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Heat Tops Concerns For School Athletes
By Chuck Dunlap
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The bumps, bruises and sore muscles are not the only concerns for Mississippi athletes returning to school this fall. Training for exposure to the August heat is a key issue for coaches and players alike.
Average temperatures in mid-August are around 95 degrees with a heat index of 115 degrees. These numbers are extremely dangerous for anyone with prolonged exposure to it, especially those who are involved in strenuous outside athletic activities such as soccer and football.
Dr. Melissa Mixon, nutritionist at Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said athletes must keep plenty of fluids in the body at all times.
"During the time when the temperatures are extreme to the athlete, as well as other physically active individuals, people must remember that water is depleted more rapidly than any other nutrient," Mixon said. "Don't rely on the body's thirst signals because they can come too late, after the body's fluid store is depleted. Athletes should drink plenty of fluids before, during and after the activity."
One rule of thumb is that is often used to determine fluid requirements is to weigh before and after the activity. The difference is the water lost and each pound is roughly equal to 2 cups of fluid.
Athletes need to become accustomed to a high level of activity in hot weather. Working out and conditioning in the heat before the start of fall practices is extremely important. The human body adapts to higher temperatures by decreasing heat production, increasing heat disposition and moving blood to and from muscles more efficiently.
Fluid replacement is crucial in any weather, but especially in hot and humid conditions. Experts suggest athletes drink three 12-ounce glasses of water or sports drink before going onto the practice field and drink plenty of water in between all drills. They also suggest a five to 10 minute water break in the middle of the practice session.
Tony Stanford, head football coach and athletic director at Louisville High School, said he is well aware of the dangers and takes every precaution to ensure his players are taken care of and well prepared for dealing with the heat.
"We have our players lift weights and run all summer long," Stanford said. "As the summer progresses, we increase all the repetitions. Our athletes are in good shape and ready for practice when school begins. Once the fall practices begin, we make sure that our players drink plenty of water and sports drinks 30 minutes before the beginning of practice each day. Plus, we take water breaks every 15 to 20 minutes during practice as well. We know the dangers, and we've never had any problem with heat exhaustion or dehydration."
Once practice is concluded, players should drink water or a high-carbohydrate based sports drink. Carbohydrates help to speed the body's recovery period and re-load fuel to tired and fatigued muscles. Sports drinks also supply electrolytes, which the human body loses through perspiration.
No matter how good a condition an athlete is in physically, people should always take precautions to ensure a safe and productive time while participating in outdoor activities. When it comes to the summer heat and humidity of Mississippi, everyone is at risk if the right steps aren't taken ahead of time.