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Extreme Heat Precautions for Athletes

Water is No. 1

Heat-related illness and injury is 100% preventable. Athletes and coaches should drink enough water to have to urinate before practice or competition starts and then drink 4 to 6 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes when perspiring. At the end of the practice or competition, you should have to urinate again, and the color of the urine should be clear to light yellow both before and after the workout. If you are unable to urinate or the urine is dark-colored after a workout, you didn’t drink enough.

Examples of heat-related illness and injury:

  • Dehydration
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke
  • Headache/stomachache
  • Rhabdomyolysis (kidney damage)
  • Sunburn
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat syncope (fainting)
  • Heart abnormalities
  • Vomiting
  • Heat Rash

Options other than water

Drinks with added electrolytes are safe to consider for extended workouts. Sweat not only causes fluid loss, but also loss of electrolytes such as sodium. This can result in headache, stomachache and muscle cramp. Starting with water and switching to an electrolyte drink halfway through a hot practice or competition is worth considering. Electrolyte drinks cost more than water, and too much at one time could cause abdominal discomfort.

What about milk?

Milk is a fantastic after-practice drink. After a hot practice drink enough water to be able to urinate. After some cooling-off time inside, consider 8 ounces of milk. The calcium, vitamin D and protein are a great recovery drink for the athlete. Chocolate milk with a minimal amount of sugar offers some carbohydrates as well, and may be more desired than plain milk.

Bad options for hydration

Drinks with caffeine, sugar and taurine are very popular. Inaccurate information as well as advertising may make you believe these are safe or even preferred for athletes. They are neither safe nor preferred. In fact, if an athlete becomes dehydrated, drinks with caffeine and taurine can further dehydrate the athlete, increasing the risk for kidney damage or cardiac abnormalities, resulting in an emergency room visit, hospital stay and even a life-threatening illness.

As a parent or coach, you are not helping your athlete or the team if you offer an energy drink to get them pumped up for an early-morning game. Instead you may be introducing a cascade of events that results in not only losing from playing in the tournament, but also could cause an emergency room visit.

What happens if you don't stay hydrated

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it can hold onto. If the body becomes 2 or 3 percent dehydrated, there are few symptoms. Problems can begin, however, with muscle fatigue, headache, muscle cramps and mental slowing. Once an athlete is thirsty, he/she is nearing 10 percent dehydration. This may be enough to not only limit strength and speed but also cause nausea, vomiting, heart racing and even fainting. More importantly, it is more difficult to get back to normal hydration and this can launch the cascade to a dangerous scenario.


  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Drink water
  • Take frequent water breaks
  • Urinate before and after workout
  • Avoid being outside between 11 am and 3 pm if possible


  • Wear dark clothes that don’t wick away perspiration
  • Drink energy drinks with caffeine and taurine
  • Delay getting fluids

Ways the body gets into trouble

The body loses fluid in a variety of ways. Athletes typically lose fluids through breathing, perspiring and when they urinate. Other causes include vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. If the fluid imbalance isn’t corrected, electrolytes are affected and further exhaustion takes place, leading to muscle cramps. Heat stroke occurs when the your body temperature rises to the point where it can no longer regulate itself. This can lead to muscle breakdown, kidney failure, brain injury and even death.

Your heart and kidneys require a certain amount of fluids to maintain their function. Athletes with existing heart or kidney problems are at increased risk for a sudden worsening if they become dehydrated. However, athletes without a preexisting health problem can still become dangerously dehydrated. Kidney damage from dehydration can lead to rhabdomyolysis, which is a kidney problem that requires immediate intense hydration but can also result in lifelong damage.

The skin

Skin has multiple jobs. One of the most important summertime jobs is allowing you to perspire. Sweating is a great cooling mechanism. Sometimes the sweat glands get overworked and the moisture along with the sweat glands become clogged, resulting in heat rash. Typically getting the skin cool and dry is the only necessary treatment.

Sunburns are another skin-related summertime issue. You can help prevent sunburn by using a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays. Sunburns are painful. If skin blisters as a result of sunburn, it can become infected. Repeated sunburns may also increase your risk for skin cancer.

Staying in the sport and out of trouble

The best way to avoid heat-related illness and injuries is to avoid the heat. Staying out of the sun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the best advice. But sometimes a practice, tournament or a must-see event occurs at the height of the sun. When the schedule puts you in the heat, remember to stay hydrated. Listen to your body and go inside before you become dehydrated. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and wear sunscreen. Oh, and remember to have fun.

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