Chris G. Koutures, MD, FAAP Pediatric and sports medicine specialist

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Comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach that enhances the health and knowledge of patients and their families



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USA Volleyball Mens/Womens National Teams
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Pediatric Sports Medicine: Essentials for Office Evaluation

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Filtering by Tag: sleep tips for athletes

Schedule Dr. Koutures to Speak to Your Soccer Club or Team


With more and more kids and teens playing soccer, so comes the risk of injury. Today, players are suffering from head injuries, groin injuries, knee injuries, hamstring pulls and broken bones.

Schedule Dr. Koutures to come speak to your coaching staff or families!

Some common topics he can address include:

To schedule a one hour session with Dr. Koutures for coaches and/or parents, click here or call 714-974-2220

5 Sensible Tips Guiding Nutrition and Recovery After Exercise

For centuries, athletes have searched for any substance or technique that could enhance exercise and allow for more effective weight gain/loss or increases in strength and endurance. Many available performance enhancing products may report claims of potential amazing efficacy but use of them can be clouded by concerns over true scientific support, side effects, and financial cost.

Here are 5 sensible tips to guide you on nutrition and recovery with your exercise program:

1.       The Importance of Sleep

Can’t begin to tell you how sleep deprivation can derail even the best constructed exercise program, as skeletal muscle needs adequate recovery time to rebuild damaged fibers and to increase the working capabilities of contractile units. Multiple studies support the efficacy of a minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep a day to foster such recovery. Insufficient sleep can also reduce mental alertness on the job or at school and has also been associated with statistically higher risk of illness or injury.  Establish a regular bedtime and not allow deviation of more than ½ hour and also encourage daytime naps of under one hour per day which have been shown to be restorative, add to the cumulative daily sleep amount, and not adversely affect nighttime sleep patterns.

·         TIP TO ASSIST WITH SLEEP: Stop any type of screen device use no later than one hour before bedtime, and do not have screen devices in the sleep area, as use right before bedtime or alerts/temptation to check during sleep have been associated with reduced amount and quality of sleep.

2.       The Timing and Amount of Protein

Protein is the building block of skeletal muscle and is needed to assist in that reparative and rebuilding process after exercise. Good data suggests that the best time for workout-related protein intake is within 30 minutes after completing exercise. A post workout protein amount of 25-30 grams along with a total daily intake of 0.5-0.7 mg protein/pound of body weight are both solid recommendations. I have always favored dairy or meat/bean/egg sources of protein as readily available products that confer well-absorbed collateral benefits of calcium, Vitamin D, and iron. Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins, and intake of specific individual amino acids has been touted for both weight loss and strength building. However, there is a lack of rigorous support for high amounts of individual amino acids, so stick with whole food protein sources.

·         TIP TO ASSIST WITH PROTEIN INTAKE: 8-12 ounces of chocolate milk within 30 minutes of exercise is a sensible recovery drink that has a ratio of carbohydrate to protein that allows enhanced transport of protein to recovering muscles. Other good post workout food-based protein sources include Greek yogurt and peanut butter.

3.       What About Creatine?

Creatine is a natural substance that assists with regeneration of short-acting energy sources that fuel contraction in working skeletal muscle. Increased amounts of creatine in working muscles can potentially contribute to more intense workouts and also assist in muscle recovery after workouts. Powdered and liquid creatine supplement products have been studied, with trials that include higher loading doses for the first few days, followed by lower daily maintenance doses and other regimens that include medium daily doses without any higher loading amount. Positive results have included increased speed and ability to complete multiple short-burst activities such as 80-100 yard sprints. Possible side-effects include water retention, bloating, muscle cramping, and potential kidney injury (currently only reported with individuals that had pre-existing kidney concerns).  Anecdotally, many athletes using creatine have reported enhanced recovery with increased ability to work harder in subsequent workouts, and documented strength increases support increased muscle size not being simply due to water retention, but to increased contractile abilities.  Take note that many United States-based sports medicine advisory organizations do not endorse creatine supplementation in children under 18 years of age.

·         TIPS ON CREATINE USE: Creatine monohydrate in either liquid or powder format has been the best studied form of creatine. If using any supplement, ensure that you are getting exactly what is on the container and not any additional substances (see below). Reductions in creatine dose have been shown to assist with bloating, cramping or extreme water retention. Good food sources of creatine include wild game meats or wild-caught fish which also have those collateral benefits of protein, calcium and iron. Domestic meats and fish (especially free-range meats) still have reasonable amounts of creatine.

4.       Are Pre-Workout Supplements Safe and Efficacious?

Advertised preworkout supplements or “energy drinks” report to enhance athletic performance and routinely contain multiple components such as caffeine and taurine. While a few small studies support the performance enhancement of stand-alone agents, published data on combination products is scant, inconclusive, or confusing.  Safety concerns exist with use of products that have cross reactivity of multiple agents or larger than studied amounts of a certain product.

