By Candace H. Chemtob, MS, RD, LD, CSSD
Squash injuries are more common than you might think. A study of 155 players in New York City found an injury rate of 44.5%. Of those injuries, almost half required two weeks recovery time (Am J Sports Med, 1981). The highest “risk” players are novices and players over 40 years old. Squash injuries most commonly involve the ankle, lower leg, and knee.
Some injuries can be avoided by following basic safety rules such as: keep your equipment in good shape (racquets, grips, sneakers), wear protective eye wear, warm up, stretch and cool down, use proper technique, train adequately and specifically for the physical demands of squash, gradually build up your intensity of play, and do not play with existing injuries. While nutrition cannot prevent injuries caused by improper training, overuse, or direct impact, poor nutrition can “lead to conditions that increase the risk of injury” (www.NCAA.org).
Squash requires an enormous amount of energy. One hour of competitive squash can burn 800 to 1,000 calories per hour. Squash players who have not trained or eaten properly can experience an early onset of exercise-induced fatigue. Fatigue is not only bad for your game, but it also puts you at a higher risk for injury. The fatigued player cannot sustain the pace or intensity of the game, and compensates by modifying technique to conserve energy. Moving from proper technique to one of “energy conservation” elevates the risk of becoming injured.
Using basic concepts of sports nutrition, a player can maintain maximum power output and delay the onset of fatigue.
- Glycogen Stores: Becoming severely fatigued on the court during a grueling match occurs when glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates) is depleted. Blood sugar levels begin to drop which signals the release of fat stores. Fat is not capable of providing energy (ATP) fast enough to support the high intensity movements of squash. Fortunately, exercise-induced fatigue is avoidable. The body is capable of storing up to 1,500 calories as glycogen, which is sufficient to play squash intensely for more than one hour. Eating a high carbohydrate diet, plus strategically timed snacks before and after competition, can delay the onset of fatigue by as much as 40 to 50%.
- Hydration: Hydration also plays an important role in staving off fatigue. Losing 1 to 2% of body weight decreases athletic performance. As stated in Nature, “a loss of body mass of 1–2%…clearly impairs performance capacity.” For example, for a 150 pound athlete a 1 to 2% loss of body weight is the equivalent of 1.5 to 3.0 pounds. A study of runners showed that a 2% decrease in hydration led to a 6 to 7% decrease in maximum speed. In the extreme case, dehydration can cause an increase in core body temperature and eventually lead to heat exhaustion.
- Iron deficient anemia: Anemia also causes fatigue. Iron deficient anemia is more common in athletes than the general population due to the loss of iron through sweat and increased red blood cell breakdown. Women are at higher risk than males due to menstrual losses. Iron binds with oxygen and carries it around the body to organs and muscles. A lack of oxygen triggered by iron deficiency anemia decreases VO2 max, which is a measure of the maximum aerobic capacity. Without enough oxygen, lactic acid levels rise causing fatigue.
Stay on top of your game! Use sports nutrition to maintain your maximal performance and avoid becoming fatigued on the court. Next month, the role of nutrition in recovery will be discussed.