Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Key To Developing Elite Athletes...

I just finished up a weeklong youth speed and quickness camp last week.  I had a group of 16 boys and girls ranging in age from 11-16.  The format was pretty simple I would introduce a technique such as acceleration (getting out of the “blocks” faster) then I incorporated the skill we just practiced into a game setting.
Rather than “drilling” kids with boring exercises involving cones and repeated attempts of the same movement the live and reactive environment of a game increases the fun factor and most kids love to compete so they are all engaged.
Children also tend to relate better to the more concrete tasks involved with game play where the outcome is more important than the means in which that outcome is achieved.  Teaching kids the concept of force application or hip turns is to abstract and would likely be missed and not retained after the camp is over.
A weeklong camp (totaling about 7 hours of total practice time) is not near enough time for the kids to develop a solid grasp or understanding of technical concepts but the exposure is important.  The next time we get together we can build on that foundation and continue to explore in more depth the technical concepts of speed and quickness.   The key is to bring the kids back in order to advance their “athletic” education and that will only happen if they had a good experience.
The techniques and skills we worked on are planted in their movement blue print but they will be buried in less than a week if not sooner.  The kids will however, remember how much fun they had the next time one of these camps is offered. They will remember how much fun they had and will be excited to come back.  I have to earn the opportunity to continue their development by creating an environment that motivates them to come back.
If someone observed our camp they would likely be disappointed that there was too much fun and games and less “work” and drills.  And while I understand it may appear that way, if I buried (made them work until they "threw-up" or couldn’t move the next day…) these kids just to enhance the image that I am a skilled and knowledgeable coach I would likely bore the kids and have lost the opportunity to bring them back.
Athletic development in general and speed and agility skill specifically, is best-learned and retained when exposure and refinement take place over a number of years.   First graders learn basic math first than advance to more advanced techniques like algebra and geometry once they have mastered the basics.  Athletic development should follow the same course of development.
The best coaches understand this and don’t give into the pressure to look “impressive” at the expense of their developing young athletes.
As I mentioned this camp included boys and girls ranging in age 11-16.  We started at 9AM on a hot turf field and there were no complaints but plenty of laughing and running with all out effort.  Free play was the catalyst for this and the kids worked on all manners of speed skill; they retreated, accelerated, changed directions, avoided, jumped, leaped, faked and cut.  Not to mention there is not better way to condition kids than game play.  Their heart rates are up, they are burning a ton of calories and are sweating but don’t even notice because they are having fun.  Tell a kid to run on a treadmill or force them to do boring drills and none of that happens!  Put the kids first and set ego aside and you just may earn the opportunity to coach them again and allow their “brilliance” to shine increasingly sharper over the long-term.
Just Hanging Out…
My niece recently stayed with us for a weekend and she told me that her knees and back hurt.  She is 13 years old and she participates in dance/cheer.  I watched how she moved through a few exercises and asked her to demonstrate some of the more common movements she utilizes in her competitions.  Basically, these still developing girls are taking their joints to extreme end range to gain stability.  The movements are repetitive and after years of hanging on joints and ligaments for stability she has become unstable and developed chronic pain.
Unfortunately the demands of her sport have taken a toll.  Sports can place a heavy burden on a still developing child’s body.  This is why it is so important to play different sports seasonally.  The multi-sport approach allows the body to recover while also developing different muscles and movements.   In addition, the time spent away from their “best/favorite” sport will be beneficial to avoid early burnout while keeping their enthusiasm level high.  This is the real key for long-term success on the field of play and in the game of life.  Playing one sport for more than 6 months in a year at the expense of other activities slowly pounds on kids until they get hurt or give it up.  It might not happen right away but that constant pounding eventually catches up with them.
The solution in my niece’s case and any one-sport athlete is they must have some type of training program that counteracts the demands of their sport.  As an example, I would not have my niece do any kind of “stretching” in her conditioning program.  The focus of her program would be on strengthening her muscles in order to restore her stability while taking pressure of the joints and ligaments.  Body awareness would also be key in this case.  Feeling the difference between hyper-extending her knees and keep them slightly flexed would also spare her joints.
Sports are tough on a kid’s body.  I am in no way saying that kids should avoid sport.  The benefits far outweigh any negatives in fact the negatives are often avoided with seasonal and multi-sport participation.  The take away point here is that if your child participates in a sport for more than 6 months ideally they would have some type of conditioning program that acts to counter the unique demands of their sport.  Repetitive use sports like swimming, baseball pitching, dance/cheer, tennis and figure skating can be more problematic but any sport to excess can lead to overuse injury and emotional burnout.
Speaking of unique sporting demands…
I have been throwing baseballs off of a mound for a couple of weeks to prepare for throwing out the first pitch at a West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers class A team) minor league baseball game on the 4TH of July.  It has reminded me of the unique demands placed upon the body when slinging a ball over head while throwing down a hill and landing with one-foot on a down slope.  For those who believe baseball pitchers aren’t athletic they should try throwing off a mound sometime.   The stress placed on the shoulder and elbow upon release of the ball is obvious but also the torque placed upon the knee when the foot plants on that down slope is tremendous.   I will spare you the details as it requires more depth, but throwing a baseball is a very violent action.  Baseball (pitching particularly) leads the pack as one of the sports that require a training program that will serve to counteract its unique demands.  That said if a child plays baseball in the spring and early summer, free play/down time mid to late summer, football/soccer in the fall and basketball/hockey in the winter than the need for a dedicated training program can be significantly reduced.  The alternating demands placed on the young athlete are balanced out and the varying exposures build a body that is more resilient.