·         TIPS ON PREWORKOUT SUPPLEMENTS: Read labels! If using any preworkout supplement in addition to usual daily caffeinated beverage of choice, you might be getting an enormous caffeine load with possible dangers that outweigh possible benefits to your workout.

5.       What’s the Lowdown on other Supplements?

Use of a vast array of pre and post-workout supplement products has been touted to enhance athletic performance and exercise capabilities. Many of these products will work- no doubt about it, - however the gross majority of products do not have any rigorous practical scientific result to support clams and there is a tangible risk of adverse consequences from both known and potentially unreported elements in supplement products.  What is on the label of many products is not the same as what is in the actual container. Personal experience along with results found by national sport organizations have found a significant number of supplements that have additional, unreported elements that are potentially dangerous and might be banned for sporting competition. While most of you are not subject to drug testing for performance-enhancing agents, suffering real and possibly long-term health consequences is not worth the short-term gains in strength and endurance.

Sleep, Screen Device Use, and Concussion Recovery

Each concussion deserves individualized recommendations that seek to strike the delicate balance between a child's need for maintaining social contacts and attempt to continue with school work with a desire to not overwhelm the healing brain and increase post-concussion symptoms. An absolute restriction on screen use might reduce possibility of certain symptoms such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, but can also lead to social isolation contributing to higher symptom reports of anxiety, sadness, and outright depression. 

How can we best strike an appropriate balance between screen use and need for adequate sleep?

Ask most parents if they have worries about sleep issues and amount of electronics/screen device use in their school aged children, and you'll probably get ready nods and smiles of affirmation. 

Ask some of my sports medicine colleagues about why we are seeing more complicated and prolonged post-concussion recoveries, and you'll hear some suggest that the multi-tasking and multiple platforms of communication utilized by smart phones and other screen devices are potential contributing factors.

So since increasing sleep issues and attempts to pry screen-based devices from the hands of kids are common concerns to parents and medical professionals, it should be no surprise that difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep and regulating electronic use are often major challenges in children who have suffered a concussion.

Came across two recent studies on the subject of screen use and sleep that I think shed some interesting light on how we might make recommendations for all children, but particularly in the immediate post-concussion population.

One study from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has potential biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety. Such device use can:

  •  increase alertness at bedtime, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home
  •  suppress levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin,
  •  reduce the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep
  • and reduce alertness the following morning

While this study used healthy young adults (mean age around 25 years of age), the findings are intriguing enough to be extrapolated to younger patients. Given the frequency where recommended oral melatonin clearly helps with falling and staying asleep, having another pathway to support internal melatonin production can be essential in the recovery process.

An additional study from the journal Pediatrics examined 4th through 7th graders and assessed associations of different screens in sleep environments with sleep duration and perceived insufficient rest or sleep. Particular interest was placed on smartphones which can emit notifications during sleep periods, and relevant findings included:

  • Sleeping near a small screen, sleeping with a TV in the room, and more screen time were associated with shorter sleep durations.
  • Presence of a small screen, but not a TV, in the sleep environment and screen time were associated with perceived insufficient rest or sleep.

These findings found that small screens could have more adverse effects on sleep than television screens and thus caution against unrestricted screen access in children’s bedrooms for normal, healthy 4th through 7th graders, which again could be extrapolated to include concussed children.

Throwing this all together, a pragmatic approach to screen use after concussion that utilizes the findings of these studies may include the following clinical recommendations:

1) The preponderance of screen devices is an integral reality in the life of many school-aged children and significance of appropriate use cannot be underestimated in expediting post-concussion recovery.

2) Once appropriate, limit screen device time use initially to the middle of the day and not within one hour of any scheduled nap or evening sleep period.

3) All screen device use should be stopped at least one hour before bedtime,

4) Screen devices should be removed from the bedroom to reduce interruptions in sleep from notifications or temptation to check devices for updates during periods of awakening.

Once the child has recovered from the concussion, the child might find that continuing the above screen time recommendations may lead to continued enhanced amount and quality of sleep, which in itself may lead to an enhanced quality of life.


Teenagers Not Designed as Early Birds: How to Combat Adolescent Sleep Deprivation

Are you a well-meaning coach trying to get the most out of your athletes during early morning training sessions? Somewhat frustrated that everyone seems a step slow or out of sorts during zero period? While "morning people" are a dime a dozen in the adult world, doesn't it seem that finding teenagers raring to go at 0600 is like the proverbial needle in a haystack?

According to a timely American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement on School Start Times for Adolescents this type of behavior is not just an irritating by-product of teenage rebellion and striving for independence, but is a consequence of age-related delays in release of melatonin (hormone that influences sleep onset) and a slower drive to fall asleep compared with non-adolescents.

