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Ask St. Joseph's Sports Medicine: Randy Holland

"My son insists that he needs sports drinks for all games and practices. Is this necessary?"

Up to 70 percent of our body composition is made up of fluids. As an athlete sweats, a significant amount of fluid is lost through evaporation, which serves to keep the body temperature under control. Proper hydration is key to delivering vital nutrients and oxygen to working muscles, and carrying waste products to the kidneys and lungs for removal. If the athlete continues to exercise and does not replace the lost fluid by drinking liquids, several negative effects can occur such as muscle cramps, strength and endurance loss, and heat illness.

In addition to fluid loss, important electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are lost through sweating. Commercially prepared sports drinks contain carbohydrates (source for energy production), electrolytes (to help replace sodium and potassium loss) and water. Sports medicine studies show that consuming an electrolyte and carbohydrate drink in events that last longer than 60 minutes has a beneficial effect on athletic performance. In addition, an athlete participating in multiple events throughout the day, such as tournaments or sports camps, may benefit from a sports drink.

To answer your question, sports drinks are not necessary for practices and games that last less than 1 hour but can be beneficial in events lasting over an hour, or in sports where athletes will be competing in repeated bouts of exercise throughout the day and if exercising in hot humid conditions.

"My daughter decided not to go out for volleyball but will be trying out for the varsity basketball team. What do you recommend she do for exercise in preparation for the upcoming basketball season?"

Two key points to consider while designing a preseason training program for an athlete include noting injuries that occurred the season before and the age and training experience of the athlete.

The more common injuries related to court games, such as basketball, involve the ankle and knee joints. Studies show that female athletes are two to eight times more likely to sustain a noncontact ligament injury of the knee (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) compared to male athletes. While not every ACL injury is preventable, studies show that a six-week program designed to improve balance, strength and proper jumping technique can significantly decrease the occurrence of this devastating injury. Ankle injuries can also be reduced by implementing a proper program working on balance and strengthening of the muscles and ligaments supporting the ankle joint.

Knowing the training experience of the athlete is also important because overuse injuries, such as shin splints and knee cap tendonitis, are very common in athletes who are poorly conditioned. Sports medicine providers and athletic trainers recommend a training program that gradually increases the intensity of the exercise to allow the joints, ligaments and tendons to adapt to the stress of jumping, landing and cutting.

My recommendation is to seek out the assistance of a trained certified strength and conditioning specialist who can design a program specifically for your daughter to give her adequate time to prep for the upcoming basketball season.