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Top 4 Ways to Use Nutrition to Prevent Stress Fractures

By Katie Davis

healthy fatsAs athletes progress in their sport, both intensity and time spent in training increase. This can leave the body short on nutrients that provide protection against illness or injury. It is not uncommon for athletes to suddenly become sick or suffer from an injury after a change in their workout schedule or when transitioning from high school to collegiate athletics. Stress fractures are especially common in athletes who participate in cross country, track and field, basketball, gymnastics and tennis as a result of repeatedly striking the foot on the ground. To prevent occurrence or re-occurrence of stress fractures, athletes should allow enough time for rest between workouts and practice these four eating habits.

1. Eat to accommodate increased energy expenditure.
As exercise intensity and amount increase, so do energy needs. Increase overall caloric intake, but especially carbohydrate foods, to assure working muscles have enough fuel to recover. Some examples are: whole-wheat bread, pasta, rice, tortillas or bagels; Triscuits; quinoa and fruit. Also, eat the most in the beginning of the day (breakfast!) and less as the day progresses to assure muscles have sufficient energy on board heading into practice. Adequate caloric intake also means adequate vitamins and minerals to protect bones (see more in No. 4). 

2. Eat a post-workout snack within 60 minutes of finishing training.
This is one of the most important eating events of an athlete's day. Within 60 minutes after training ends, athletes need to be eating either their next meal (typically dinner) or a sufficient snack if no meal is in sight for more than an hour. Examples of good recovery snacks include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two cups of low-fat chocolate milk or a granola bar. Avoid protein shakes, which are often too high in protein and too low in carbohydrate for proper muscle recovery and repair.

3. Eat healthy fats to decrease inflammation.
Healthy fats help decrease inflammation in the body caused by intense activity. Excessive, long-term inflammation can lead to illness or injury. Instead of a supplement, increase intake of foods that are high in healthy fats. Examples include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna, as well as walnuts, avocado, olive oil, Smart Balance brand butter and sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. Note: canned tuna or canned salmon are just as good as fresh!

4. Focus on calcium and vitamin D intake.
Calcium and vitamin D play a key role in building new bone, as well as maintaining bone you currently have. Aim for at least four servings of high-calcium foods daily. One serving is equivalent to 1 cup calcium-fortified milk, 1/2 cup calcium-fortified orange juice, 1/2 cup white beans, 10 almonds, 1/2 cup calcium-fortified cereals, 1/2 cup tofu, 1 cup yogurt, 2 slices cheese or 3 ounces salmon. Many of these food are also fortified with vitamin D (particularly cow's or soy milk).

For females, getting adequate calories is especially important. If energy intake drops too low, periods become irregular or non-existent. This affects a hormone called, estrogen, which plays a key role in bone health.

Therefore, not enough calories coming in = no period = weak bones = HIGH risk for stress fractures. Remember this!

Katie Davis MS, RD, CSSD, LDN has a mission to help ordinary athletes become extraordinary competitors by using whole-food based nutrition to improve athletic performance. She is the owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition Consulting, based out of Naperville, Ill., where she offers expertise in sports nutrition, eating disorders/disordered eating, intuitive eating and weight management for sport. Katie holds a master’s degree in nutrition with an emphasis in exercise physiology. She is both a registered dietitian and one of only 550 RDs in the United States to be board-certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. As a runner, triathlete, snowboarder and rock climber, Katie understands the physical and mental challenges of being a top athlete. Katie has previously consulted with NCAA Division I & Division III, NFL and NBA athletes; she truly brings both her knowledge and experience to the table as sports dietitian. Katie is available for individual consulting, team talks and group seminars. Visit her website at RDKate.com; from there you can navigate to her weekly blog, Eat to Compete, and connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. Contact her directly at YourRDKate@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.

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