Heart Health In The Adolescent Athlete

School Running Race

There has been a noticeable occurrence of sudden deaths among athletes in the news in the last few decades.  Finding have shown that the deaths are cardiovascular (having to do with the heart and blood vessels) in nature.  Doctors found that the most common cardiovascular cause was a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is an enlarged heart – in particular, left ventricular hypertrophy — due to inflammation of the heart muscles.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is not to be confused with “athlete’s heart,” or “athletic heart syndrome” which is an enlarged heart due to healthy athletic and fitness training.  The heart, like any other muscle, becomes “pumped” with exercise. Athlete’s heart is a good thing; it is a very healthy heart conditioned to deliver large quantities of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body during extended exercise.

Heart diagram with labels in English. Blue com...

Despite the fact that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and congenital heart problems account for most adolescent sudden death syndrome, it does not account for all deaths of this nature.  Besides getting a full checkup from the pediatrician with special attention to uncovering undetected heart conditions, here is a heart-healthy habit that parents can instill in their children to help make certain that their young athlete does not suffer premature heart failure on the field or the court.

Proper Mineral Balance and Hydration

A direct threat to heart health is electrolyte imbalance, which can occur when your child is dehydrated and not eating enough of the right nutrients.  Muscle, including the heart, is over 75% water.  The heart, in particular, has its own electric circuitry that is regulated by proper hydration and electrolyte balance.  Children become dehydrated much more quickly than adults, and the dehydration and electrolyte deficiency that can occur during athletic training and sport events can be dangerous, even life-threatening.  Water levels and minerals like sodium, chloride, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphate in proper quantities and ratios are all necessary for the heart to function properly.

Normally, children should drink ½ their body weight in ounces of water a day.  For example, a kid who is 86 pounds should drink 43 ounces (5 ½ cups) of filtered water a day – not juice, not coffee, not sports drinks. All those can be in addition to the water intake.  If your child trains athletically, that intake should be much greater.

Sweat losses during 2 hours of exercise can equal 2 liters (68 ounces) of fluid or more.  For this duration, your child should drink 8 oz (1 cup) of filtered water every 15 minutes!  The child needs to replenish during training in order to keep hydration at proper levels.  If your child’s coach has a problem with this, then you should have a problem with your child’s coach.

A good rule of thumb for your child athlete is the following chart:

2 hours before exercise                                          2-3+ cups

15 minutes before exercise                                  1-2+ cups

Every 15 minutes during exercise                   1-1.5 cups

After exercise        2-3 cups for every pound lost

Source: American College of Sports Medicine Position Paper, 2006

For the latter, the pounds lost is water weight.  Your child needs to replenish that water weight quickly.  It’s not water weight that needs to come off your child.

To ensure proper electrolyte balance, a snack the size of your child’s fist should be eaten.  The snack should be relatively low in fat and fiber so that your child doesn’t have a bloated stomach while training, and should be relatively high in carbohydrates and moderate in protein.  A good example is an organic fruit smoothie with banana and mango, almond milk and plain low fat yoghurt, or a trusted power bar with no high-fructose corn syrup. If you don’t have access to a holistic physician or sports dietician for guidance here (you can e-mail optimysticliving@gmail.com for my recommendations), visit your nearest health food store for guidance.

After exercise, it is important to eat the proper combination of nutrients during the first 30 minutes. The meal following exercise should be very easy to digest and provide amino acids to help building and repair of muscular tissue and optimize uptake of the nutrients and minerals to the muscles, including the heart (remember: the heart is a muscle!).  Good examples would be a good whey, egg, or pea/hemp sports drink with a teaspoon of sea salt or dulse thrown in.

Following are examples of electrolyte-rich foods (all should be organic and in the case of dairy, raw):

Sodium:  dill pickle, tomato juice/sauce/soup; sea salt (1 tsp = 2300 mg sodium), dulse

Chloride: sea salt, dulse, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, olives

Potassium: red potato with skin, plain yogurt banana

Magnesium: cacao beans/dark chocolate, halibut, pumpkin seeds, spinach

Calcium: raw dairy (yogurt, milk, ricotta), collard greens, spinach, kale, sardines

Phosphate (available in suitable quantities along with the other electrolyte foods) egg yolks, milk, nuts, wheat germ, peas, beans, legumes, mushrooms, cacao beans/dark chocolate

Make sure your child eats balanced, healthy meals consisting of lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates like leafy green vegetables, and healthy fats like omega 3 fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil, and nuts every two hours for four to six hours following exercise.

High school football, running back, 1999, by R...

High school football, running back, 1999, by Rick Dikeman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These important steps should help protect your child’s heart while improving overall performance in their given sport.  This advice, however, is only the beginning.  Your child should have a chiropractor who specializes in sports nutrition examine your child’s spine regularly for vertebral misalignment, particularly to vertebra whose nerve roots service the heart, and a trusted sports physician who continues to monitor your child’s physical development.  Adolescents go through drastic changes on the path to adulthood; your child athlete doubly so. Preventive care should be an active partner in your child’s path to optimum health and athletic success.

 

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About Dr. Claire

CLAIRE FITZPATRICK is a Doctor of Chiropractic in New York City. Her specialty is helping women and men aged 30-55 eliminate signs and symptoms of early aging. She is owner of JOY! Health and Bodyworks, LLC a holistic, integrative network of holistic practitioners who specialize in health issues related to early aging. She is the author of the ebook, "The Nine Essentials of Health: A Must Have Guide for Healthy Living."

Posted on 04/17/2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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