Injuries happen to athletes of all types and skill levels—from professionals to weekend warriors. This includes everything from the run-of-the-mill broken bone or scraped knee to muscle injuries, also known as soft tissue injuries, which are far more common, and their effects can be devastating. Not only are they incredibly painful, but they can also be extremely expensive. For example, during the first few weeks of the 2016 NFL season, there have already been plenty of injuries, for example Arian Foster, Clay Matthews, Jonathan Stewart, to name a few, with the most common being soft-tissue injuries, costing many missed games and millions of dollars.
That’s not to say that soft tissue injuries are just a concern for athletes, though. Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to reduce chances of soft tissue injury, and they all revolve around glycogen—the “fuel” for muscles that comes from carbohydrates. When the body runs low on glycogen, muscles begin to cannibalize themselves, causing cellular muscle damage that leads to soft tissue injuries.
Stephen Kurtz, current Chairman of MuscleSound, a company that offers noninvasive, real-time ultrasound technology to help athletes make data-driven nutritional, performance, and injury prevention and management decisions based on their glycogen levels, offers his tips for keeping the body’s glycogen at optimal levels before, during, and after your workouts.
TIP #1: EAT A BALANCED DIET THAT INCLUDES CARBOHYDRATES
Pasta, rice, and fruits are great foods to eat in moderation, as they give your body the carbohydrates it needs to create stores of glycogen. Ignore the myth that carbohydrates are inherently bad — they’re not. Plus, if you exercise regularly, avoiding them can actually be dangerous. Protein is also crucial to preventing and recovering from injury.
Don’t forget to watch your nutrition during and after workouts, too. Replenishing carbohydrates with sports drinks, gels, or chews is imperative during and after strenuous physical activity.
TIP #2: DON’T PUSH TOO HARD
It’s tempting to exercise too rigorously sometimes, especially if you feel like you’re making progress or you want to advance to the next level. However, this is an easy way to deplete your glycogen levels too quickly and injure yourself before you even realize what’s happening. It’s only OK to push yourself if it’s controlled.
TIP #3: GET PLENTY OF SLEEP
Lack of sleep can reduce glycogen levels, leading to a greater risk of injury. On top of that, not getting enough sleep reduces your overall performance in the gym and at work, and it negatively affects your mood. Don’t cheat yourself out of a good workout just because you stayed up too late the night before.
TIP #4: DON’T STRESS OUT
Stress hurts you in more ways than one, but it can seriously deplete glycogen levels. If you have a high-stress job or lifestyle, it’s imperative that you find ways to relax so you can experience the full benefits of your workout and avoid injury.
Travel and altitude changes can also cause stress. The Colorado Rockies baseball team showed lower levels of glycogen as a result of traveling back and forth from a high altitude. The team’s trainers addressed this by prescribing more carbohydrates for its players and changing the time and day that players traveled whenever possible.
There’s no fast track to recovery when it comes to soft tissue injuries. They’re dangerous and can be devastating to any athlete. Take these precautions to manage your glycogen levels, and reduce the risk that you’ll suffer a game-changing injury.