Phil Loomis

Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

I couldn't resist including this video that clearly shows that baseball is populated by many elite athletes and is far from boring:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is There a "war" Against Boys

Anytime I come across research that shows a positive correlation between physical activity and academic performance I like to highlight it.  Here are two of the most recent that demonstrate that exercise has a positive effect on school performance:

Nationwide, government and academic officials are working together in an attempt to improve the health and fitness of our children.  While at the same time teachers are attempting to prepare their students for increasingly demanding academic standards.  This is a great challenge to undertake and the demands often seem to conflict.  Because of a global job market the competition is fierce and it makes sense to cut back on  “non essential” pursuits such as gym class and recess and replace them with “essential” courses like math and science.   However, could this seemingly logical approach be doing more harm than good?

Consider that according to the centers for disease control and prevention 5.2 million school-aged children are diagnosed with ADHD.  11.2% of school-aged boys and 5.5% of school-aged girls are diagnosed with ADHD.

Those numbers seem awfully high.  And based upon my studies this diagnosis in children, particularly boys, may be very premature.  In the book the War Against Boys, the author states that society is attempting cut off the masculine essence of boys at an early age.  They are taught that their aggressive nature is bad and the primary tool for this operation is the public school system.  The average teacher faces an incredible challenge to create order in a classroom full of boys and girls while also attempting to promote a learning environment.  The main obstacle to this goal is to get the boys to sit down be quiet and pay attention for an entire day!  This is not how boys are wired; the attempt to tame them seemingly violates the rules of nature.  That task is nearly impossible but is it being accomplished?   And if it’s being accomplished how is it being done, with drugs like Ritalin…  If so, is that the right approach?

I think we all understand that drugs are not the right approach especially when you consider that children are essentially being told they are sick because they are doing what comes natural to them.  So should we just let the boys tear apart the classroom and drive every nanny and schoolteacher into early retirement?

Boys learn in a very different way than girls do and rather than attempting to change the nature of boys, doesn’t it make more sense to change the way we do male education?  In the book The Decline of Males the author writes that boys are 3-4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.  But the author doubts that they are sick rather that they are being asked to sit still and be quiet when they are wired for action and movement and the only disease they suffer from is that of being a male.

I tend to agree with the author as I just finished by first year of teaching a class in a public school for 3rd and 4th graders.  Just getting the boys to slow down long enough to take attendance was a task let alone rallying them for instruction and teaching.  Just ask any mother who has a raised a house full of boys (My mom raised three of us).  If the house is still standing and the chandelier isn’t broken that’s a good day, right mom?  The idea of prescribing a tranquilizing drug to a boy for obeying his very nature is well stated by the author, scandalous!

In spite of this many schools and teachers manage to get the job done in a way that can best be described as heroic.  A talented teacher that can educate their children while at the same time not betray that child’s very nature is a prized commodity.

A new book about the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander provides an excellent example of this.  Verlander’s parents were in Troy recently for the signing of their new book about their son’s development.

Richard and Kathy Verlander watched Justin grow from an energetic, talkative little kid who worried some teachers with his lack of focus into one of the most focused, talented players in baseball.

They thank people who became involved in Justin's life, going as far back as his second-grade teacher, Mrs. Kramer, who told them that she liked his energy and he just needed a little focus, not medication as others suggested. One of these days, they remember her telling them, that energy will turn into something special.

