Ready, Set, Go!

There’s Something in the Water

By Tracy Howard

During a Blue Jays away game against the Kansas City Royals this past August, the Jays’ catcher Russell Martin was shown guzzling water near the team dugout on the 34 degree night. Play-by-play announcer Buck Martinez commented he’d seen many players doing the same thing during the game, and how important it was for them to stay hydrated while competing on the muggy Missouri evening. 

Wetting your whistle in hot weather seems a no-brainer, but it’s especially important when exercising or playing sports due to increased body temperatures and fluid loss caused by sweating. Sufficient hydration helps enhance performance by regulating body temperature, energizing muscles and maintaining blood volume.

How your body handles heat

“The body likes to stay at a temperature set point, and when the body temperature rises, either due to the hot weather or exercise, the body must cool itself off,” explains John Bianchi, a certified athletic therapist and interim varsity athletic therapy coordinator at Seneca College in Toronto. “In most scenarios, the body mainly lets out heat via sweat, but when it gets overly hot, that system starts to slow down and have problems.”

Dehydration can lead to various heat related conditions: cramps, which in some cases can cause injury to the muscle, heat exhaustion and, most seriously, heat stroke. In rare cases, the latter can be fatal if untreated.

Know the signs

Symptoms of mild dehydration can include dizziness, headache, dry mouth and fatigue. Bianchi recalls treating a man at a charity run who hadn’t filled up at hydration stations and was feeling slightly lightheaded and headachy. With minor dehydration, Bianchi advises getting out of the sun, lying down with feet elevated and sipping water or a sports drink.

To gauge if you’re sufficiently hydrated, take the pee test. Usually, the darker the urine, the less hydrated you are. Another method is to weigh yourself before and after physical activity; in most cases, the difference represents lost water.

Severe dehydration is another matter. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include nausea, pale skin and profuse sweating, while someone with heat stroke may appear confused, have flushed skin and have stopped sweating. Heat stroke warrants contacting 911 immediately.

Before, during and after

Bianchi recommends people start drinking more water two days prior to a major practice or activity. During activity, he advises taking in fluids every five to ten minutes. To help with recovery, he says to keep drinking afterwards. And, no, beer doesn’t count!

As everyone retains water differently, Bianchi says amounts can vary, but if thirsty (and hence, already dehydrated) drink what you feel you need. If not parched, take small sips throughout the day to avoid overloading the system. 

There are also problems with over-hydrating. “If I get a water bottle and chug it, my stomach has got to take in that water and then it’s just going to sit there,” he says. “And if I’m doing that while I’m active, I have all this water sloshing around my stomach.”

While water is often the best choice, sports drinks may be advisable when exercising vigorously in hot weather or sweating for a long time. They deliver electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which we lose through perspiration. Since sports drinks are often high in sugar, Bianchi suggests watering them down. 

Humidity poses an additional challenge, as sweat stays on the skin’s surface it interferes with the body’s efforts to cool itself off. To counteract this, Bianchi advises his athletes to increase their water intake and dry their skin with a towel.

With these simple steps, most healthy people should be able to exercise safely when the heat is on.

Now that’s something we can all drink to.

Contributing Athletic Therapist
John Bianchi

CAT (C), Sp.H.BA Kin.

Certified Athletic Therapist and Interim Varsity Athletic Therapy Coordinator at Seneca College