For sportspersons, there are two critical issues related to getting older – the first is a gradual decline in muscle mass, and the second is the potential loss of bone density. Both these issues can make it extremely challenging for a person to do physical activities like running, cycling, or swimming which are crucial for sportspersons, especially those who specialize in that field. In addition, with age, bones shrink, increasing the likelihood of injury and osteoporosis.
Skeletal health is of paramount importance in athletes. Compared to the general population, the bone strength required in a sportsperson is much higher as they must train their body to do extra physical activities. However, improper practices and unwarranted stress on the bones can lead to bone injuries causing diminished performance, loss of training time, and even a truncation of a career. That is why all athletes must protect their bone health rather than sacrifice it for their performance.
Here are three important factors that sportspeople should consider to improve their bone strength.
Negative or low energy availability hurts the bone health of athletes, and it is especially true in highly active individuals, particularly elite and recreational endurance athletes. In such cases, the diet of most athletes is supplemented with dietary and nutritional supplements, which, when reduced, will lead to less energy. Low energy availability has a detrimental effect on bone strength. When this happens for extended sustained periods, it can result in acute bone injuries and long-term bone mass and strength reduction.
To resolve the issue of low or negative energy, maintaining an adequate intake of calories can help the body to perform its essential bodily functions while sustaining high levels of athletic and sporting activity. Sportspersons must follow a proper diet balanced with essential nutrients and the required carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Calcium and vitamin D play a vital role in maintaining bone health for an individual, and it also plays a crucial role in immune function and improving physical performance. Athletes lacking these essential items are at a greater risk for stress fractures, respiratory infections, and muscle injuries. Besides a good diet and focusing on important vitamins, a sportsperson should also take adequate supplementation to ensure that their daily requirements are met. But as always, these supplements, especially when taken for a long time, can be associated with health issues and hence should be strictly done under supervision.
Exercise and physical activity are considered beneficial for bone strength. When a person reaches 20 years, 90% peak bone mass is achieved, while by the age of 30 years, maximum bone mass is achieved. After this point, sustaining bone mass and strength becomes necessary to meet the increased demand.
Different sportspersons have different physical routines, and not all types of exercises provide the same result. To achieve maximum benefit, the exercise should tick the following boxes:
Various types of exercises, like impact cardiovascular exercises and resistance training, can provide multiple benefits. However, the best benefits come when a person does a combination of these exercises. Again, it is essential that training, especially for high-level sports activities, should be done under an expert as the adverse effects of workouts can prove fatal, especially when they are done in an unmonitored format.
Certain hormonal deficiencies can hurt bone health. This is especially true in female athletes, although when diagnosed early, precautions can be taken to avoid activity related to stress injuries and fractures.
Further, other conditions like the genetic makeup of the individual, specific medication, and diseases also affect the bone health of individuals.
Overall, athletes should develop proper strategies to take care of their bones since it is tough to recover the bone loss in later life. They should contact their sports specialist or orthopedic surgeon for further advice and guidance.
Dr. Pramod Bhor, HOD-Orthopedic Surgery
Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi