As football teams return to practice during the next few weeks, coaches will pay attention to many things – effort and execution among them.
Lisa Heaton of Gatorade Sports Science Institute wants coaches to add another item to their watch lists.
Heaton spoke Thursday during the NFL/USA Football Youth Summit in Canton, Ohio, urging 150 youth commissioners and high school head football coaches in attendance to become as familiar with hydration and heat preparedness as they are zone blitzes.
Keeping an eye on temperature and humidity will tell coaches the safest way to practice that day.
“Athletes who hydrate properly and maintain a steady balance in their bodies perform the best and feel at their best on the field,” Heaton said. “Players who lose that balance can suffer poor focus and fatigue, and it even can lead to heat illness if they don’t take steps to remedy dehydration.”
Bodies expel heat primarily through sweat. If an athlete doesn’t replenish the water lost through activity, it leads to lower blood volume, makes the heart work harder and can be dangerous for the individual.
“Just a 2 percent loss in body weight due to water loss can affect an athlete’s performance and lead to more dangerous situations,” Heaton said. “Athletes need to consume 16 ounces of water for every pound they lose in practice. That’s a lot of water – more than some kids would ever think to drink on their own. As coaches, you need to make sure they are replenishing what they lose.”
Here are some other tips Heaton offered the Youth Summit participants:
- White streaks or residue on a player’s forehead or other exposed part of the body often is symptomatic of high salt loss during sweat. These players need to replenish sodium at a higher rate than teammates.
- Helmets and pads trap heat close to the body. On extremely hot days – above 90 degrees or above 90 percent humidity – allow players to take their helmets off when not actively practicing.
- Athletes who show any signs of heat illness – cramping, dizziness, nausea, poor focus and extreme fatigue – should be removed to the field and taken to a shaded area to re-hydrate until they feel better. If symptoms persist, call 911 or alert a medical professional on site.
- If temperatures are above 95 degrees or if there is 90 percent-plus humidity, move practices to early in the morning or late at night to provide cooler workout times. Also consider practicing without pads.
- Players with high body weight for their heights – whether from fat or excess muscle – create more heat with exercise. These players need to hydrate more than the average athlete.
- Supplements that increase metabolism cause the body to create heat faster. These should be avoided during two-a-days and in-season.
- Proper hydration should start five days before the first workout to help with acclimation. More than 70 percent of high school football players report for practice dehydrated. “And that’s before they start sweating,” Heaton said.
- The best way for athletes to check their hydration level is by monitoring their urine, which should be the color of lemonade. Players who take multi-vitamins may see discoloration in their urine.
- Following heavy practice days, drinking 16 to 32 ounces of water before bed helps a body regain hydration levels.
- The difference between sports drinks and water is that sports drinks contain about 6 percent carbohydrates, which help muscles recover faster during activity.
- Athletes who have not reached puberty don’t sweat as fast and regularly. This can cause heat illness symptoms to appear more rapidly.
“The bottom line is if you see players who are losing focus or fatiguing quicker than you are used to seeing them, don’t punish them with sprints,” Heaton said. “Get them to the sidelines, get them re-hydrated and see if their situation improves.”