3 Tips for Preventing Heat Illness Among Athletes

2014-07-14T17:14:33-04:00Nutrition & Fitness|

Summer is in full swing, and with temperatures easily climbing into the 80s and 90s youth athletes are certainly feeling the heat! A study by Andrew J. Grundstein, an associate professor in the department of geography at the University of Georgia, found that 123 high school football players died of heat-related illnesses between 1960 and 2009. While every death is heart-breaking, what’s even more frustrating that all of those deaths were totally preventable. Heat illnesses including cramps, exhaustion, and even heat stroke are completely preventable and treatable given parents and coaches keep an eye on their players for the signs and symptoms and immediately give them time to cool down if it looks like an athlete is in rough shape.

Here are 3 tips for preventing heat illness among youth athletes:

Practice Earlier

Typically, the early morning hours are cooler (albeit during a heat wave it’s always hot), so if it all possible try to schedule your practices for the AM hours and avoid peak heat hours (noon to mid-afternoon). While 85 degrees at 9 AM might still be pretty hot, it’s better than practicing in 102 degrees at 2 PM. However, Grundstein says 58% of the 58 deaths between 1980 and 2009 came at morning practices or during conditioning sessions, so even early morning practice times on their owns aren’t enough to prevent heat illness.

Give Kids Time to Adjust

The National Athletic Trainers Association issued an inter-association consensus statement in describe the image2009, recommending players acclimatize to hot-weather activity gradually over 14 days. Specifically for football (practices for high school usually start in August), they suggest that schools hold no more than one practice per day for the first five days, no equipment beyond a helmet the first two days, and no more than a helmet and shoulder pads on days three through five. This will give youth athletes time to adjust to being active for extended periods of time in such heat. By giving them time to practice without all their heavy padding (which traps heat and doesn’t let players cool off easily) they aren’t pushing themselves too hard too fast and it’s easier to prevent heat illness.

Provide Plenty of Water Breaks

Most kids are pretty tough and resilient, but youth athletes actually lose water faster than adults, so they need more water breaks in order to stay hydrated. Youth athletes need to be drinking 4-8 ounces of fluid (water and sports drinks, NOT soda or energy drinks) every 15-20 minutes as long as they are playing. Obviously soccer players are running a lot more than most outfielders, so they might need even more water to stay hydrated. Players in heavy equipment, like football or lacrosse pads, sweat even more and need time to replace those lost fluids. If a player is even slightly dehydrated when they show up they’ll be playing catch-up for the whole game and are at a much greater risk for dehydration and other heat illnesses.