07/26/2010 - 12:03 pm
As the summer sun continues to bear down, the dog days of August and preseason football are just around the corner.
Many youth leagues and high schools across the country will begin preparations for the 2010 season with two-a-day practices filled with conditioning drills, play installation and fine-tuning fundamentals. The physical and mental grind will be at a high, meaning proper hydration will be paramount.
Dr. Lindsay Baker of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute addressed heat and hydration issues in a presentation to youth and high school coaches and administrators on July 22 at the 2010 NFL/USA Football Youth Football Summit in Canton, Ohio.
"I think they seemed really attentive," Baker said in an interview with USA Football after her speech. "I know it's an important and timely issue with two-a-days coming up, with the preseason practices coming up. So you know it's important because it's already really hot out there."
"I found it important that Dr. Baker talked about weighing in before and after practice," said Dan Ritter, Head Coach at Howard High School in Wilmington, Del. "We've done that before, but she clarified it in the sense that for every pound you lose, you have to drink 16 ounces of fluid, which we didn't know previously. That's definitely going to be something that will be implemented this year."
Within a culture of toughness in football, on-field performance and proper hydration go hand in hand.
"Of course the coaches are looking for a good performance from their players, and I always say that the first step for good performance is to make sure they're hydrated," said Baker, who covered hot topics from pre- and post-practice weigh-ins to proper fluids to drink during practice. "Lots of research has shown that dehydrated players perform worse than if they're hydrated. Of course [coaches] want players to play hard, go all out, maintain focus and get a lot of stuff done. Well, the first step is to make sure they're eating and drinking right and drinking enough of the right stuff. So it's a really important factor, including enough rest breaks so that they can drink early and at regular intervals. It's a necessity to keep them both safe and performing well on the field."
Just like sizes of helmets and pads, the right approach to hydration and nutrition amid the intense summer heat differs from player to player.
"Players are very unique in how they sweat, so sweating rates can vary considerably among individuals," Baker said. "You might have a player who sweats less than half a quart in an hour, or you may have guys who sweat more than two quarts on hour. A lot of it is just genetics. Another difference that can occur in the sweating response is that some players lose a lot more sodium in their sweat than others. So players have different hydration needs, and that's why the hydration plan needs to be customized."
Still, no matter how trainers and coaches monitor their players' needs and symptoms, youth athletes need to know their bodies and how they respond to the heat.
"Indications of dehydration are thirst, nausea, dizziness, headache," Baker said. "Maybe they feel hotter, maybe they feel like 'Man this exercise seems more difficult than it should.' Maybe they're having more difficulty focusing, paying attention to the coach or remembering plays. Those are some indications.
"An indication that someone may be getting more severe and maybe their temperature is getting dangerously high is when they start to have a change of personality. And this is something that the players themselves may not be aware of because the high temperatures are affecting their central nervous systems. That may be something that other players can keep track of and just monitor how their peers look, how they're acting, if anything looks out of sorts."
Indeed, proper hydration is a team effort.