Exercising in the Heat Safely

Exercising in the Heat Safely!
Posted on 09/16/2020
Exercising in the Heat Safely!

Elora Pixler B.S. LAT, ATC
Chaparral High School Athletic Training


Exertional Heat Illness (EHI) is prevalent in fall sports as fall sports often begin in the heat of August, with some summer camps beginning as early as June. Many fall sports are played on turf or on an outdoor court, which absorbs heat all day long, and continues to radiate heat well after the sun goes down. Most fall sports practices begin after school, around 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon, during or shortly after the heat of the day. According to the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, synthetic turf fields can be anywhere from 40-70 degrees hotter than the air outside. The addition of equipment such as helmets and protective padding will increase body temperature even more than just exercising in general does.

Some athletes are at a higher risk than others for EHI. Some factors that increase the risk include dehydration, not being properly conditioned, being ill, exertional muscle cramps, and a prior history of heat-related illnesses. Supplements such as pre-workout often dehydrate the body due to high levels of stimulants (mostly caffeine), and medications such as antihistamines can also put an athlete at risk for an EHI due to their dehydrating effects.

Choosing proper clothing when practicing in the heat is very helpful in preventing a heat illness episode. Athletes should try to wear moisture-wicking materials such as dri-fit products or something similar, as they help sweat evaporate and, in turn, help keep the body cooler. Fabric to be wary of is cotton. Most cotton fabrics, unless blended with other materials, tend to absorb the sweat, which just leads to a soaked t-shirt. This can cause an athlete not to cool down efficiently since the sweat is not evaporating as quickly, if at all.

The most effective way to help prevent an EHI is to be sure an athlete is hydrated prior to exercise and is replacing fluids properly during exercise. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), an athlete should consume 16 ounces of water two to three hours before practice, then eight ounces 15 minutes before practice. Throughout practice, the athlete should consume four ounces every 15-20 minutes. The recommendation for post-practice is 16-20 ounces of water for every pound of water lost during exercise. Keep in mind this water intake is in addition to the normal “eight glasses of water a day” recommendation from doctors.

It is also important to replenish electrolytes, especially for “salty sweaters.” Some ways to tell if a person is a salty sweater is if their sweat tastes salty or it leaves stains on their shirt, headband, or hat. They are sweating out a lot of salt, which is important in maintaining their electrolyte balance and contributes to hydration regulation. Athletes can consume sports drinks during and/or after exercise to replenish their electrolytes lost. If they do not like sports drinks, a salty snack before and/or after exercise will do. Salty snacks can include pretzels, nuts, trail mix, or even adding a little salt to dinner after practices will help. However, too much sodium will end up being dehydrating, so it is important not to overdo it either.

Some common signs and symptoms to look out for with EHI are feeling sick, headaches during or after exercise, muscle cramps, abnormal fatigue, excessive sweating, decreased sweating, dizziness, fainting, and feeling foggy. Should an athlete feel this way during or after exercise, they need to get cooled down quickly. An ice pack on the back of the neck, under the armpits, and in the groin area are very effective in reducing body temperature. The athlete should also take off all equipment and extra clothing layers. As long as they can keep fluids down, they should also be taking sips of water or a sports drink. DO NOT chug fluids as that can cause an upset stomach or vomiting. If the athlete’s state is not improving with cooling, they should cease activity for the day. Exertional Heat Illnesses can be deadly. However, if these precautions are taken, it makes the chances of it a lot less likely.

References:

Casa, Douglas J., et al. “National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Exertional Heat Illnesses.” Journal of Athletic Training, vol. 50, no. 9, 2015, pp. 986–1000., doi:10.4085/1062-6050-50.9.07.

“Exertional Heat Illness in Sport and Recreation.” Risk Management in Sport and Recreation, 2006, doi:10.5040/9781492595823.ch-004.

“Heat Levels.” Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, 2020, www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/heat-levels-synthetic-turf.

Hosokawa, Yuri, et al. “Activity Modification in Heat: Critical Assessment of Guidelines across Athletic, Occupational, and Military Settings in the USA.” International Journal of Biometeorology, vol. 63, no. 3, 2019, pp. 405–427., doi:10.1007/s00484-019-01673-6.

“How to Maximize Performance Hydration.” NCAA.ORG, NCAA Sport Science Institute, 2013, ww.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Performance%20Hydration%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.


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