"These people don't get celebrated enough, that have such a big impact on a person's life," Richard Verlander said. "And we all had them."

Said Kathy Verlander: "She helped us parent him better. She helped us learn to focus that energy, all the way through school -- strict discipline. He's a creature of habit. He likes order, structure. And so that's the way we parented him."

No drugs necessary just parents, teachers and coaches that understand the nature of a boy and rather than deny it they harness and direct it in a positive way.  Education and coaching should not utilize one-size fits all approach.  The true power of a teacher is bringing out the best in each student and directing their unique talents in a direction that allows them to thrive.  “Sit down and be quiet,” is not a useful method.

The link to the research that shows a positive correlation between activity and academic performance should be clear, particularly in the case of boys.  Boys need a physical outlet and if we want them to achieve higher standards in the classroom we should not deny their natural inclination to be, as depicted on my favorite t-shirt as a kid, a Master of Disaster.


After I heard the reason behind Richard And Kathy’s Verlander’s desire to write the book it brought a smile to my face.  They wrote it in hopes of helping parents to help their kids find their talent and foster it without suffocating it. 

This also reminded me of a note I received from a parent after he let me know his girls had just finished school and would be attending a few after school parties rather than coming to training.  Many coaches may take offense to taking one on the chin in favor of a few kiddy parties but not me!  They are kids first and athletes second, fun always comes first.  I told this dad that I appreciated the fact that he was allowing some “down time” for his girls just to be kids.  His reply should be the norm rather than the exception:

“I know the importance of down time.  I figure the only way they will reach their athletic and soccer potential is with sustained passion for it and I’m not about to kill that.”

Parents, teachers and coaches can’t live in fear of upsetting the status quo.  Year round sports and training instead of “kid time,” just because everyone else is doing it is a race to the bottom.  This dad understands that and so do Justin Verlander’s parents.  If it worked for Justin it can work for your kids.


While I understand that most children won’t grow up to be 6’5 and throw a baseball 100 miles per hour, they do have a skill that is unique to them.  With a touch of patience and a sincere understanding of a child’s true nature we can direct their energy toward the realization of their own special talent.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Should Practice Be Fun?

I went back to my family farm last week to spend time with my family and on the way I stopped to pick up my 9 year-old nephew from his baseball practice.  I got to the field an hour early to watch.  What I saw was yet another reason why kids think, “baseball is boring.”   I wrote about this more in depth a few weeks ago if you’d like a more nuanced opinion read here:

The kids were spread over the infield with a few kids in the outfield for what appeared to be batting practice.  One child was pitching while another was at the bat swinging away.  When a pitch did make it over the plate (which was rare) the boys would swing and miss, only occasionally would they make contact with the ball.  Batter after batter this went on before the coach finally decided to pitch and delivered more “hittable” pitches.   Meanwhile, the kids in the field had lost interest about a half hour ago.  On another note less than half the team showed up for the practice and one of the coaches had to rally up a few of the neighborhood kids to help out (How cool is that? It’s nice to know that’s still possible).  How many of those children skipped out on practice because it’s not fun?  I want to make one point on that topic before moving on.  Practice for 9 year olds should be fun; the goal should be to create enjoyment of the sport.  This fun and enjoyment for the sport will lead to long-term adherence and ultimately kids that want to do the extra work that helps them become champions. 

I don’t write this as a critique of any one’s coaching style or the children’s athletic abilities.  This style of practice has been going on since I was a kid and probably decades before that.  “That’s just the way we have always done it…” When you read that it sounds like a pretty lame reason to continue with a mind set that has watched youth baseball participation numbers declined precipitously.

The kids didn’t seem to have any fun until the end of the practice when they were racing each around the bases! 

A different approach may be needed…

When we arrived at the farm after practice at my nephew’s insistence, we played one-on-one baseball in his backyard.  I won’t go into to much detail but yes, it is possible to play baseball with two people and have a blast doing it all you need is a bat, ball, Frisbees (bases), hitting tee and a little imagination.  We played for two hours non-stop and we sprinted, made multiple cuts and change of direction moves while evading flying tennis balls.  Plus at least a half dozen other athletic skills were utilized in our play session.  Of the two approaches it’s not hard to figure out what strategy was more fun but what about skill development?  Clearly from my point of view we accomplished more in the first 5 minutes of free play than I observed in an hour of “structured” practice.

