Avoiding heat illness

Published 1:19 pm Saturday, August 16, 2008

The middle of August normally brings soaring temperatures and rising humidity right as fall sports practice begins.

Although this past week was cool, it doesn’t mean the risk of heat fatigue or other heat-related illness decrease.

“Fighting heat illness doesn’t mean that it has to be really warm for people to struggle with it,” said Albert Lea High School Athletic Trainer Afton Wacholz. “People who are unconditioned, some of the athletes that have been sitting out during the summer not doing anything, not participating in anything, those are the ones that you look at the most because they’re de-conditioned.”

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Albert Lea High School coaches take preventative measures to curb any possible heat illness by scheduling the more physically exhausting practices during the morning and making sure the players get plenty of water breaks.

“We probably err on too much water than not,” said Albert Lea head football coach Clay Anderson. “A lot of times I’ll give a water break and they won’t need to go, but I’ll just tell them to go get a little drink anyways just because it’s so important nowadays with the knowledge we have of the importance of keeping yourself hydrated.”

There are two athletic trainers on hand during the day to assist with any injuries or heat-related illnesses that may occur. Wacholz said the way players consume water is important to maintaining hydration as well.

“With drinking, too, it’s just being consistent with drinking, not gulping but just taking sips of water continuously all through practice,” Wacholz said. “Then trying to be hydrated even before you start practice and then make sure you compensate for that after practice.”

Water is probably the best answer for after practice, but Gatorade also works well, Wacholz said. But drinking a lot of fluids after practice is not ideal either, it’s in the best interest of athletes to maintain a balance.

“We really preach that hydration isn’t a cumulative thing,” Anderson said. “You can’t just drink a whole lot of water and now I’m hydrated. It’s a process — you have to drink a whole lot of water day after day after day.

“Eventually you’ll build up that hydration level that is long lasting. That is the one makes you perform better and that’s the one that’s healthier for the kids.”

Anderson and Wacholz said they have had some minor issues with players experiencing heat fatigue, but have been fortunate not to have any major issues this year or years past.

“We’re really lucky because we have two trainers right here so if we have any heat stuff we can get our trainers involved,” Anderson said. “We’re so conscious of the hydration that we have had really very little of that in the years that I’ve been here.”

Athletes can help themselves by staying in shape during the summer months as well, because athletes jumping straight into fall practice run a greater risk of experiencing heat illness.

“Really what’s more important for the kids is to come into camp in somewhat of a little bit of shape,” Anderson said. “If you just come off the couch all summer long and have been inside the air conditioning you’ve got a lot of adjustment to do and those are the kids that are going to hurt the worst. Hopefully they’ve done something.”

The Minnesota State High School League also has a heat index on its Web site that indicates how coaches and athletes should account for the temperature.