Hydration plays key role in athletes’ success, safety during summer heat

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As temperatures continue to boil over into the triple digits this month, I thought it would be a good time to check in with my friend Scott Glickauf concerning the heat, hydration and how it affects athletes.

Glickauf serves as the Sports Medicine Coordinator at OrthoWilmington and also works as athletic trainer at Cape Fear Community College and Cape Fear Academy.

Winter Park Optimist baseball league. Photo courtesy- Rodney Williams
Winter Park Optimist baseball league. Photos courtesy Rodney Williams.

“A major contributor to avoid a heat-related injury is becoming acclimated to the weather,” said Glickhauf, who also has two sons who play youth soccer. “This can take up to two weeks. Athletes should be especially cautious to stay well-hydrated.

“While water is essential, it is also imperative to replace lost electrolytes. Consuming sports drinks such as Powerade and Gatorade is one way of doing this. High energy drinks such as Red Bull and Rockstar, however, are not recommended as a safe way to replenish electrolytes and hydrate the body.”

Generally speaking, the most important thing is that the athlete stays well-hydrated, while not getting too much sugar intake, according to Glickhauf.

While there are guidelines in place for schools to follow to help prevent and treat heat-related injuries, many summer youth leagues, travel ball and American Legion Baseball are relatively unmonitored and often it’s up to the family, team and individual to make sure athletes are getting enough water to sustain long days in the heat.

“Every athlete should drink plenty of water before getting on the field,” added Glickhauf. “Experts recommend 17-20 ounces of water or a sports drink be consumed two to three hours before activity. Seven to 10 ounces of water [should be consumed] every 10 to 20 minutes during activity, and those who sweat more should consume more.

“Sports drinks containing high amounts of carbohydrate are most beneficial for an athlete if consumed two to three hours prior to activity.”

Winter Park Optimist League. Photo courtesy- Rodney Williams
Winter Park Optimist League.

Lack of hydration by athletes or just anyone mowing the lawn, doing yardwork or outside at the beach can lead to heat illnesses and stroke.

What’s heat illness?

When exercising in very hot or humid weather, your body can become overheated and problems such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

“During exercise your body produces heat and your temperature rises,” said Glickhauf. “Your body has ways of cooling itself naturally, one of which is by sweating. When the sweat evaporates, it cools the skin.

“When the temperature is too hot or when there is too much humidity, sweating may no longer cool your body enough to keep your temperature from rising to dangerous levels. ”

As your body gets hotter and is unable to cool down, symptoms progress. First, one may become dehydrated and get heat cramps.  If not treated, symptoms could become more severe and eventually develop into a more serious problem, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

“It is important for you to accustom yourself gradually to exercising in the heat,” said Glickhauf. “In hot or humid conditions, exercise early in the morning or later in the day. It is a good idea to drink two cups of water 30 minutes prior to exercising. Wear loose fitting, light colored clothes. But, most importantly, if you feel ill while exercising in the heat, stop.”

Glickhauf also encourages athletes to drink 16-32 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during activity, which means the hydrating process is a reoccurring practice for athletes on all levels competing this summer.