Nutrition Tips for the Teenage Athlete

nutrition for student athletes

By Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP for Athletico Physical Therapy

During the school year it is common for teenage athletes to find their schedules jammed packed with class, homework, practice and competition. When students are this busy, eating can be overlooked. Sometimes meals are skipped or home-cooked meals are substituted for fast food while running from one practice to another. Proper nutrition is important as the food we eat becomes the fuel for our bodies.

Athletes have unique needs compared to their less active peers. Athletes need more calories each day for proper performance and teenage athletes also need to meet their body’s growing requirements. Teenage athletes may need 2,000-5,000 total calories per day depending on how active they are. A well balanced diet of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, as well as proper hydration, will ensure a teenage athlete will meet their body’s energy demands.

What Can Happen if Athletes Don’t Have Proper Nutrition?

  • Less likely to achieve peak performance
  • May breakdown rather than build up muscles
  • May not be as fast or strong
  • May not maintain their weight
  • In extreme conditions, athletes can be at increased risk for fractures or growth problems

Healthy Eating Tips for Teen Athletes:

  1. Eat a meal with protein and carbohydrates 2-4 hours before practice or competition.
    -Examples: turkey or chicken sandwich, milk and cereal, pasta with tomato sauce
  2. If you don’t have time for a full meal, eat a snack if less than 2 hours before your practice or competition.
    – Examples: melons, cherries, low fat yogurt, bagel, carrots, crackers
  3. Consider not eating anything 1 hour before practice as digestion takes energy and leaving food in your stomach can make you feel bloated or cause abdominal cramping
  4. Sugary snacks and drinks can give you a quick burst of energy but also lead to a “crash” before the end of practice.
    – Sugary snacks and drinks also do not provide proper nutrients
  5. Your body needs fats for energy and to function properly. However, since fats can also slow down digestion, it is best to avoid a high fat meal too close to practice or competition.
  6. Although fast food is easy to grab and go, it has a lot of excess “empty” calories that don’t necessarily provide proper nutrition.
    – There are ways to make fast food a “better” option, such as grilled chicken, eliminating the bun, and being careful of extra add-on items like cheese, bacon, etc.
  7. Water is important to stay hydrated, including replacing what is lost as we perspire during exercise.
    – Athletes benefit from drinking water before, after and during practice (every 15-20 minutes during practice)
  8. Sports drinks can be beneficial when exercising for more than 60-90 minutes in hot weather.
  9. Avoid energy drinks before exercise. They contain caffeine, a diuretic, which can contribute to dehydration.

If you would like to learn more from an Athletico physical therapist, please use the button below to request an appointment!


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The Emotional Impact of Injuries

emotional impact of injuries

By Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTP for Athletico Physical Therapy

As much as we would like to prevent injuries, they do occur. In an ideal world, an injury would not disrupt our regular activities or participation in sport. But many times injuries lead to shifts in our regular activities. For many athletes, this injury can trigger an emotional and mental response.

Emotional responses that can occur after injury:

  • Sadness
  • Isolation
  • Irritation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Disengagement

There is no correct way for an athlete to respond to an injury; every athlete is an individual and their response will vary. It is important to note that the emotional response to injury may change throughout the course of healing. It starts at the time of the injury but continues throughout rehab, and into the return-to-play phase as well. The healthcare team should be aware of emotional responses and be on the lookout for athletes who may not have proper coping to these intense emotions.

Some emotional responses may become problematic, particularly if an athlete needs help and does not know how to ask for it. Depression for example, can impact recovery and magnify other emotional responses. Depression can be related to feelings of performance failure. Elite athletes have shared their personal experiences with depression after injury that kept them from their sport for an extended length of time. When an athlete is injured, they may not only lose their physical independence, they may also feel like they are being punished or isolated from their sport and/or their team. There can be a large change to their social environment and this can affect them mentally.