I must defend many of these youth volunteer coaches.  They most likely have a day job and don’t have time to reinvent the wheel when it comes to structuring a team practice; they just revert to what they were taught.  The career path I have chosen motivates me to improve the youth sport/fitness experience for all kids so I do have the time and motivation to consider alternative methods.  If a coach were to run a practice similar to the play model I used with my nephew parents and league officials would likely be critical of it.  Which brings me to an important point we have all experienced coaches that drive their team to hard and parents that yell from the bleachers at players and referees.  This creates a hostile environment at worst and at best it’s one that isn’t fun for anyone involved especially the kids.

Many leagues around the country are starting to develop codes of conduct of acceptable behavior by all involved; coaches, players and parents.  This is essential from a sportsmanship perspective while also promoting a positive atmosphere for athletic and social growth.  One of the tenets of such a code should include a shared philosophy by all that fun is the mission of sport.  If fun is the priority it will allow the love of sport to develop and along with that the desire on the child’s part to improve and commit to maximizing their abilities.  Without fun, this “drive” doesn’t happen in a positive way and long-term participation is discouraged.

Early experience matters, within reason of course…

I recently spoke with a client who said that her 19 year-old son is playing in an intramural soccer league with his friends this spring.  Apparently he is the “star” of the team even though he hasn’t played since 8TH grade.  When he went to high school the soccer season conflicted with football and he chose the latter.  Throughout high school he played hockey, football and track but not soccer.  And yet, after 5-6 years away from the sport he can pick it right back up at a fairly high level.  I loved this story for two reasons.  First, it bolsters my belief that early exposure for children is so critical because their systems are like sponges and they can soak up whatever you expose them to.  Each exposure is like laying down a brick that is added to a solid foundation for future sporting efficacy.  Once these bricks are in place they stay in place, but early diversity of experience is essential for this to happen.  Second, because he learned how to play soccer when he was young it created an opportunity for him later in life to be with is friends in a fun and fitness-promoting environment.  Early exposure and long-term development will provide lifelong benefits.

How early is to early?  I had a conversation with a friend last week and he asked me if I knew of anything his son could sign-up for to get more athletic.  Apparently there is not a lot out there for 3 and half year-olds…  This is the culture we live in these days.  We feel pressured whether that stress comes from within or via media/society that kids have to be doing something!  There is a reason there isn’t a lot out there for kids that age and that is because they should be with us in our homes, backyards, or on trips to the playground or even the zoo.   We need to make more time to play with our kids!   I fear we are losing the art of spontaneous, creative free play.  The benefits are beyond mention for children and adults.  At my class at the Covington School the kids are lost without a ball.  They don’t want anything to do with it if it doesn’t involve a  recognizable sport.  It has forced me to get creative and infuse some diversity into their sporting experience.  I am not discouraged at all by the youth sport culture it just requires some creative thinking by parents, teachers and coaches to give them what they want while also teaching them what we know they need.   As I can attest after the free play with my nephew it might not fit the traditional sport model but it was fun and it works because it’s fun, especially when your 9-years old.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

No Meal Is Complete Without This...

It seems as though every few years some type of nutrient makes the headlines and is touted for it potent health benefits.  Decades ago vitamins crashed the marketing landscape and they were added to everything from milk, fruit juice to breakfast cereal.  Not long ago fiber was the “Johnny come lately” nutrient and it was added to cereal, yogurt, crackers and nutrition shakes.  More recently Omega-3 fats hit the mainstream and marketers and food manufactures decided it would be a good idea to add them to milk, pasta and even peanut butter.

In all cases these nutrients are added to the food in an attempt to boost it’s marketability, whoops I meant nutrition…

I am going to predict the next nutrient that will make headlines and become the next media/marketing darling will be food enzymes.

One caveat must be added before I go forward on this subject and that is anything that is artificially added to a food even a seemingly beneficial nutrient such as fiber has a neutral impact on health at best.  When food is eaten in its natural package nutrients are more available for absorption and utilization by your body.  Science can’t possibly account for the delicate balance of nutrient ratios that make a food such as broccoli so nutritious and health promoting.  Fiber in that broccoli may be beneficial but it’s likely more effective because it exists in a specific ratio with other nutrients like vitamins C, K and potassium.  For instance did you know that eating too much calcium can lead to an imbalance in magnesium?  And guess what nutrient is added to food products all the time to “improve” its nutrition?  That’s right calcium!  The lab technicians should have accounted for that but neglected to do so.  Trust nature it’s always the better way to go.

