Participating in sports is a means of personal expression and education in team building. Young athletes are still growing so growth plates have yet to harden into solid bone. Fractures of the growth plate are common, but preventable. Parents of young athletes can educate children on the causes, effects and prevention of growth-plate injuries.
Calcium intake from natural sources is important. A child’s daily multi-vitamin may supply 100% of the recommended daily intake for calcium, but supplements do not absorb as well as calcium from natural sources. This is because calcium from natural sources is often present in foods alongside vitamin D. Vitamin D is required for the body to absorb calcium. There are other complementary vitamins and minerals in whole foods as well.
Milk may seem like the best choice to increase calcium intake in young athletes, but fortified oatmeal tops the list with 350 mg of calcium per serving. Sardines take the number two spot with 324 mg of calcium, as long as the bones of the sardine are consumed with the meat. Milk rounds out the top three best sources of calcium with 306 mg per cup. Young athletes need between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium per day.
Bulk up like a bodybuilder for stronger bones. Weight training is important for bone growth and strength. It is unlikely that your young athlete will walk in the house one day looking like a bodybuilder, but more muscle is important to bone health. Muscle support bone and stronger muscles provide more support. Weight training also increases the density of minerals in bone increasing bone strength.
It is safe for young athletes to use dumbbells and circuit training equipment. Free weights require adult supervision at all times. Some gyms do not allow children in the free weight section for safety reasons, so a small set of home weights may be a better fit.
Stretch before every practice, game or competition. Stretching decreases the risk of muscle injury during sports activity. While injury to the muscle does not directly hurt bones, falling down due to a muscle injury can cause a bone sprain, strain, break or fracture.
Stretches should include all major muscle groups including upper body, lower body and core muscles. Ask your son or daughter’s coach to allow the entire team to warm-up together before practice to decrease risk of muscle and growth plate injuries as a team.
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