner but it’s better than most other quick serves.  Locations on Big Beaver and Rochester Road in Troy and Woodward near 14 Mile in Birmingham.

*[von Hippel, P.T., Powell, B., Downey, D.B., & Rowland, N., American Journal of Public Health, “The effect of school on overweight in childhood: Gains in children’s body mass index during the school year and during summer vacation”, April 2007]

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why Calorie Counting Doesn't Work...

A new medical study says type-2 diabetes is especially dangerous for children, because it's harder to control than in adults.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also finds because kids develop type 2 diabetes sooner, there's also an increased risk for complications such as heart attack and stroke.
The study followed 699 children, ages 10 to 17, for a four-year period and concluded that the medication typically used to treat the disease in adults wasn't as effective over time. About half of the patients needed to add insulin shots to their regime to control blood sugar levels. The study also suggests that a healthy lifestyle holds little bearing on the effectiveness of treatment.
Diabetes expert Dr. Mark Hyman, author of "The Blood Sugar Solution," shared his thoughts on the study.
"The takeaway is that we're needing a national wakeup call," Hyman said. "We're not going to solve this in the doctor's office, we have to solve this in the communities where people live.  You can't medicate your way out of a bad diet."
"Type 2 diabetes is rampant in children now," he said.  "We have two million kids who are morbidly obese. Most undiagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes and the study showed that drugs don't work, that we have to put kids on insulin, which is a disaster. We need a different solution. This is really a social problem. We need a social cure. We're not going to solve this in the doctor's office. We have to solve this in the communities where people live. “
Hyman noted that the average child in the U.S. has 34 teaspoons of sugar a day. He said, "The food industry have hijacked our brain chemistry, our taste buds, our homes, our kitchens, our schools, and we need to take them back. We need to do things like have soda taxes, change food marketing practices to kids because this is not a problem solved in the doctor's office."  *
Among all the teens in the study, 1 in 5 had a serious complication such as very high blood sugar, usually landing them in the hospital. The message from the study and experts like Hyman are clear: Prevention is key.
The idea that children as young as 10 years old are taking type-2 diabetes medication and are now burdened with a disease that will literally change their lives forever is heart breaking.  Hyman and others promote the use of strategies such as soda taxes and laws aimed at changing food marketing to kids to help curb the rates.
My instincts tell me while well intentioned these methods seem to amount to nothing more than a drop or two of water into a 10 gallon bucket.  Real change will take a collective effort and it would be tremendous if communities, schools and families were all pulling in the same direction but that will likely take years to coordinate and getting all involved on the same page and ironing out the wrinkles could take a decade or more.  In my view we don’t have time to waste because our children are to precious and they require our attention right now!  I still feel the best solution is within the walls of your own home.  Physical activity is vital for immediate and long-term health and wellness.  Next week I will provide strategies that families can implement this summer that will allow them to spend time together while having fun and getting active in the process.  However, this week I want to get in to some depth on a recurring theme that presents itself repeatedly during my research and practical experience.
This recurring theme is all about what we choose to eat; more specifically it’s all about sugar!
Consider the following news articles/stories all coming in the last week:
Based on BMI, about one-third of Americans are considered obese, but new research shows that when other methods of measuring obesity, such as body fat percentage, are factored in, that number may be closer to 60 percent. **
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, fructose is "isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. This is largely because different nutrients provoke different hormonal responses, and those hormonal responses determine, among other things, how much fat you accumulate.
The average American consumes 1/3 of a pound of sugar a day. That's five ounces or 150 grams, half of which is fructose, which is 300 percent more than the amount that will trigger biochemical havoc. And many Americans consume more than twice that amount!  This is why the idea that you can lose weight by counting calories simply doesn't work. After fructose, other sugars and grains are likely the most excessively consumed food that promotes weight gain and chronic disease.  In short, you do not gain body fat because you eat too many calories and don't exercise enough. You get fat because you eat the wrong kind of calories. As long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat. ***