When it comes to food talk we hear all about macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrate) and to a slightly lesser extent micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

However, there is one component of food that is often overlooked, misunderstood or totally unknown and these oft-mysterious agents are food enzymes.

Enzymes are complex proteins that acts as catalysts in almost every biochemical process that takes place in the body. [1]

Enzymes fall into one of three major classifications metabolic, digestive and food.  We will direct our attention to the food enzymes for this discussion.

Food enzymes are present in ample amounts in many raw foods, and they initiate the process of digestion in the mouth and stomach.  These enzymes in raw food, particularly raw fermented food, help start the process of digestion and reduce the body’s need to produce digestive enzymes.

All food enzymes are destroyed at a wet-heat temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit and a dry heat of 150.

A diet composed exclusively of cooked and processed foods places a strain on the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes, and thus overtime repeated withdrawals can exhaust the system and ultimately deplete your body’s ability to produce it’s own supply of enzymes for proper digestion and absorption.

Am I suggesting that you consume all of your foods raw, even meat?  Not even close but what I discovered during my research will get your attention because there is a valid reason we slather our burgers with ketchup and it serves a much larger purpose than to enhance it’s flavor.

First allow me to provide a list of raw plant foods that are rich in enzymes (believe it or not many fruits and vegetables contain few enzymes); extra virgin olive oil, raw honey, grapes, figs and many tropical fruits including avocados, dates, bananas, papaya, kiwi, pineapple and mangos.

While we do need to include enzyme rich raw foods in our diets, no traditional cultures ate diets composed exclusively of raw foods.  However, traditional ethnic cuisines are rarely eaten without at least one fermented food or drink. [2]

The art of lacto-fermentation has been a traditional practice around the globe.  If all of these different cultures were using it the question of why needs to be asked?  Not only was it a method of preservation before refrigeration came along but it also makes the food more nutritious and plays a vital role in digestion and absorption.

Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, is not meant to be eaten in large quantities but in traditional cultures they served as condiments to be eaten with cooked meat and grain meals to enhance digestion and the utilization of nutrients.

In fact, ketchup is an example of a condiment that was formerly fermented and therefore health promoting, but whose benefits were lost with industrial food production and a reliance on high fructose corn syrup rather than lactic acid as a preservative.  [3]

Kefir is also an example of an enzyme rich food derived from process of lacto-fermentation, some nutrition experts refer to it as a natural antibiotic-and it’s made from milk.  Kefir is like a drink-style yogurt in texture, but the taste is more tart. [4]

Kefir from cow/goat milk is a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids.  By the time you drink kefir, its friendly bacteria have already partially digested the protein, making it much easier for your body to digest.  In order for you to utilize protein optimally your body requires an adequate supply of minerals.  Kefir provides these, too.  For these reasons kefir is an excellent sports recovery drink, certainly more effective than any protein powder you can buy.  Amino acids within the kefir also work with its calcium and magnesium content to help calm the central nervous system.   Donna Gates author of the Body Ecology Diet says of kefir, “it’s calming effect is great for hyperactive children or for people who have trouble sleeping.” [4]

Kefir is a super food because it is rich with highly bio-available vitamins, minerals and amino acids (building blocks of the body) and they come in a natural package of ideal ratios that enhance their effectiveness.  If you have a young athlete that is attempting to gain “weight” at the edict of a coach consider that most protein powders are little more than innate materials.  Kefir is a much better option because the muscles absorb its protein quickly and efficiently. 

Most commercially available kefir and yogurt is full of low-quality sugars and additives and should be avoided.  The best option is to start with high quality milk and make your own.  Homemade kefir is relatively easy to make you just need a good culture starter.  Below I will list a few quality resources for milk, kefir and yogurt.

Modern society has all but abandoned the traditional practice of lacto-fermentation in favor of mass produced food products that have been pasteurized (destroying health promoting enzymes in the process) and sterilized apparently to keep us safe.  Modern food production has lead to food that is sterile at best and more likely is detrimental to our long-term health (artificial sweeteners and preservatives, Trans fat…).  So in spite of all of these efforts to “clean” up the food supply in order to prevent acute outbreaks of food poisoning and contamination the health of our nation has suffered immensely (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer…). 

