Five Things Pro Athletes Know About Staying Healthy
As Tufts Medical Center’s Chief of sports medicine, Christopher Geary, M.D., knows a thing or two about helping top sports stars stay in great shape. What’s more, he thinks everyone can benefit by taking fitness cues from the pro athlete playbook. “The principles that apply to athletes are as important, if not more important, for average people who are trying to get or stay fit,” he says. Here are five winning moves the pros rely on to perform at their best and how you can do the same.
There’s a right (and wrong) time for stretching.
Despite what you learned in gym class, stretching before a workout while your muscles are still cold can actually increase your odds for getting hurt. Instead, “high-level athletes do a lot of flexibility exercises after working out, when their muscles are already lengthened and have good blood flow,” Geary says. Still, if you enjoy stretching before physical activity, it doesn’t have to be entirely off-limits. Just make sure to do five minutes of brisk walking or jogging first to give your muscles a gentle warm-up.
Protein equals power.
For pro athletes, food is fuel. And when it comes to building and maintaining lean, powerful muscle mass, protein is key. “It’s easy to eat a diet that’s higher in carbs, but you never want to neglect protein, especially if you’re working to build muscle,” says Geary. Eating protein shortly after exercising is particularly important, since it helps your muscles recover and get stronger. The amount of protein you need depends on your sex, weight, and activity level, but you can never go wrong with lean sources like ground turkey, fish, or hard-boiled eggs.
Core strength is crucial.
Sturdy abdominal, back, and pelvic muscles might not be as sexy as big biceps or a chiseled chest, but athletes know that in terms of performance, a strong core is much more important. “Core strength prevents injuries when working out. It also makes normal day-to-day activities easier, like carrying heavy grocery bags or shoveling snow,” Geary says. To reap the benefits, talk with your doctor about making core exercises like planks, side planks, and abdominal presses a regular part of your exercise routine.
Injuries need attention.
It’s tempting to try to ignore minor injuries and hope that they’ll clear up on their own. But athletes are taught that trying to play through pain can often end up making an injury worse, causing them to be sidelined for even longer. “When athletes get injured, getting better is part of their job,” Geary says. Make injury recovery part of your fitness plan, too, and you’ll end up with more play time and less discomfort overall.
You’ll do your best with plenty of rest.
Pros play hard on the field, and they take their breaks just as seriously. That means carving out the time to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, scheduling regular rest days, and frequently switching up training activities instead of doing the same thing every day. “You never want to get in too much of a rut,” Geary says. “Getting enough sleep, doing different exercises, or taking a day off altogether all give your body a chance to recover.”
To learn more about Tufts Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Program, please call 617-636-7846 or visit www.tuftsmedicalcenter.org/sports.