Some foods you think are good for you actually have more sugar than a Twinkie! Yogurt, tomato sauce, granola bars, fat-free salad dressing, muffins, and canned fruit are just several examples …****
Sugar is the only calorie source that correlates with the increase in diabetes. In 1985, when the worldwide sugar consumption was 98 million tons, diabetes affected 30 million people. By 2010, sugar consumption had risen to 160 million tons, and global diabetes prevalence reached 346 million people. Overall, sugar is 50 times more potent than calories, in terms of causing diabetes. But why does it have this extraordinarily potent effect?
Sugar metabolizes as both fat and carbohydrate.   According to Dr. Lustig, fructose (a form of sugar) just like alcohol is metabolized directly into fat—not cellular energy, like glucose (the from of energy are bodies are designed to run on). So eating fructose is really like eating fat.  Not even fatty fruits like avocado or coconut have this effect, because your body treats them as either a fat or a carb—not both. Sugar is the only food that functions as both a fat and a carb simultaneously, and it is this combination of fat and carb that causes metabolic derangements and, subsequently, disease. So, please, don't be fooled: when it comes to sugar, the claim you hear on TV, that "sugar is sugar" no matter what form it's in, is a misstatement that can, quite literally, kill you—albeit slowly. *****
I want to pick up on something that I think is very important as it relates to the combining of macronutrients such as fat and carbs described by Dr. Lustig.  Most children whether it is at school or snacking in between meals are eating the exact food combination condemned by Dr. Lustig.  Chips, granola bars, cookies, candy bars, Pop-Tarts, pizza, Subway, chicken nuggets all of these foods are heavily laden with highly processed carbs (sugars) and low quality sources of fat.
When sugars and starches (carbohydrates) are eaten in their natural, unprocessed form, as part of a meal containing nourishing fats and protein, they are digested slowly and enter the bloodstream at a moderate rate of a period of several hours.  This is how are bodies are designed to be feed and when we eat this way we are rewarded with a steady, even supply of glucose.  The body is kept on an even keel, physically and emotionally.
But when children flood their bodies with processed food, particularly without quality fats or protein they enter the bloodstream in a hurry and disrupt the bodies finely tuned energy balance mechanisms.  When this is repeated throughout the days, weeks and months it throws that whole regulatory system and energy levels suffer dramatic peaks and valleys.
This situation is made worse by the fact that many of these processed foods will also be deficient in vitamins, minerals and the often-overlooked enzymes that are crucial for digestion and assimilation of nutrients.  Vitamins, minerals and enzymes are bodybuilding elements that allow all bodily systems to function harmoniously.    When these elements are lacking in the foods that we eat (if kids eat a lot of processed food they very likely are), it disturbs these bodily systems and sets the stage for conditions such as the type-2 diabetes mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine, not to mention behavioral disorders like ADHD, potential alcohol and drug abuse, learning disabilities, allergies and obesity just to name a few.
While this is not a pretty picture it is well within our reach to make changes that promote health.  Now is the perfect time to get started on a family action plan.  Many farmers markets will have early season yields such as asparagus and strawberries in the weeks ahead and you can always stock up on high quality eggs, chicken and beef from small local farms without worrying about pink slime or meat glue (yet another reason to avoid processed food of any kind). ****** The best strategy is and always has been to cook from scratch using seasonal and local ingredients when available.  As importantly though avoid packaged and processed foods whenever possible they simply lack the elements that develop strong and healthy bodies and minds.
Food For Thought:
Young men often ask me how they can gain weight and build muscle?  While I have covered this topic in some detail in the past I will revisit it more thoroughly in the weeks ahead.  For now understand that you can’t build muscle with junk!  Fast food and other highly processed products (most protein powders included) lack the body building elements described in this article (vitamins, minerals, enzymes) without them your efforts will be futile.


