As high school football practice kicks off in the extreme summer heat, athletes across southern states expose themselves to the risk of heat-related illnesses. With summer temperatures reaching triple-digits, coaches and parents must work together to keep their players hydrated.
“Appropriate hydration before, during and after physical activity is an important ingredient to healthy and successful sports participation,” the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) advises.
There are many different calculations and estimates of how much water a person should be drinking to stay hydrated on a daily basis. But it is thought that the average healthy male should drink roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of water per day, and the average healthy female should drink 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) daily. Age, weight and activity level factor into how much water may be needed daily.
Athletes should be cautioned against consuming soft drinks, energy drinks and other carbonated beverages because of the large amount of sugar and caffeine these drinks contain. As a diuretic, caffeine can increase the frequency of urination, leading to dehydration.
One of the best ways to determine if you are sufficiently hydrated is by urine color. A clear, pale yellow is a sign the body is hydrated; a darker color, or urination with a strong scent, is a signal the body is dehydrated. Teach your athlete to monitor their own hydration status by paying attention to their urine color.
Hydrating before sporting events
To maximize performance during a sporting event, athletes should drink half an ounce of water per pound of body weight at least 24 to 48 hours before an event. Ingesting small amounts of water at regular intervals throughout the day helps athletes avoid cramping during activity.
For activities of less than 60 minutes, cold water is an excellent way to stay hydrated, but for sporting events that last longer than 60 minutes, athletes should add an electrolyte- and carb-rich sports drink.
A common misconception is that athletes should drink sports drinks prior to athletic events. Two hours before an event, 16 ounces (2 cups) of water is the best option for hydration because the body hasn’t begun sweating and losing electrolytes and carbs. Another 16 ounces of water should be consumed 30 minutes before the physical activity.
Staying hydrated during sporting events
Once the event has started, athletes can introduce electrolyte- and carb-rich sports drinks to replenish what their body is using. Watering down sports drinks will diminish sugar intake, creating a beverage that is easier for the body to digest.
Hydration is the key factor in preventing heat illnesses, but there are many other precautions you can take.
- Apply and reapply sunscreen throughout any exposure time to the sun.
- Wear properly fitted athletic gear, avoiding anything heavy or bulky that might keep sweat from evaporating off your body.
- Avoid the peak heat of the day and don’t schedule outdoor activities during the noon to 4 p.m. window.
- Take a water break every 20 to 30 minutes to stay properly hydrated.
- Keep a bucket of ice water with cold towels for athletes to place on their heads to lower body temperature during hydration breaks.
- Don’t jump into strenuous activity in hot weather. Remember you must acclimate to extreme temperatures and humidity levels.
Athletes who are overweight or those who have larger muscle mass are more susceptible to some of the more moderate to severe heat-related illnesses. Athletes, parents and coaches should educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses.
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