Saturday, July 20, 2013

These Modern Practices are Devastating the Athletic and Agricultural Landscape...

I grew up on a farm and there are tried and true methods that are required to maintain and preserve the long-term heath of the farmland and the livestock. Similarly there are stages in the development of a child that must be honored for them to experience robust health as an adult. Unfortunately, these time-honored methods of tending to our land and children are being ignored in favor modern practices that are leading us all down an unsustainable path. 

Environmental pollution is a significant problem. But while most of the focus is placed on polluting industries, toxins like mercury and small particle traffic pollution, a major source of environmental devastation is caused by modern food production. Far from being life sustaining, our modern chemical-dependent farming methods:

Strip soil of nutrients
Destroy critical soil microbes
Contribute to desertification (happens when we create too much bare ground by plowing under grasslands in favor of commodity crop fields) [1]
Saturate farmlands with toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that then migrate into ground water, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Unfortunately, the Earth's soil is now being depleted of nutrients at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced. Not only that, but according to some, we may also be facing looming shortages of two critical fertilizer ingredients: phosphorus and potassium.

Phosphorus and potassium cannot be synthesized, and our aggressive large-scale farming methods, which deplete soils of nutrients that then must be replaced, are quickly burning through available phosphorus and potassium stores.

Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. In fact, corn, wheat and rice now account for 60 percent of human caloric intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. [2]

By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community. Polyculture, when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, which makes it sustainable with minimal effort.

The evidence tells us that forging more sustainable alternatives is imperative if we hope to survive. Yet proponents of factory farms and genetically engineered crops argue that monocropping, or crop specialization, is the only way to feed the masses and that it's far more profitable than having small independent farms in every community.

But is this really true? A number of studies show just the opposite! In fact, studies are showing that medium-sized organic farms are far more profitable than ANY sized industrial agricultural operation.

For example, researchers at the University of Wisconsin's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (results published in 2008 in the Agronomy Journal) found that traditional organic farming techniques of planting a variety of plants to ward off pests is more profitable than monocropping. [3]

Not only that, but organic farming practices use natural, time-tested techniques that naturally prevents soil depletion and destruction, and doesn’t use chemical fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals that pollute our soil, air, and waterways.

Even the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is starting to question our current path of monoculture. It recently released a report titled: "Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States." According to the report, our current agricultural system, which is dominated by corn and soy, is unsustainable in the long term.

Speaking of unsustainable methods… The current youth sport culture with its heavy emphasis on early specialization (monocropping) and nearly year round single sport participation are devastating the American athletic landscape. A single-minded focus during what should be the “sensitive period” for global movement skill acquisition has left developing young athletes with soil that is of poor quality for elite athletic skill to grow and flourish.

The building blocks of advanced athletic skill are never fully refined because they were never experienced at the “grassroots” or basic level. You want to see desertification look at the athletic foundation of a single sport young athlete! This is what happens when we plow under playgrounds and neglect seasonal sport play in favor of elite sport training facilities and nearly year round single sport participation. When the windows to attain these athletic building blocks are missed they shut and it’s very difficult to go back and try to “re-open” them. Just as you can’t synthesize potassium and phosphorus you can’t synthesize the athletic qualities that spawn from crawling and skipping.

While kids are not being saturated with pesticides and toxic run-off (depending upon where you live) they are certainly being saturated with the repetitive motions, developmental imbalances and ultimately injuries that result from a one-dimensional athletic experience.

Contrast this with a polycropping approach to athletic development.  Expose children to as many different sport and activities as possible the more and varied their experiences are the better. This enriches their soil (overall athletic base) and makes it very fertile to grow whatever seeds (sport) they decide to plant.  This diversification also serves to make their athleticism more sustainable. Like monocropping a single minded sporting approach depletes the body and actually robs it of athleticism.

Playing sports seasonally allows the body to recover and develop new skills.  Each sport or activity contributes foundational athletic qualities that compliment one another and eventually allow the young athlete to develop their own unique “brand” of athleticism. This “brand” can only be fully realized if the soil is fertile.

