As summer temperatures climb, so does the risk of heat-related illness and injury, especially in athletes.
Beyond discomfort, these conditions can become serious quickly. They can include:
- Heat exhaustion
- Kidney damage
- Heat cramps
- Heart abnormalities
- Heat rash
Water is No. 1
The good news is heat-related illness and injury are fully preventable. The most important key to avoid missing practice, games and fun is to get enough water.
Athletes and coaches should drink enough water to have to urinate before practice or competition starts and then drink 4-6 ounces every 15-20 minutes during times they sweat. At the end of 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 water. Dehydration affects not only your skill potential and ability to stay in the game, but it also risks your health and even your life.
Options other than water
Drinks with added electrolytes are safe to consider for extended workouts. Sweat causes fluid loss as well as the loss of electrolytes, such as sodium. This can result in headaches, stomachaches and muscle cramps. Starting with water and switching to an electrolyte drink halfway through a hot practice or competition is something to consider. Electrolyte drinks do cost more than water, and too much at once can cause abdominal discomfort.
Milk is a fantastic after-practice drink. After a hot practice, drink enough water to be able to urinate. Then drink 8 ounces of milk after some cooling off time inside. The calcium, vitamin D and protein make this a fantastic recovery drink for athletes. Chocolate milk with a minimal amount of sugar offers some carbohydrates as well and may be more desirable than plain milk.
A bad option for hydration
What about energy drinks?
Drinks with caffeine, sugar and taurine have become very popular. Inaccurate information as well as advertising may make you believe these are safe or even preferred for athletes.
But these drinks are neither.
In fact, if an athlete becomes dehydrated, drinks with caffeine and taurine can cause further dehydration, increasing the risk for kidney damage or cardiac abnormalities – possibly resulting in emergency room visits, hospital stays and even life-threatening illness. As a parent or coach, you are not helping your athlete or the team if you offer an energy drink to your child 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 out from playing in the tournament, but also includes an emergency room visit.
What if athletes don't stay hydrated?
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it can hold on to. If the body gets 2 or 3% dehydrated, there are few symptoms, but problems such as muscle fatigue, headache, muscle cramps and mental slowing can begin. Once an athlete is thirsty, they are nearing 10% dehydration. This may be enough to not only limit strength and speed but can also cause nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations and even fainting. More important, it is more difficult to get back to normal hydration and this can begin the cascade to a dangerous scenario.
How the body gets in trouble
Kidneys and heart
The body loses fluid in a variety of ways. Athletes typically lose fluids from breathing, sweating and urinating. Other causes (less common in athletes though) include vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. If the fluid imbalance isn't corrected, electrolytes will become affected and further exhaustion takes place, leading to muscle cramps.
Heatstroke occurs when the temperature of your body continues to rise until it can't regulate itself with sweating anymore. This can lead to muscle breakdown, kidney failure, brain injury and even death. Your heart and kidneys require the right amount of fluid to maintain their function. Athletes with previous heart or kidney problems are at increased risk for sudden worsening if dehydrated. And athletes without a previously known problem can get dehydrated and get into danger because of too little fluids. Kidney damage from dehydration can lead to rhabdomyolysis, which is a kidney problem requiring intense hydration the day you become ill. It may result in lifelong damage.
The skin has multiple jobs. One of the most important during the summer is allowing you to sweat!
Sweating is a great cooling mechanism. Sometimes the sweat glands get overworked. The moisture, along with sweat glands becoming clogged, may result in a heat rash. Typically getting the skin cool and dry is the only necessary treatment.
Sunburns are another skin-related problem in the summer. Waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays with repeated applications will help prevent sunburns. Sunburns are painful, and if they blister can become infected due to the barrier of skin being broken. Skin cancer is also a risk of sunburn.
Staying in the sport and out of trouble
The best way to avoid these heat-related illnesses and injuries is to avoid the heat! The best advice is to stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. But when the schedule puts you in the heat, stay hydrated, listen to your body, go inside before you get dehydrated, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes and wear sunscreen.
Oh, and have fun!
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
- Wear sunscreen
- Drink water
- Take frequent water breaks
- Urinate before and after workout
- Avoid being outside between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Wear dark clothes that don't wick away the sweat
- Drink energy drinks with caffeine and taurine
- Delay getting fluids
- Drink so little you can't urinate after a workout