Late summer brings the kids back-to-school along with the heat and humidity we all dread. I look forward to this time of year because I love football! As an athletic trainer,
however, I see the dangerous effects this heat can have on young athletes; this is especially true when combined with dehydration.
In a perfect world, young athletes would be conditioned year-round and use common sense to drink enough water or take a break when necessary. But, we do not live in a perfect world so, prevention and education are crucial. The goal of the athletic trainer is to prevent the serious effects of heat illness which can lead to heat stroke.
Causes of heat illness:
- Over-motivation: Doing too much, too fast, for too long. To prevent it, start training early to give the body enough time to adapt and increase exertion gradually.
- Day 2 of training: The day after an exhausting and dehydrating day in the heat increases the chances of heat illness. Athletes should adequately rehydrate after practice and allow the body time to rest.
- Combination of heat and humidity: Lack of acclimation to physical exertion in the heat can be burdensome on the body. Again, training should increase gradually. No one goes from couch potato to marathon runner over night!
- Dehydration: Drink BEFORE you are thirsty. Hydration is important before, during, and after physical exertion. Remember to drink throughout your workout.
- Non-breathable clothing: Wearing permeable clothing will allow the sweat to evaporate, pulling heat away from the body.
- Extra body fat: Balance calories in with calories out, eat a healthy diet, and maintain an appropriate weight. The less weight on the body, the less strain on it. Being “fit” is more important than being “big.”
- Poor physical fitness: Get at minimum 60 minutes of exercise a day year-round, especially if you are an athlete.
- Supplements, especially those containing amphetamines or ephedra, can cause great harm to the body’s systems. Avoid them and if you have taken something, do not hide it from your doctor, coach or athletic trainer.
- Medications: Some medications decrease your body’s ability to perspire or alter the way your body responds to heat. Know ahead of time any side effects of medications and let coaches and trainers know as well.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of heat illness (fatigue, nausea, headaches, excessive thirst, muscle aches and cramps, weakness, confusion or anxiety, drenching sweats, often accompanied by cold, clammy skin, slowed or weakened heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, agitation, decreased sweating, decreased urination, blood in urine or stool, vertigo, delirium, shortness of breath, hot, dry skin, rapid heart rate, convulsions, or increased body temperature), STOP PRACTICING and tell your coach or trainer right away.
Heat illness CAN BE life-threatening if not treated immediately. Know your limits and respect them, while working to gradually increase them. It will make you a better athlete.