Happy Mother's Day to all moms!  I can only speak for myself but I would be lost without the nurturing and guidance from my mom over the last 30+ years.  I  have a strong feeling that your children feel the same way about you.
Additional Info:
What’s meat glue?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chatting with Izzo...

I love attending the games of the children that I coach.  The most important reason I do this is to support them and demonstrate to them that they are important to me.  The other reason I love going to games is it gives me a chance to connect with parents and find out the “little things” about their children.  This allows me to get to know the kids even better and it serves to reinforce our connection. 

One of the most important aspects of coaching young people is communication.  If you can earn the trust of a child they are more open to sharing things that may be going on in their lives that they are having a tough time dealing with and need someone to talk them through it.  A kid may be having a tough time at a workout and it “appears” he is being lazy but because of the trust we have built I learned that he just broke up with his girlfriend and has to take a college entrance exam the next morning.  To us we may think that’s nothing but to a teen that hasn’t fully developed mentally and emotionally this is a very big deal.  If I didn’t know this and started getting on his case I would have added to his burden and likely crushed any chance to develop a deeper bond.  As parents you are always available for your children and encourage them to come to you with anything that is on their minds but let’s face it, and I speak from experience, kids just feel their parents won’t understand.

My parents were always there for me if I needed anything but for whatever reason, I have yet to figure this out, I just felt like they didn’t get me or what was going on in my life.  It finally dawned on me in my twenties that my parents knew exactly what was going on in my life.  It took a while but I finally realized that my parents weren’t holding me back or being overly strict they were just preparing me for life as a young adult.

As a teenager you often feel lost and confused and as frustrating as that may become to parents we just don’t seem to realize what a tremendous resource you really are.  So now as someone who spends a lot of time with children of varying personalities I sympathize with parents as they attempt to navigate the relationships with their children.  I truly value the importance of the “little things” you share about your children.

The third reason I love to attend the games is because I get to see them in action and it provides a live action assessment of how they are applying the skills we have been developing in our training.

That said I heard an interesting story after chatting with a father of a boy that I coach.  The son attended a state play-off basketball game in East Lansing and the father happened to see his son seated in the stands across the gym.   After a closer look the father realized his son was sitting next to and chatting with Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo.  For most young athletes in our state it would be a thrill to sit and chat with one of the best coaches not only in the state but the nation as well.  There was one part of their conversation that stood out to me after his father retold it to me.   Izzo asked the young man if he played sports and the boy said yes that he played baseball and football but decided against playing basketball this season.

Izzo seemed a bit taken a back by the comment and asked the boy why he decided not to play?  The boys said he likely wouldn’t play as much as he did last season in addition to that he wanted to devote more time to lifting for football.  Izzo explained that the best thing he could have done to improve, as a football player was to play basketball to develop his overall athleticism with qualities such as agility and conditioning.

The next day I read about a former Detroit Tiger and his work with inner city kids.  This story also delivered a key message along the same lines mentioned by Coach Izzo.  Ike Blessitt who played for the Tiger in the early 70’s, is attempting to reach out to children who live in Detroit where baseball’s popularity has decreased significantly in the last 20 years or so.  “I want to get kids back out playing baseball again because it’s such a wonderful game that teaches you so much,” Blessitt said.   I couldn’t agree more in fact I wrote about it a few weeks ago but that’s a story for another day.  The relevant comment that Mr. Blessitt made to this line of discussion is as follows:

“When I was young, I played four different sports.  These coaches are more concerned now with building powerhouse programs.  They’re telling kids they can’t play any other sports even if the kid really wants to.”

The high level coaches and athletes all seem to understand that long term multi-dimensional athleticism is the key to maximizing athletic potential.  Sport specialization may develop elite 12 year-olds (whatever that means) but it usually stops there and maximum athletic potential is never attained because the foundation is to narrow.  These are merely two more examples but if you have followed my writing for any length of time you know that most college and pro coaches, recruiters and scouts prioritize athleticism first and foremost. The kids with overall athleticism provide them with the raw material they need to develop sport champions.

It should be stated that maximizing your child’s athletic potential might not be a priority for you or them as you may place a greater emphasis on academics and/or service as an example.  In my mind this should be the emphasis in all cases with sport playing a support role.  However, science has clearly demonstrated that being physically fit has a tremendously positive correlation to improved academic and emotional health as well.  The best thing we can do as parents and coaches is to encourage kids to explore a variety of movement based activities and sports. These global movement experiences will help them maximize their talent on the field of play and it will also give them a boost in the game of life as well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What and When to Eat for Optimal Performance

In my last article I touched on what types of food children can eat that will help them improve their performance on the field of play and in the game of life.  If you missed these articles here is the link:

This week I am going to touch on when to eat certain foods to maximize their impact on performance.