How Can We Help Injured Athletes Emotionally During Recovery:

  • Athletes may not want to share their feelings as it may be seen as a sign of weakness. The coaches, trainers and doctors should work together to provide a support network for the athlete and counseling should be considered as well.
  • Try to keep the athlete involved with their team. They can attend practice, go to games, sit on the bench or keep statistics so they still interact with their teammates and don’t feel isolated.
  • Allow the athlete to help set goals for recovery and rehabilitation and make sure they are aware of the timeline of their healing.
  • Use a team approach to recovery – coaches, parents, physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists and other members of the healthcare team should stay in contact with each other to make sure the athlete is coping well and has the support needed for recovery both physically and mentally.
  • Try to discourage a “tough it out” mentality because this can add to the stigma around mental health issues, and athletes may retreat further into themselves rather than seeking help.

By being aware of the emotional response to injury as well as the physical injury itself, we can help athletes have optimal recovery. If you are an athlete dealing with an injury, request an appointment at a nearby Athletico location so our experts can help you get back in the game.


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Minimizing the Risk of ACL Injuries in Athletes

By Leython Williams, PT, DPT for Athletico Physical Therapy

One of the most feared injuries in all of sports is injury to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), yet this continues to be among the most common injuries in active individuals. Even as the latest evidence in injury prevention has decreased the prevalence of some other injuries, ACL tears have continued to be an issue over the years. Many of our friends, family members, and/or favorite athletes have suffered from ACL tears. Thus there have been several studies conducted to get to the core of what actually causes the ACL to tear.

As with any injury, there is not one thing that we can point to and say “Alas! This is what I can do to make certain that my ACL remains intact…forever!” Injuries are multi-factorial and despite the term “injury prevention,” they cannot be completely prevented. As long as people are active, injuries will occur. However, with much thought and intentionality in our workout regimens and treatment planning, we can certainly decrease the frequency of these traumatic injuries. I’m confident that as the field of physical therapy continues to evolve and we continue to uncover various aspects of mechanisms of injury in an ACL tear, clinicians and researchers will develop more and more strategies to decrease the likelihood of ACL injury. Here are some things to consider in your injury prevention efforts:

1. Strong Core = More

“The core” is a complex series of muscles that are responsible for providing proximal stability for the pelvis, hips, knees, ankles, etc. to establish and maintain proper function in sport (and in activities of daily living). Without a stable base (strong core), injury is more likely up and down the kinetic chain.

Decreased core stability can cause:

  • Pelvic Drop
  • Hip Internal Rotation
  • Knee Valgus
  • Tibial External Rotation
  • Excessive Ankle Pronation

*All of the above are associated with increased risk for ACL injury.  

2. Mobility

Hip Internal Rotation (IR): Although Hip IR in itself can contribute to an ACL injury, being deficient in available Hip IR can also put an athlete at greater risk for injury. When our bodies don’t have certain available ranges of motion, our brains and central nervous systems are not able to prevent us from going into those ranges. Therefore, if an athlete does not have adequate Hip IR, they are unable to prevent this motion from occurring during functional activity.

Hip External Rotation (ER): This motion is important in helping athletes avoid knee valgus, which is crucial in avoiding ACL injury. Adequate Hip ER mobility will allow the athlete to establish and maintain athletic positions during their performance without harmful valgus stresses to their knee joints.

Hip Extension: It is necessary to be able to activate the posterior musculature to decrease the likelihood of knee collapse with dynamic activity. Inadequate hip extension leads to poor muscular compensatory patterns that could lead to injury.

Dorsiflexion: Dorsiflexion is one’s ability to bring their toes upward toward their shin. Dorsiflexion range of motion is very important in absorbing forces during a landing from a jump, deceleration and sudden changes of direction. The force absorbed at the ankle joint with full dorsiflexion motion decreases stress to knee joint. 

3. The Separation in Deceleration

Most competitive athletes develop some level of speed, quickness and agility as it relates to their respective sport. The elite athletes can speed up and slow down better than anyone! One common risk factor we see with ACL injuries is a subpar ability to decelerate. If an athlete is going to stop or change direction, they need to have the necessary skills to control their body in space when going from accelerating, to decelerating, and then back to accelerating again.

