July 31, 2004
Sam Lunt, ATC/L MS
Associate Director of Sportsmedicine
Florida State University
Training in the heat and humidity during preseason practices is a necessary part of athletics, especially those sports which compete in the fall. This, however, can also be problematic, especially for individuals and teams from the southeast, where heat and high humidity is prevalent. The combinations of high heat and high humidity and intense training/practice, sometimes two to three times per day, can become potentially dangerous unless steps are taken to make them as safe as possible.
At Florida State University, prevention of heat related illness is the number one goal, both during preseason and in-season competition. The heat and relative humidity was so high in Tallahassee during the 2003-2004 season, the Seminoles would have only been able to practice five or six times before October using the traditional recommendations for exercising in the heat and humidity. Over the years, we have developed a comprehensive plan to deal with intense exercise/training in the extreme environment where we live.
Develop a Plan
One of the key elements in developing a comprehensive plan for dealing with intense exercise/training in extreme environment is to make sure everyone is on board with the plan. Our team physicians and staff athletic trainers are extremely experienced and adept at dealing with heat related illnesses. The athletic administration has given their total support to the medical staff and the coaching staff is CPR/AED/First Aid certified, so everyone can identify the signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses. Some of the signs and symptoms of heat illness are increased thirst, irritability, fatigue, muscle cramping, loss of performance, and possibly vomiting.
Once everyone is on board with the plan, it is much easier to implement any changes which may need to be made to "deal with the heat". The best way to do this is to do your best to prevent it from occurring in the first place. We start each season with a very comprehensive physical examination by a physician to determine that all athletes are healthy enough to compete. Our first year physical examination includes a detailed cardiology history, electrocardiogram, and interpretation by a cardiologist.
Any abnormal findings are referred for further testing until they can be cleared to compete. We also require lab work which includes a screening for sickle cell anemia for our African-American athletes, as well as those from Mediterranean descent. Any athlete, who tests positive for sickle cell or sickle cell trait, must undergo further evaluation before they are cleared to compete. We also pay close attention to the medications each athlete is taking on a daily basis, since many medications can interfere which heat regulation or cause dehydration. Once we have identified these athletes, we monitor them very closely, when they begin training.
Since our environment is so extreme, we have to alter the "traditional" practice times and monitor the weather report each day, as well as keeping an eye on individuals and the team. Dealing with the heat effectively, is not a cookie cutter approach. We could never manage the heat as effectively as we do if we practiced exactly at the same time each day, for the same length of time, at the same intensity.
At Florida State University, we are fortunate to have one of the foremost Meteorology schools in the country. The weather forecast and rapid changes in the weather and/or forecast are a phone call away. This is also convenient when scheduling practices around lightening storms as well. There may websites available and even local TV station meteorologists who are more than happy to provide this information. If these resources are not available, a sling psychrometer can provide the information you need regarding temperature and relative humidity you may need to determine practice times.
In Tallahassee in August and September, we are very rarely in the "safe" zone regardless of time of day, so we adjust each day according to what we have facing us for that day. Generally, our first practice will be early morning around eight and the second practice will be later in the day around five or six. It make for a long day, but the players have an adequate rest and recovery period in between practices to recover, rehydrate and lower their body's core temperature.
Weigh In and Out Each Practice
Every football player is required to weigh in before practice and weigh out after practice. Any player who returns for the second practice and is not within a pound of his first practice weigh in weight, is not allowed to practice until they have completely rehydrated. We encourage all players to drink water and sports drinks before practices. During practice there is unlimited access to cold water and we have several breaks each practice where the players can get in the shade or under a tent with misting fans blowing to cool them down, as well as drinking a cold sports drink. Most sources recommend 28 to 40 ounces of fluid during each hour of intense exercise. After practice, recommendations are 20 ounces of fluid per lb. of weight lost.
We try to monitor all athletes who come into camp overweight as closely as possible. We discourage calorie restriction during preseason training, but encourage making better food choices, such as reducing fat intake and/or maintaining carbohydrate intake. We try to supplement each athlete immediately after practice with a cold liquid high carbohydrate supplement. This allows us to continue to lower the body's core temperature by ingesting cold fluid, rehydrate, and replenish carbohydrate stores without filling the stomach with solid food while their bodies are still trying to cool down. We do try to keep plenty of fresh fruit available for them including, bananas, oranges, and apples.
Keep Cooled Down
All players are then allowed to soak in cool to cold baths. They can actually do this immediately after coming off the practice field, as we have livestock watering troughs filled with cold water set-up outside the locker room. After showering, they can soak in the extra large Jacuzzi type tubs in the training room. During two a day practices, all tubs are cold at all times. We have found this to be a very effective way to lower the body's core temperature. Once they are finished in the cool baths, they can get treatment or go to the training table for a meal.
Carbs Are Your Friend
Due to the amount of energy expended during two-a-days, we try to emphasize a high carbohydrate diet which includes plenty of fresh fruits, juices, sports and pasta. We try to steer away from high fat, especially immediately before practices. All players have unlimited access to sports drinks, fruit, and carbohydrate supplements throughout the day.
Rebuild Your Body With Rest
After lunch, all players can go home and get some rest before they have to report for the next practice. Their body needs rest time to rebuild and recover. Likewise, it is imperative to get plenty of rest at night. Burning the candle at both ends during preseason training in extreme heat can be a dangerous combination. Once they return from their break, they can continue to rehydrate and get ready for practice. When they weight for the second practice, they must be with-in a pound of their morning weigh in weight or they will be required to continue to hydrate themselves.
Educate The Players
Before preseason practice even begins, we have a team meeting and try to educate the players to watch for signs of dehydration and the importance of getting a balanced diet, plenty of fluids, and plenty of rest. We teach them to watch the color of their urine and post a chart in the training room and bathrooms. This chart is posted at every urinal and is listed as UR-IN TROUBLE. The range which goes from light yellow or clear for hydrated to dark gold for dehydrated. If they are dehydrated, they must report to the training room.
Although, we still have players who suffer from heat illness, our heat plan has reduced the numbers tremendously. This results in less players missing valuable practice time, which subsequently may result in more team success on the field.