Milk is one example of this and I have studied its history quite thoroughly.  The short version is that pasteurization was a byproduct of the industrial revolution when milk parlors were located in filthy inner city “swill dairies.”  That product required treatment and pasteurization because the conditions were filthy.  But the process stuck even though consumption of raw milk had never been an issue before when obtained from small farms with traditional cow breeds.

As it relates to our discussion on food enzymes, pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, and alters fragile milk proteins.  Lactase the main enzyme in milk that digests milk sugar (lactose) is destroyed by pasteurization.  In my opinion the pasteurization era correlates closely with the increase in milk allergies and lactose intolerant children and adults.   As we distance ourselves from traditional food sources we no longer eat foods rich in enzymes like lactase and many people simply have lost their ability to digest the milk.

During the fermentation process lactase is recovered when making kefir and yogurt making it much easier to digest even for people that normally don’t do well with dairy products.  I am not suggesting that if you are lactose intolerant that you try kefir or yogurt, that is a discussion that requires more personal assessment between you and a nutrition professional or doctor.  I also am not suggesting that you should switch to raw milk.  Sadly, the way milk is produced now pasteurization is a necessity.  Also we are so far removed from the consumption of raw milk that it would be extremely difficult due to the evolution of our digestive systems to tolerate.  I recently spoke with a doctor that has dealt with quite a few consumers of raw milk and he said they are a “mess!”  Society evolves and if you didn’t grow up consuming raw milk and most of us have not it’s likely not a good idea to start.  We simply lack the internal mechanisms to tolerate it.  This same doctor also advised against the use of ultra-pasteurized milk even when it’s organic (you’ll be surprised at how common this method is).[5]

I am suggesting that the current food preparation and production culture requires that we explore the use of lacto-fermented foods to enhance our long-term health and regain our ability to thoroughly and efficiently digest and absorb the nutrients in our food.  It’s quite clear given the disease rates in this state that we are over-fed and undernourished.
Enzymes from the food we consume are essential to optimize health and build strong bodies.

Resources and a few notes on fermented dairy and vegetables:

Milk products are rich in calcium and phosphorous (for bone development) but only have a small amount of magnesium.  Overindulging in dairy products could lead to an imbalance between these key minerals.  If you do consume a lot of dairy include many magnesium rich foods (black and kidney beans, cooked spinach, almonds, cashews, brown rice, pumpkin seeds) into your diet. [6]

Thomas Organic Creamery Whole Milk, sold at Whole Foods and Plum Market
Grass-fed from traditional cow breed and local farm (Henderson, MI).

Thomas Organic Creamery, above

Helios Plain Kefir also at Whole Foods
Add your own fruit and natural stevia leaf powder to sweeten.
Kefir goes well with strawberries, blueberries and pineapple.  Add nuts such as almonds or walnuts for a complete breakfast or snack. 

Fermented vegetables:
Look for a product that is raw and has no preservatives, vinegar or sugar, and is not pasteurized.
Products from “The Brinery” fit the bill and they are located in Ann Arbor.
My palate is likely very similar to that of your children.  The idea of eating sour vegetables is very unappetizing to me.  When my wife opens up a jar of kimchi I nearly pass out from the smell.  That said I add about a tablespoon full of sauerkraut from The Brinery to my cooked meals and salads.  I don’t even notice it’s there and after some exposure I can eat a little on it’s own without closing my eyes and wincing.  Only add it to food after it’s cooked or else the heat will destroy the enzymes.


[1] [2] [3] [5] Fallon, Sally.  Nourishing Traditions.  Washington, DC:  New Trends Publishing, 2001.

[4] [6] Gates, Donna.  The Body Ecology Diet.  Decatur, GA:  B.E.D. Publications, 2006.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Biggest Health Hazards for Young Athletes

Concussions, spinal cord injuries, complications from asthma and diabetes, exertion heat stroke, and sudden cardiac arrest are among the biggest health hazards young athletes face right now, according to a National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) report.  [1]

Concussion rates, especially, are on the rise -- and some experts say that may be a good thing in the long run. The increase in reported incidents has led to an increase in awareness among parents, athletic trainers, and coaches, Kevin Guskiewicz, the co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And now "athletes are taking it more seriously."

The Detroit Lions are offering unwavering and strong support for a bill about concussions that is making its way before Michigan legislators.

The Lions have promoted the benefits of Senate Bill 1122, which would require youth sports organizations and schools to adopt concussion-awareness guidelines.

