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Optimum Performance: Sweating the small stuff — to a point |

Athlete sweating

While on the road with No. 1-rated tennis star Serena Williams at the Western & Southern in Cincinnati, I was struck with the climate change from my hometown New Orleans. In Cincinnati the past week, the temperature has ranged from the highs in the low 80s, while the lows have been in the mid 50s — quite a change from the hot, humid and wet conditions in the Crescent City during the summer months.

I note these climate changes because they can have a significant impact on an individual’s health and performance during and after strenuous exercise. For instance, sweat loss as little as 2.5% of your body weight during heavy work outside — such as in the construction industry, when the heat and humidity are at a peak between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. — can take its toll on the human body.

How about all those recreational athletes profusely sweating in high temperature indexes, much less professional athletes like in the NFL, Major League Baseball and woman’s pro tennis? I can tell you firsthand that mother nature can be the great equalizer to human performance and those all important “wins.”

“One of the important reasons for proper activity hydration is, muscles will tend to cramp or strain once fluids are no longer available to act as a transport system for muscle fuel,” says Director of MLB Umpire Medical Services, Mark A. Letendre.

I had the pleasure of working for Letendre for 10 years when he hired me in 1989 to be the San Francisco Giants Performance Nutrition and Conditioning consultant during part of Letendre’s tenure as the Giants’ head athletic trainer. Subsequently, I have worked with him for the past 14 years in his new capacity of overseeing the medical care of the 68 MLB umpires.

“Based on my 36 years in athletic training,” says Letendre, “ dehydration and heat illness are easily preventable with proper planning.”

According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, “sweat rate generally increases after 10 to 14 days of heat exposure requiring a greater fluid intake for a similar bout of exercise.”

Bet those Saints in preseason practice on Airline Drive are glad they have that covered, climate controlled facility on those unbearable summer days.

Having just completed the first phase of volunteer work helping to prepare several U.S. Army Ranger Special Forces members to prepare for the Best of Ranger Competition—considered the toughest test of endurance in all of the various special forces units— coming up in April 2014, these brave soldiers do not have the benefit of training, much less fighting, in a climate-controlled facility in combat situations. It is all about using every available means to stay properly hydrated, since the hydrated athlete or combatant is by far the more effective person on the playing or battlefield.

Here are some of Letendre’s recommendations for those individuals exposed to higher temperatures, whether at work or recreation:

  1. Waiting for thirst is a poor behavior,  as that may too late. Shade and air circulation go well with drinking fluids in as many breaks in the event as possible.
  2. Freeze 3/4 full plastic bottles the night before an event. Then fill them up on event day with water, which is a good way of having fluids cold and available.
  3. Any electrolyte drink is good to replace minerals lost to sweat, especially for events lasting longer than 90 minutes.
  4. Watch for sweat stoppage, hot skin, lethargic behavior, delirium and nausea for extreme cases of dehydration where medical help may be required.
  5. Take frequent breaks and when in doubt sit the participant out.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “you are considered to have heatstroke when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees (40 C) or higher.” If the body is not properly hydrated, and loses more water (sweat) than it is taking in, you could experience such symptoms as headaches, muscle cramping, debilitating fatigue, rapid breath and disorientation,  to name a few. If symptoms are severe enough, one may experience cardiac arrest, or even death.”

Lewis Maharam, internal medicine physician and author of the Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running says, “in the rare instance of nausea, vomiting and weakness following exercise, and after walking around for 15 minutes, if (you are) still not able to eat or drink … a trip to an emergency room is warranted to get blood tests before any IV is started. One would need to know the serum sodium was normal before the IV. If that is normal and the creatinine level (measure of kidney function) is above 2.0, then some IV fluid may be of benefit in recovery. If these are OK, maybe some anti-nausea medicine is all you would need. Oral hydration gives better results.”

The Mayo Clinic suggests beginning hydration proceedings the night before strenuous exercise. To determine if one is adequately hydrated examine the urine. Clear, dilute urine means that person is sufficiently hydrated. Drink one to three cups of water before activity and make sure to replenish both during and after. Be careful, however, because overconsumption of water does exist. Too much water can cause bloating and discomfort, and in extreme cases, a condition known as hyponatremia — when blood sodium is too low.

Consider eating your way to hydration. Fruits and vegetables are great snacks to consume before and after play, as they are high in water content. For example, watermelon contains a whopping 141 grams of water per cubed cup.

Interestingly enough, a recent journal published reports indicating that “chicken-noodle soup ingested 45 minutes before exercise increased ad libitum (at one’s pleasure) water intake during 90 minutes of steady-state exercise compared with an equal volume of water without concurrently raising total urine output.”

Now you are prepared to move out in the warmer temperatures with the knowledge that you can beat the heat. No sweat!