There are three areas that require distinction:  Before, during and after exercise.

Please understand that energy and stamina don’t come from sugar. Taking in simple carbs like sugar, corn syrup, pasta, or bread before an event will tend to cause a quick spike in your blood sugar followed by a corresponding fall, making you feel more exhausted than before. More than anything, simple carbs and excess complex carbs (whole grains, starches) will make you sluggish and hamper your performance.

If you want to create energy naturally, here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Just before a game or hard workout, eat a little bit of fruit, such as an apple, plum, pear, citrus fruit (not juice) or berries. They're great right before a game or workout, as they give you a small spike without the massive plummet.  The closer you get to game time the less you should eat.  If you wait just before the game to get a quick boost of energy it’s probably to late.  Part of your game day ritual should include a nutrition plan.
  • Two to three hours before a game or hard workout, complex carbs, fats and a small amount of protein will do the trick. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, olive oil, almond butter, flax oil, walnuts, almonds and eggs are all easy to digest and can give you more sustained energy for the day. 
  • Game day or exam day is not the best time to try guacamole for the first time.  Eating a variety of foods and trying new ones is a wonderful thing to do but not just before an important event.  Stick with foods you know you are comfortable with and have no trouble digesting.
  • During exercise you should only drink water.  Gatorade and other sports drinks aren’t necessary unless the weather conditions are extreme and you are sweating like a hog in the Texas heat (not sure if pigs actually sweat but you get the idea).  If the game or workout lasts more than an hour and the play is very intense then Gatorade is okay.   You might be all sweaty after a game on X-Box but that’s not time for a sports drink either.
  • Right after exercise there exists a prime "window of opportunity" in which your muscle is most ready to accept protein and nutrients towards recovery and growth.  To take advantage of this opportunity you must feed your muscle with fast assimilating protein such as low-fat chocolate milk or quality whey.  Slow assimilating proteins won't do the job. Meat, poultry and fish are too slow assimilating and therefore don't fit immediate post exercise recovery.
  • Keep in mind that after a workout, your stomach and digestive tract do not function as efficiently. The reason is because your digestive tract is incredibly vascular and uses significant amounts of blood to do its job. The problem arises because much of your blood is in the muscles that you just finished training. So an adequate amount of blood is not available to digest food eaten after a workout and that's why whey is the best choice.

The post exercise recovery meal is important to maximize the fruits of the labor. It's needed to stop the break down in your muscle and shift the process towards repair and growth.  So ideally you should eat within 30 minutes after your workout. That’s what the latest sports nutrition science recommends.  However, your family lives in real time and these strategies might not be applicable on a regular basis.  Do the best you can and try to make it part of the routine.  A good strategy is to put a scoop of grass-fed whey in a shaker bottle and take it to your game/work-out.  Pour in cold water or Gatorade and you have a simple recovery meal.  I would advise vanilla whey if you mix it with Gatorade however.  Lemon-lime with chocolate sounds pretty gross to me!

To really maximize performance you should try to eat a whole foods meal within 2 hours after the workout/game.  This meal should consist of protein (chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, etc.) and a huge serving of vegetables to resupply your body with vitamins and minerals.

Active Kid Recipe:

Protein Power Oatmeal

I get a lot of rave reviews for this one.  Just before bed get a glass bowl (preferably with a lid) and fill it with anywhere from half to three-quarters cup whole oats and cover it with hot water.  Put the lid on and let it soak overnight.  In the morning scoop the oats into a saucepan and crack one whole egg and beat it then add it to oats.  Add a serving (will say on label) of pure stevia (sweetener) and mix well.  Add a chunk of dark chocolate and cook until melted and egg is cooked about 5 minutes on med-low heat.  Just before serving mix a tablespoon of all-natural peanut or almond butter into the warm oatmeal.  After well blended serve.  Add stevia to taste if needed.  This is a complete meal with hi-fiber whole grains, complete protein and healthy fats if the eggs are grass-fed and pastured and dark chocolate is full of antioxidants.  Most importantly it tastes great!