It’s already a requirement in 35 states.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville calls it a common-sense approach and says the legislation will be on the floor this week. [2]

While the health hazards above can be the worst fear of many parents and coaches musculoskeletal (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones) injuries, while certainly not life threatening should be of concern because of the potential long-term quality of life implications.

Though not widely reported, knee injuries are "a very common injury, one that research shows can lead to the development of knee osteoarthritis, and can become debilitating in your middle-age years," Marjorie Albohm, the president of the National Athletic Trainers Association. "Injury to the cartilage, meniscus, or ACL predisposes you to early arthritis in your middle age."

Repetitive stress injuries are also on the rise. The days of lettering in several different varsity sports are gone; instead, students are encouraged to focus on a single sport starting at a very young age -- as early as kindergarten, in some places -- and stick with it throughout high school and college. Sometimes, they're urged to do so by coaches hoping to hone a particular skill. Other times, they're pushed by parents or driven to land a rare college scholarship. But the intense training in one sport over a long period of time can take a toll, even on young and seemingly fit bodies.

"Probably the thing that we're seeing the most right now is any type of overuse injury, from stress fractures to low-level muscle injuries," Charlie Thompson, chair of the NATA College/University Athletic Trainers' Committee and the head athletic trainer at Princeton University. "Off-season programs start too soon after the end of a long season, and we're not allowing recovery to happen."

"When they get to the high school level and then to the college level, we now see nine, 10, or 11 months of training without a break. It's too much," Thompson continued. "When they get to college, we see the end result: The number of athletes that are coming into college already having had surgery or who need surgery."

I wrote about the collegiate athlete injury rates last week and many of the injuries in the report were from over-use injury and occurred in sports with a large volume of repetitive motions.  As implied by Mr. Thompson the groundwork for a majority of those injuries was established well before setting foot on a college campus.

As young athletes were reminded this week, training in hot weather puts athletes of all ages at risk for heat stroke. Most people know the telltale signs -- dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath -- but when you're dealing with a serious student athlete, those signs often get ignored.

"If you're doing intense workouts, you're going to get some of those signs and symptoms on a daily basis," Brendon McDermott, assistant professor and clinical coordinator for the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "Athletes will continually push themselves. If it's something serious, their teammates or their coach are going to be the ones to recognize the symptoms."

It's situations like this when the benefits of having a full-time athletic trainer on staff are clear. While coaches are focused on winning games and developing an athlete's skill, and strength and conditioning coaches are focused on fitness and conditioning, athletic trainers are medical professionals who are certified to prevent, diagnose, and treat injuries and sport-related illnesses. Still, just 42 percent of high schools in the United States have access to an athletic trainer, according to data from NATA.

"Most of the scenarios that would be extreme happen during practice, not games," McDermott says. "I don't know of an exertion heatstroke that's occurred during a game."

"Our whole background is medicine," NATA's Robinson, who is also the head athletic trainer at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois, said. "It's not realistic to expect a coach to have that type of background."

Parents have to do their part as well. "Parents should be taking a vested interest in their sons or daughters participation and asking questions like 'What is the emergency action plan?' 'Who has the first aid kit?' and 'Who's going to look after him when he's out there?'" Robinson added.

So what can leaders of young athletes do to prevent injuries?

"Sports participation is a double-edged sword," says James Gamble, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford, Calif. "Too little has given rise to the fact that one-third of children are obese. Too much has given rise to acute and overuse injuries."

According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, more than 8,000 children are treated each day in emergency rooms across the U.S. for sports-related injuries. Dr. Gamble notes that based on his practice and published research, overuse injuries are becoming extremely common in adolescent athletes. "You get stress fractures and injuries to tendons where ligaments attach to bones. It's an insidious onset and gradually gets worse until the parent notices a child is limping at practice or a game, and eventually it gets so bad the child can't perform," he says.

Parents play a crucial role in teaching their young athletes how to prevent sports injuries. By following a few simple tips, mom and dad can help their children balance a love for participating in sports activities while also being safe. In addition to having a regular medical exam to make sure a child is healthy, parents should teach their kids to follow these practical guidelines:

Always warm up.
Kids have a tendency to jump right in at a practice, but parents -- and coaches -- should teach them about the importance of warming up before a sport. "You can't just go out and start the activity," says Dr. Gamble. Kids need a very aggressive warm up that also includes dynamic stretching.