So yes, teenagers are biologically designed to have their own (circadian) rhythms and if they truly ran the world (instead of thinking that they do) they would select later school start times around the order of 8:30 if not later. This does often conflict with the usual norms of the adult-oriented world (such as parents having to be at work by 9 AM) and the realities of limited access to pools and court space along with trying to fit in another activity into already tight class schedules.

The ultimate goal according to the AAP and its review of the scientific literature would be to provide a consistent 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep per night and reduce the consequences of cumulative sleep deprivation:

How do we best respond to these sleep deprivation concerns?

First of all, don't think that teenagers shouldn't get off without taking some responsibility for their less than impressive sleep statistics, as they often do not do themselves any favors with poor sleep initiation behaviors such as late night caffeine use, using electronics and media right before bedtime, and having access to television in bedrooms. Modifying some of these habits definitely could should be a high priority for parents, coaches, and educators with emphasis on the importance of sleep in post-activity recovery, preparation for next day activity, and especially the impact of insufficient sleep in mood and academic focus:

While giving appropriate counsel to sleep hygiene behaviors, there are certain nutritional recommendations that may also increase the quality of sleep initiation and maintenance according to an article conveniently published just before the AAP article:

  • High Glycemic Index foods such as white rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes may promote sleep; however, they should be consumed more than 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Diets high in carbohydrate may result in shorter sleep latencies.
  • Diets high in protein may result in improved sleep quality.
  • Diets high in fat may negatively influence total sleep time.
  • When total caloric intake is decreased, sleep quality may be disturbed.
  • Small doses of tryptophan (1 gram) may improve both sleep latency and sleep quality. This can be achieved by consuming approximately 300 grams of turkey or approximately 200 grams of pumpkin seeds.
  • The hormone melatonin and foods that have a high melatonin concentration may decrease sleep onset time.

Promoting short naps (under a hour) during the day can contribute to the overall daily sleep total, and if done before an afternoon or evening exercise session may contribute to reduced sleepiness and and can be beneficial when learning new skills, strategies or techniques.

Finally, those of schedule-making adults might want to take a hard and scientific look at the utility of early-morning activities designed for adolescents. While the decision for later school starts may not be part of your pay grade, carefully weighing the risks and benefits of zero period weight training sessions or other before school activities in favor of more after school activities may actually increase athletic and academic performance in this age group. Delaying the start of afternoon training or competition sessions to allow for that brief nap (again, under an hour) may also enhance overall performance and mood of the team or group.

Do these sound like sensible and realistic recommendations to address sleep issues in adolescents?



Struggling to Sleep may lead to Struggles with Injury and Peformance

Not quite able to get that elusive eight hours of sleep?

Figure you'll catch up on the weekend, or once summer starts, or after the upcoming tournament ends?

Maybe you just don't think that sleep is that important in training and competition?

Well, if your goal is to optimize your athletic performance and limit your risk of injury, then wake up and take notice of the following studies on the importance of sleep:

  • Colleagues from Children's Hospital of Los Angeles found that adolescent athletes who slept more than 8 hours a night were 68% less apt to be injured than peers who did not get that much sleep per night. Athletes who reached higher grade levels in school actually had higher injury risks, so the additional sleep recommendations are even more important for older adolescents versus younger adolescents.
  • A wonderful infographic from compares a well rested athlete with a tired counterpart in a visual description of how poor sleep directly leads to poor performance. The graphic also illustrates the sleep habits of several well-known athletes and gives sensible tips on how to increase the quantity and quality of your sleep.
  • For those who must deal with frequent long-distance travel and the demise of regular sleep habits, there's an App for that. Researchers at the University of Michigan utilize smartphones to monitor circadian clocks and make recommendations on lighting and other tips to more rapidly adjust to new time zones with travel.

Now, even when young athletes try to get this adequate amount of sleep, It is very common to have struggles with falling asleep, especially in the junior high or early high school years. If this scenario sounds familiar, start with the following recommendations:

  • Use bedrooms only for sleeping and changing clothes
  • Eliminate or reduce electronic exposure (TV, DVD, smartphones, computers, etc) in the bedroom
  • Try to go to sleep within 1/2 hour of the same bedtime every night
  • Stop all electronic exposures at least one hour before bedtime
  • Limit caffeine use at or after dinner time
  • If having trouble falling asleep, turn your clock/timer around so you can't see the time

Many other athletes report awaking frequently during the night, or even more perplexing, getting the recommended 8+ hours a night, but still awakening tired or feeling fatigued during the day. In in these cases, highly recommend scheduling a medical evaluation to review sleep habits and hygiene, with focus on possible tonsil/adenoid enlargement, overtraining, uncontrolled asthma or allergies, and other illnesses that might contribute to interrupted sleep or poor sleep quality.