I think we can all agree that broccoli is a very nutritious food but if that was the only crop we planted and harvested we would still be malnourished. Playing one sport exclusively from childhood into the teen years may seem like a good idea but in the long run your athleticism will be malnourished. Overall athleticism is the essential foundation upon which all sport specific qualities are based. Moncropping and sport specialization will likely produce high yields early on but in the long run these practices will deplete the landscape of what it needs to flourish.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Female Athletes 3 Times More Likley Than Males To Get This Injury...

Female athletes are far more likely than males to suffer serious knee injuries

Female athletes are three times more likely to suffer from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures, one of the most common knee injuries, compared to male athletes.

The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is one of the four major ligaments of the knee. It connects the front of the tibia (shinbone) with the back of the femur (thighbone). It helps provide stability to the knee joint. Patients with torn ACLs often experience their knee “giving out.”

Most ACL tears do not occur from player-to-player contact. The most common causes of noncontact ACL injury include: change of direction or cutting maneuvers combined with sudden stopping, landing awkwardly from a jump, or pivoting with the knee nearly fully extended when the foot is planted on the ground. [1]

Dr. Pietro Tonino, Loyola University Medical Center orthopedic surgeon, and other orthopedic surgeons are seeing a significant number of knee injuries in female athletes, ranging from middle school to the pros. Tonino is a sports medicine specialist who has performed thousands of knee surgeries. [2]

Doctors aren’t certain why female athletes are more prone to ACL injuries. One reason may be related to how they jump, Tonino said. Due to the shape of the female pelvis, females tend to land from a jump with their knees locked. This puts added pressure on the knee. Females also tend to be more knock-kneed — with knees close together and the ankles far apart.

Minor ACL tears can be treated by nonsurgical means. But significant ACL tears require surgery. An orthopedic surgeon removes a tendon from the patient’s knee and uses it to replace the torn ligament.

“Unfortunately, a reconstructed knee will never be as good as the God-given knee,” Tonino said. “So we should be doing all we can to prevent these injuries in the first place.”

But Dr. Tonino suggests that doing preseason conditioning could prevent many of these injuries and using proper landing techniques after jumping.

“All female athletes, starting in adolescence, should learn appropriate training techniques,” according to Karen Sutton, MD, assistant professor, Yale University Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. “This includes the appropriate way to land from a jump, increasing the strength of muscles that could have a protective affect on the ACL—core, gluteal, quadriceps and hamstring muscles, as well as working on the body’s reaction to change of direction and change of speed.” [3]

I have my own theories on why ACL injuries are more prominent in female athletes including the female athlete triad* but there is one aspect in particular that I want to focus on given the context of this article. My theory simply stated is that young female athletes “train to play but they don’t play to train.” In other words they play their sport but don’t take part in any off-field conditioning to prepare for the demands of that sport. And if they do any off-field conditioning it is entirely inappropriate and likely a modified version of a bodybuilding workout or a men’s strength and conditioning program.

I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a group of coaches/PE teachers and an athletic trainer from a local high school. The discussion turned to the topic of female strength and conditioning. This past winter I worked with the soccer program at a local high school. My emphasis with their programming was to reduce their risk of injury by focusing on body control and equipping them with a superior set of brakes (ability to reduce force and control momentum). The athletic trainer told me that there was only one significant knee injury (ACL) all season across the three teams (Freshmen, JV and Varsity) and it was the result of a girl being clipped from behind by an opponent. This injury rate was a significant reduction from previous seasons.

According to the trainer when I first started working with the girls they were skeptical because they weren’t  “sore” and “exhausted” after their workouts. Eventually they bought in only after they started to feel the benefits of having more control because they were stronger and moved more efficiently. In America we have this “old-school” mentality when it comes to sports training that it has to be super intense and induce extreme sweating and/or vomiting. That “feel the burn” bodybuilding mentality will make athletes tired but it won’t necessarily make them better and more durable.