Wear the right equipment for the sport.
If a child isn't wearing protective gear or the correct equipment, "he or she shouldn't be permitted to practice," Dr. Gamble. Make sure the equipment fits your child properly. Parents should also encourage kids to wear mouth guards and eye protection. Young athletes need proper foot gear, too. "When kids wear improper foot gear, that can really make them a set up for strains and fractures," warns Dr. Gamble.

Remember the 5 out of 7 rest rule.
The problem with year-round sports is that young athletes don't have adequate time to recover from physical activity. "Kids will practice during the week, and then they'll have tournaments on the weekend. And during the tournaments they may play two games for two or three days, and then they'll go back to practice and P.E. at school. It's an absolute increase in the number of sports and games played and then it's year round, so there's no chance for kids to recover and condition," says Dr. Gamble. He recommends that parents follow the 5 out 7 rest rule: "It's good to have two days for the child to recover, where they're not doing P.E. or a pick-up game. It's a real time to rest. The growing body needs rest."

Watch for overuse injuries.
 Is your child pitching more than he or she should? (And than catching right after pitching several innings?) Does your gymnast seem hesitant to put pressure on a foot or wrist but doesn't want to leave the floor? It could be that the child has an injury and doesn't want to admit it. "That's where parents come into play, to come up with the balance," says Dr. Gamble. "A child will go and go and go."

Ease into sports after an injury.
Kids think they're invincible, even after an injury. But the healing and rehab phases are critical, says Dr. Gamble. "What we see with recurrent injuries is that they'll rest for a bit then they go back to the same level of intensity [they were at before the injury]. They need to ease back into the sport." [3]

Recovery from injury is an active process.  While rest may be an option for the first day or two after suffering an injury the rehab process begins soon after.  Whether it’s hands on therapy, low-level stretching, icing or pool therapy the days of being told to sit and rest are long gone.  Whenever an injury occurs parents and coaches need to be informed by an athletic trainer, physical therapist or doctor on the appropriate protocol to shepherd a child through the recovery process.  And before returning to the field of play the athlete should be required to pass a movement assessment or screening to ensure the child is moving pain free and without compensations.  The movement compensations may have been acquired to avoid pain before the injured area reached a breaking point in the case of an injury that is the result of cumulative trauma and not a single occurrence.  In the case of an acute injury such as a collision that resulted in a torn ligament or broken bone the athlete may move in “guarded’ manner out of fear or lack of confidence in the mended body part.  A well-qualified athletic trainer or athletic development specialist would be able to devise an appropriate “test” that would allow them to see if the athlete was ready to return.

I want to finish up by saying that the best form of injury prevention for young athletes is sound long-term athletic development.  Starting at a young age and exposing a child to as many activities and sports as possible will allow them to build a robust foundation for future injury free athletic participation.  When children learn how to move well generally then they are equipped to compete specifically in the late teen years.  A child with a broad base of fundamental athletic movement is highly resistant to injury for a lifetime and better equipped to realize their potential on the field of play and in the game of life.

Can long-term athletic development even serve to prevent injuries such as concussions?  I believe that it can and here is why:

Additional News:

Calcium Supplements May Raise Heart Attack Risk

In a recent study researchers found a link, or association, between calcium supplements and heart attack, but the study cannot show cause and effect.  Not surprisingly the supplement industry was critical of the research saying the evidence “conflicts with the total body of evidence.”  Let’s suspend the possibility of a conflict of interest from the supplement industry in this instance.  Even if the evidence doesn’t support the claim of increased risk of heart attack taking any supplement in isolation is not optimal because it doesn’t come in it’s natural package that also includes other nutrient co-factors that makes calcium beneficial for your body.  In addition taking isolated supplements can lead to nutrient imbalances such as taking to much calcium can lead to lower levels of phosphorus, essential for…

Pick calcium-rich foods (grass fed dairy, green leafy vegetables) over a pill, suggests Ian R.Reid, MD, distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Auckland. He wrote an editorial to accompany the study.

Taking a calcium supplement once or twice a day, he writes, "is not natural, in that it does not reproduce the same metabolic effects as calcium in food."

"The most important message to women who have been self-prescribing calcium is that they should cease this practice, and look to a modified diet to obtain adequate calcium."

Calcium            Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk.

Deficiency: Long-term inadequate intake can result in low bone mineral density, rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis.

Toxicity: Will cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, dry mouth, thirst, increased urination, kidney stones and soft tissue calcification.

Sources: Green leafy vegetables, legumes, molasses, sardines, okra, perch, trout, Chinese cabbage, rhubarb, and sesame seeds.