In order to assess an athlete’s ability to decelerate, it is important to observe how they do with the following change of direction drills:

Linear Cone Drill: Set up cones 3 yards apart, sprint to the cones, decelerate into a lunge, backpedal to cones. Continue for designated sets/reps.

Lateral Hurdle Run w/ Pause: Set up 3-5 hurdles, laterally run over the hurdles, focus on a deep pause for about 2 seconds when changing direction.

Ickey Shuffle: Set up a ladder, run diagonally across the ladder, 2 feet in, 1 foot out. Focus on proper hip/knee angles on outside of ladder.

*Emphasize the end of the drills –Athletes should come to a complete stop abruptly when ending the drill instead of jogging or coasting. To decelerate, lower the hips and slightly overreach by contacting the ground in front of the hips. This will help enhance deceleration over time.

*Focus on force reduction deceleration technique – Start deceleration drills off with an agility ladder and only perform the drills around 70 percent.  Focus on digging the foot into the ground, coming to a complete stop, and maintaining low hips and proper body angle. Progress by increasing speed and more complex agility/plyometric drills.

*Add tempo into strength training – Emphasize the eccentric phase (muscle lengthening phase) of exercise. For example, instead of doing regular squats, descend down into the squat very slowly to work on controlling the load. Isometrics can also improve deceleration. Descend down into the bottom of the squat and hold for 5-10 seconds before exploding back upward. 

4. Prepare For Your Landing

Tune in to any football game on any level, it won’t take long for you see a wide receiver jumping up to make a catch or a running back attempting to hurdle a defender. Some level of jumping or hopping is part and parcel to most competitive sports. However, most ACL tears don’t occur in the jumping motion, but in the landing! An athlete absorbs up to 7-10x their own body weight in ground reaction forces upon their landing from a single jump. It is imperative that we are working with athletes to ensure that their landing mechanics and patterns are solid in effort to avoid repetitive stress and traumatic injury.

A quick way to determine an athlete’s susceptibility to injury is to evaluate their ability to absorb eccentric stresses in their landing from a “Depth Drop” or “Step Down Test.”

Depth Drop: The athlete steps down from (or drops) from a 6-18 inch plyobox or step. The athlete is then instructed to land simultaneously with both feet. We’d like to see the pelvis, hip, knee and ankle remain in alignment with very little to no hip drop, hips back and knees bent. Ask the athlete to hold the landing for 3 seconds.

*If the athlete steps down and the hip internally rotates and/or their knee collapses into valgus, this is something that must be corrected to decrease risk for injury.

Please note that this blog is not intended to be an exhaustive list of injury prevention tools. Instead, it is my hope that the reader will be able to gain some insights into ACL injury prevention that aren’t regularly discussed.

To learn more about ACL injury prevention and Athletico’s ACL 3P Program, please email Or find an Athletico ACL expert near you!

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3 Reasons to Attend the Chicago Sports Summit

By Athletico Physical Therapy

We are proud to be the title sponsor of the third annual Chicago Sports Summit!   What better way to spend a morning than meeting pro athletes, Olympians and general managers of Chicago’s pro teams?

There are a lot of reasons to join us at the Chicago Sports Summit on October 3, but here are three of the best:

  1. Amazing panelists. Listen to Olympic medalists, professional athletes, Chicago pro team general managers and our very own Performing Arts Program Manager Julie O’Connell, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC, as they get together to discuss hot topics affecting sports and sports business.
  1. Great networking. The Hyatt Crystal Ballroom will be full of 400 people you’ll want to meet, including Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush physicians, sports medicine industry reps and other valuable business connections.
  1. Support a good cause. Last, but certainly not least, the Summit benefits some amazing causes that support Chicago’s youth: After School Matters and Girls in the Game. Both organizations help students reach their academic potential and learn life skills through participation in after school programs.

For more information or to purchase a ticket or table, visit See you on October 3rd!

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