My bottom line when working with athletes is did they stay healthy? If so then it gave them the opportunity to improve their skill and performance through their ability to consistently practice and play their sport. Athletes should not be trained to make them a champion in the weight room. The training programs ultimate appraisal is does it help them stay on the field/court and do they play better? If the answer is yes then the program has accomplished what it was designed to do.

It can be tempting to throw advanced training protocols at kids to impress parents, boosters and coaches but the vast majority of kids aren’t prepared for it. Kids need to master the basics when it comes to off-field/court/ice training. And just when you think they have it figured out… A growth spurt slams their body into a state of confusion or they may have just experienced their first relationship issue and can’t sleep at night. This is probably not the ideal time to hit them with a “butt-kicker” of workout.  Less is often more effective (quality over quantity) for young athletes and if we can equip them with a superior set of brakes (physically, mentally, and emotionally) they will have far more control over where they are ultimately headed.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Help Kids Beat The Heat This Summer

If the past few weeks are any indication we could be in store for hot and humid conditions the rest of the summer.  And believe it or not the start of the fall sport practice season in Michigan is right around the corner.  This means many children will soon be out in the extreme heat and humid conditions. Heat stroke is one of the common causes of exercise-related death in high school students in the United States.  Water is the one nutrient children should consume abundantly throughout the day.  The primary method the body deals with the heat is by the evaporation of sweat.  This evaporative cooling, if excessive or prolonged, can lead to relatively large losses in body water.  Consider that only a 2% loss in body weight of adults (only about 3 lbs. for a 150 lb. adult) via sweating can lead to increased perceived exertion and central fatigue, a decrease in sweat rate and cooling, a decrease in mental performance, a decrease in fine motor skills and precision, and a decrease in endurance and work capacity, preventing dehydration is critical for optimal performance and health during training and competition.

Voluntary dehydration, or dehydration occurring when fluids are in abundance, is of concern during both intermittent activities and prolonged activities in the heat for several reasons.  First, our thirst mechanisms often underestimate our fluid needs during exercise and we simply fail to drink enough to replace fluid losses.  Secondly, as water absorption from the gastrointestinal tract is limited, at the highest sweat rates and in the most extreme conditions, it is difficult to actually replace all the fluid that is lost.  Further, electrolyte insufficiencies/imbalances can occur if fluid replacement practices do not include the addition of sodium and potassium, as these (and other) electrolytes are lost during the sweating/cooling process.

Interestingly, children may actually experience greater heat stress when exercising in hot environments than adults do.   There are quite a few basic differences in the chemical makeup of children that make it harder for them to regulate body temperature than adults.

Children have more body surface area than body weight, so when the outside temperature is higher than body temperature, children tend to gain heat faster than adults. Don’t let their smaller size deceive you.

During exercise, children generate up to 20% to 25% more heat for their body weight than adults. Youngsters’ higher metabolic rates also contribute to the higher amounts of heat that kids can generate with exercise and activities.

Movements that are unrefined and inefficient produce more heat in kids than older athletes who have mastered their techniques and have more smooth movements.

The amount of blood pumped during exercise is less in children than adults, so there is less ability to move heat to the skin to give off heat.

Children have immature sweating mechanisms and also sweat less than adults, so they have less ability to get rid of heat by evaporation of sweat. They do not have as many sweat glands, and those sweat glands are not as efficient as adults. Getting sunburned also decreases the ability of the sweat glands to perform, so wearing sunscreen is a must (in addition to protecting their skin from premature aging and skin cancer).

Children adjust to the heat more slowly, so it will take longer for them to get used to summer temperatures and humidity than adults. This process of adaptation is called acclimatization. This ability to adapt is what allows your Baby Bear not to get too hot or too cold, but to be just right.

Core body temperature in children rises higher and more quickly with dehydration, so it is even more important to provide drink breaks for young active children. The thirst drive in a child is not as good as an adult’s thirst drive, so taking frequent breaks to drink fluids should be mandatory.

Children who are overweight are even more at risk for heat illness because extra weight can compound most of these problems. They have to generate more heat to move the larger body mass, it is harder to give off heat (so they retain more heat), and they adjust even more slowly to the heat.

