Healthy Living: Heat and athletes

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In the dog days of summer, heat and humidity are a risk for athletes.

According to the CDC, heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death among U.S. high school athletes.

There are different types of heat illness, all often linked to dehydration.

Parents should talk to athletes about dehydration symptoms and understand nutrition plays a role, too.

DEHYDRATION SYMPTOMS include headache and lightheadedness, noticeable thirst, irritability, nausea, muscle cramping, dark yellow urine, difficulty paying attention, weakness, and fatigue resulting in decreased performance.

Infographic courtesy of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, www.nata.org

Cumberland Valley High School Athletic Trainer Sheila Mueller says athletes should know the symptoms and report them to a coach or athletic trainer so they are addressed immediately.

Mueller also says a healthy diet and proper nutrition are key to performance and hydration actually begins days before practice.

HYDRATION GUIDELINES according to the Dietary Reference Intakes’ recommendations, males ages 9-13 should have 10 cups of water daily while females in that age group need 9 cups daily.

Males ages 14-18 should have 14 cups of water daily and females 14-18 years old should have 10 cups daily.

Those numbers are influenced by the athlete’s intensity and duration of the training, environmental conditions like heat and humidity, and equipment of the sport like uniforms or pads.

Athletes should increase water consumption long before the first whistle.

“Starting at least two days prior and also during the practice itself. After practice I would add a milk or chocolate as a recovery drink,” says Mueller.

Water alone isn’t enough to replace fluid lost during exercise.

“If you don’t have the balance of electrolytes… you’re going to shut down. Your body is going to shut down. Your cells are basically going to drown,” she explains.

As for electrolytes, Mueller prefers electrolyte tablets to sports drinks. She says NUUN tablets taste good and have a good balance of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

In addition to nutrition and hydration, athletes should acclimate.

“Attend summer practices that are available and if you can’t attend them, get the workout from the coach and perform the exercises on your own,” says Mueller.

For more information on the nine types of heat illness, click here.

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