Some things come without surprise when Texas comes to mind: delicious barbecue, decadent cowboy boots, 10-gallon hats and grueling summer heat.
When summer practices begin on Aug. 1, water, electrolytes and overall hydration will be as important than the muscle players pack on before their team's official season opener.
And while rounding passing routes or missing tackling assignments may be a culprit of "taking a play off" or lack of effort, it may not be the case for every high school football hopeful. Information gathered from the Medline Plus government website, too, may tell a different story about the Bulldog, Indian, Eagle, Hawk, Jaguar, Mustang, Panther or Yellow Jacket wondering why his body isn't damp with sweat.
When a player reaches maximum dehydration, he or she can experience one of three illnesses: heat cramps, muscle pains or spasms that happen during heavy exercise; heat exhaustion, a precursor to heat stroke; or heat stroke, a life-threatening illness in which an athlete's core temperature rises above 106 degrees in minutes.
Medline Plus also stated the risk of heat stroke rises progressively when temperatures exceed 69.8 degrees with 50 percent humidity.
The Waxahachie Daily Light asked Midlothian High's Russ Wagner and Midlothian Heritage's Greg Goerig, two high school athletic trainers with more than 15 years of combined experience, pressing questions that could keep your child out of harm's — and dehydration's — way.
1. How important is hydration during summer practices?
Wagner: Hydration is important during any season. It has more emphasis in summer due to other factors that can make improper hydration more life threatening.
Goerig: It's extremely important — not only during the summer but at all practices year round. Proper hydration is not only important for preventing heat illnesses but also preventing sports injuries. For example, our muscles are made up of 75 percent water, so dehydration can play a role in the susceptibility to muscle strains.
2. How much water is needed to fuel the body during times of peak heat?
Wagner: Every person is different on how much water is needed. There are a lot of variables that determine how much each person needs. The key thing about hydration is to drink proper fluids throughout the day or night so that it doesn’t become an issue during peak heat times.
Goerig: Athletic trainers follow the guidelines below for hydration recommendations and through them, care for players with the best possible practices.
3. How does humidity play in as a factor with heat in terms of hydration?
Wagner: Humidity is a huge factor for hydration. It prevents the sweat from evaporation and cooling the body. It can also make the average person sweat more to continue to cool the body and potentially dehydrate them.
Goerig: High humidity hinders the body’s ability to cool itself because it keeps sweat from evaporating as easily. This can lead to heat illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and exertional heat stroke.
4. Can players decrease the amount of water needed during cloudy days? Is that a misnomer that people need less water when it's "cooler" during the summer?
Wagner: I believe it is a misnomer. It doesn’t matter how hot or cloudy it is outside the person’s body needs what it needs. Unfortunately, people don’t emphasize it as much because it’s perceived as not as “hot.”
Goerig: Regardless of the environment, people need to stay hydrated. You may not lose as much fluid on cooler days, but we still recommend 2-3 liters of water for “non-active days.
5. Is it just water the body needs or is it other things?
Wagner: The body needs many things to continue to function at a high demand. Not only does it need water, it needs electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fat. A proper diet of all of these nutrients is essential for athletes to function at a high level.
Goerig: We advocate the use of sports drinks, as they contain electrolytes our body needs to function. However, we recommend the ratio of one part sports drink for every two parts water for athletes.
6. How can players busy with practice launch a preemptive strike against dehydration before the athletic trainers step into the picture?
Wagner: It all goes back to a healthy diet and habits. Our coaches do an excellent job of emphasizing taking care of their bodies as well. We also make water and sports drinks available to the athletes throughout the day. Our student athletic trainers are also there throughout practice to help push rehydration during practices.
Goerig: Athletes need to address hydration before practice with the guidelines we set forth. If an athlete were to wait until after practice to “catch up” and rehydrate, it will be an uphill battle.
For athletes who are about to start Two-A-Day practices within the next few weeks, we recommend stepping up their hydration game now. If an athlete were to experience any heat illness or issues once Two-A-Days start, their bodies will have a very difficult time catching up.
7. How can they easily identify signs of dehydration and combat it?
Wagner: Education is important. If they are aware of what to do before and after practices to take care of their body, it will lessen the chances of dehydration. Teaching them to pay attention to the number of times they urinate during the day, as well as the color of their urine. Also, emphasize staying away from carbonated and caffeine drinks is important.
Goerig: Signs of dehydration include headache, fatigue, decreased endurance, thirst, disorientation, irritability, rapid pulse, and exhaustion. Another tell-tale sign of dehydration is the color of urine. Dark urine is an indication of dehydration, the lighter color it is, the better.
If any of those signs or symptoms arise, we encourage an increase of fluid intake.
8. What are the proper cooling habits to prevent or treat heat stroke?
Wagner: Unfortunately, there’s no 100 percent guaranteed way to prevent heat stroke. Taking as many precautions as you can such as proper nutrition and practicing in the cooler times of the day are very important.
We have cold buckets with towels to put on people’s head throughout practice. They can also put it on their open skin areas as well, but then have to dry it off with dry towels.
The research has shown that the most effective way to treat heat stroke is cold water submersion. If you are suspecting heat stroke you must get a core body temperature and get them into cold water ASAP.
Activation of EMS is also important and key as well. Then, you must continue to monitor the core body temperature while still in cold water and get the body temperature below the recommended temperature. We have tubs of water sitting in a cooler area with ice ready to dump in if needed for every practice just in case this emergency does arise.
Goerig: There are a lot of things that can be done to prevent heat illnesses. Firstly, athletes need to acclimatize to heat gradually.
For example, if an athlete expects to participate in football practices in August, they should be spending some time outside throughout the summer so that the heat experienced in August is not as much of a shock to their body. Physical activity should take place during the cooler times of day such as early morning and evening.
We encourage lots of breaks during physical activity on hotter days for a chance to rehydrate and cool off. Clothing also plays an important role, athletes should wear light weight fabric that wicks away sweat easily.
9. Why should those that have had heat stroke before be identified?
Wagner: They are at great risk of another heat stroke, since there is no known cause of what truly causes the body to act that way. It is important for all involved with the athlete to know so that they can be more closely monitored and educated on how to take care of themselves in the hot climates.
Goerig: Those who have had a heat stroke before may be more susceptible to heat illness in the future, so we like to keep an eye on those who have had issues with that before. In our setting, it is even more important to supervise those who are returning to physical activity in the few days or weeks following heat exhaustion or heat cramps so as to avoid another heat illness.
---- Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.