As little as a 1% loss in of body mass (1lb. in a 100 lb. child) during exercise can decrease endurance performance.  Therefore, voluntary dehydration is of particular concern to young athletes.

In order to prevent voluntary dehydration, a few things are clear.  First, young athletes must drink during athletic events/activities, even when they are not thirsty.  One good strategy is to drink every 15-20 minutes during activity. Chilled sports drinks such as Gatorade and PowerAde (both contain electrolytes) enhance thirst and rate of fluid absorption.  In some studies, the use of such drinks has completely prevented voluntary dehydration.  It must be stated that in most cases plain water is a better hydrating option than sports drinks.  Sports drinks with electrolytes are recommended in extreme heat and after intense and consistent activity of an hour or more in duration.  Sugar laden beverages like fruit juice are not good hydrating options!

According the American Dietetic Association young athletes should consume at least 16 ounces of fluid two hours prior to exercise, and 5 to 10 ounces during exercise, taken every 15 to 20 minutes. Athletes should get into the habit of weighing themselves before and after exercise to determine how much water weight they lose through activity—and consume 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost.

According to a study last year at Indiana State University 80% of NCAA Division 1 and 50% of NFL players were dehydrated as determined by their preseason physicals.  Even at the highest levels of competition and even though teams have dedicated training staffs to monitor the athletes dehydration can be a problem. [1]

It’s important for coaches and parents to make their athletes aware and monitor their own hydration status.   How do you know if you’re properly hydrated?  Take a look at your urine.  Generally speaking, the clearer the urine, and the better hydrated you are.  If it is a clear-pale lemonade color, you are hydrated.  If it is darker lemonade to apple juice color, you are dehydrated.  And if it is dark and cloudy, you are severely dehydrated and should notify medical staff immediately.

Over the next few months many children will be playing sports and many others will be enjoying the rest of their summer vacation by swimming and riding bicycles.   Make sure they get the fluids they need to keep them safe and maximize their potential on the field of play whether that’s on the baseball field, tennis court, backyard or playground.

Food For Thought:

Many fruits and vegetables are also excellent sources of hydration.  In fact, about 80 percent of our water intake comes from drinking. The other 20 percent comes from food.   When I was a kid my dad didn’t lug a around a water bottle when working the farm.  He would simply jump off the tractor and pull a cucumber off the vine and use it to hydrate.

Don’t neglect the water bottle but you can also add some of the delicious water-filled foods below to your diet to stay hydrated this summer.

Cucumber - 96% (water content)
Lettuce - 95%
Celery - 95%
Zucchini- 95%
Tomato - 94%
Spinach - 92%
Watermelon - 92%
Strawberries - 92%
Broccoli - 91%
Grapefruit - 91%
Cantaloupe - 90%
Peach - 88%
100% Orange Juice - 88%
Carrots - 87%
Pineapple - 87%
Raspberries- 87%
Apricot - 86%
Blueberries- 85%
Yogurt - 85%
Apple - 84%
Cherries - 81%
Banana - 74%


This hydration related information is from natural health doctor Joseph Mercola.  In a recent article Dr. Mercola highlights the following:

·      Scientific evidence to support the recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is lacking.

·      Some experts have suggested that the ongoing advice to drink 8 cups of water a day is “thoroughly debunked nonsense” being spread by bottled water companies in order to churn up more profit.

·      If you drink too much water, the sodium levels in your blood may drop to dangerously low levels, causing hyponatremia -- a dangerous condition in which your cells swell with too much water.

·      Many people are dehydrated, however, and could benefit from drinking more water, and especially from swapping sugar-sweetened beverages like soda with water.

·      Commercial sports drinks are unnecessary for the vast majority of people; the best rehydrating agents are plain water and coconut water, which is naturally rich in electrolytes.

·      Your body will tell you when it's time to replenish your water supply, because once your body has lost between one to two percent of its total water, your thirst mechanism lets you know that it's time to drink some water; if you drink when you’re thirsty and your urine is a pale yellow or lighter in color, you’re probably staying well hydrated. [2]