Sports Science: Hydration and Heat

October 23, 2018

Nineteen year-old Jordan McNair, a former University of Maryland College Park (UMD) offensive lineman, passed away June 13 of heatstroke two weeks after collapsing during football practice. McNair’s body temperature was found to be 106 degrees Fahrenheit at a local hospital and reportedly showed signs of heat exhaustion during practice.

This summer brought record-breaking temperatures in Maryland, even resulting in a heat advisory with a heat index of 105 degrees Fahrenheit in Baltimore, prompting the need for athletes to be extra cautious when playing and training outdoors due to the increased possibility of dehydration and heat-related injuries and conditions.

“The heat over the summer affected how I played soccer because it would drain my energy and just make me so tired and not want to play anymore,” senior varsity boys soccer player Jahir Williams said. “The heat affected my daily routine because I started to drink more and more water as the days got hotter.”

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association (MPSSAA) created a policy regarding fall practice heat guidelines to assist individual school systems in creating their own rules to ensure student-athlete safety. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has their own 14-day fall heat plan which is almost identical to most other school systems in Maryland. This plan includes guidelines and restrictions for fall sports such as limitations on what protective equipment can be worn in the beginning of the season and how long practices can last.

Part of the plan describes emergency procedures in the case of heat acclimation and heat-related emergencies which include guidelines for preparedness, treatment and pre-assignment of responsibilities. Under these rules, sports must have a plastic children’s pool on hand during physical activity in the event a player requires an emergency ice bath to reduce their body temperature if they are overheated and show signs of serious conditions such as heatstroke and dehydration.

This cold-water immersion treatment is a technique used commonly in sports and was used on two occasions at RHS over the summer for the football team. Both players were brought back to normal health conditions after the ice bath, drinking water and talking with the athletic trainer, Robert Kambies. In both cases, the players told varsity head coach Jason Lomax that they had not drank enough water that day, causing their bodies to break down.

“Usually it’s a dehydration issue where they just haven’t been drinking enough water,” Lomax said. “We encourage it, we teach it, we preach it, but at the end of the day, I can’t follow everyone home and force them to drink water.”

During McNair’s practice two weeks before his death at UMD, there was no reported ice bath, which could have prevented his death.

“It’s [the cold-water immersion treatment is] the magic elixir,” said Douglas Casa, chief executive officer of the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, in a Aug. 13 article in The Baltimore Sun. “That’s the thing that’s going to allow the person to survive.”

In the state of Maryland, practices for any high school sport cannot exceed more than five hours per day, with a maximum practice period of three hours. This prevents overworking student-athletes and allows for them to rest in between rigorous workouts. Rams football began their workouts during the winter, usually working out three to five days per week leading up to the current season. When temperatures started getting warmer, Rams football practiced and conditioned outside to get their bodies acclimated to the intense weather of the regular season.

The protective gear that football players wear can vary from 20 pounds to 60 pounds of additional weight that athletes play in. This makes it even more important for players to stay hydrated to counteract the amount of perspiration that exceeds fluid intake during aerobic exercise. Insufficient amounts of water intake may lead to heat exhaustion, which can be identified by its symptoms such as profuse sweating, weakness, nausea, vomiting, headache, light headedness and muscle cramps.

Whether someone plays professional sports or competes in high school sporting events, hydration is a crucial part of athletics and exercise to preserve health and prevent injuries and heat-related conditions, especially over the summer.

“Maintaining proper levels of hydration is key when demanding peak athletic performance. Hydration is a multiple day process that should always be part of your daily routine,” Kambies said. “The best way to prevent dehydration illnesses is to constantly maintain proper nutrition and hydration practices. Aside from personal care, practices should be held in cool temperatures if possible, with regular water breaks.”

Sports are meant to be fun and keep athletes in shape; however, the high possibly of heat-related injuries, and injuries in general, have the capability to sideline a player, possibly ending their season or their life. Athletes, specifically teenage athletes, need to know the importance of hydration and the effects of heat because otherwise, the consequences can be life-altering.

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