Navigating Sports and Food Allergies
Updated: Apr 29
Sports are an outlet for so many teenagers around the world. Not only does playing sports keep you active, allow you to make new friends, and experience a sense of teamwork and team bonding, they can be a huge stress reliever. I play ice hockey and tennis, and in my experience, going to practice, exercising, forming bonds with your teammates, and improving yourself helps release my stress tremendously. Any worries about school, friends, etc. disappear when I participate in the sports I love. However, for teenagers like me who have many severe food allergies, surprisingly, at some times, playing sports can be stressful as the possibility of having a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction while participating in a team sport can be very high if you don’t take precaution. There are certain times when having food allergies while playing on a sports team can be difficult, but there are ways to guarantee you feel safer in the locker room, on the field, at a tournament, or before a big game.
From my experience playing on competitive hockey teams for 6 years, the biggest reason that managing food allergies while playing hockey (or any other sport) can be difficult is water bottles. This definitely applies to other team sports like football, soccer, etc., where water bottles are shared constantly throughout the team and there’s usually even “team water bottles”. At first, I would go along with what my team did and just use the shared team water bottles because that’s what everyone did, and our coaches thought it would make everything easier in order to make sure everyone stayed hydrated. I didn’t think there could be any harm in how we shared the water bottles because no one was actually touching their mouth to the bottles. Instead, they were just squirting it in or “waterfalling” the water into their mouth. However, I heard that someone I knew through hockey had to go to the hospital because one of his teammates drank out of his water bottle during their game, and that teammate had eaten an almond granola bar prior to getting on the ice. I wasn’t surprised to hear this as the sharing of water bottles and sports is extremely prevalent and I notice it every time I play a game. After hearing about this kid’s allergic reaction, I started to not only bring my own water bottle instead of using the team ones, but bring a water bottle that didn’t “squirt” out water into your mouth (like Gatorade water bottles), in order to make sure teammates didn’t drink from mine. It is important to never share water bottles with teammates during a sports game or practice because while your teammates might not touch their mouths to the top of the bottle, there still can be cross contamination of your allergen in the water from the person’s backwash. I have had coaches who want everyone to use the team water bottles, but if you explain the seriousness of your food allergy and the possibility of an anaphylactic reaction, they will understand why you have to use your own.
Another way to manage your food allergies that I think is a necessity while playing on a sports team is making sure all of your teammates know about your allergy. While this might seem obvious, a lot of times it doesn’t cross our minds that our allergy could impact us while we play sports in any way. However, before/after games while in the locker room or on the sidelines, a lot of athletes eat granola bars or energy bars that contain nuts (or other allergens). So, it is important for you to communicate with all of your teammates and coaches if you have any allergy that prohibits them from eating certain foods while in the locker room or on the sidelines. This also applies to team dinners, carb fests, or tournaments. If you go out to a restaurant to eat with your team, make sure not only the waiter knows about your allergy, but also the team in case anyone were to get anything that would trigger anaphylaxis.
While me and other food allergic athletes have experienced stress when trying to navigate playing a competitive sport and having a life threatening food allergy, it is extremely easy to reduce the risks of having an allergic reaction before, during, or after a game by communicating with your team and coaches and also by not sharing water bottles.