By Steve Kurtz
Injuries happen to athletes of all types and skill levels — from professionals to weekend warriors. But I’m not just talking about your run-of-the-mill broken bone or scraped knee.Muscle injuries, also known as soft tissue injuries, 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 eight weeks of the 2014 NFL season, players suffering from soft tissue injuries missed a total of 405 games, costing their teams more than $35 million. Players on the 2014 Boston Red Sox team missed a total of 155 games due to soft tissue injuries, costing nearly $6 million (and serving as one of the main reasons it finished last in the American League East after winning the World Series the previous year).
That’s not to say that soft tissue injuries are just a concern for athletes, though. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of getting a soft tissue injury, and they all revolve around glycogen — the “fuel” for your muscles that comes from carbohydrates.
When your body runs low on glycogen, your muscles begin to cannibalize themselves, causing cellular muscle damage that leads to soft tissue injuries. If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll keep your 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.