It’s getting HOT out here!

Dec 11, 2023

As we move into summer and the warmer months of the year, sports trainers have a lot more to think about when it comes to personal and athlete health and safety. Sports trainers are encouraged to consider the implications for athletes and themselves who play sport and work in hot and humid conditions.  

Fortunately for sports trainers, Sports Medicine Australia has made it easy to consider the implications heat has on health and performance by putting together the research and creating best practice guidelines for caring for athletes. SMA has an Extreme Heat Policy and Hot Weather Resources at the sports trainer’s disposal and these documents contain critical information about how we can manage athletes and our own health and safety during competition in the warmer months.  

These documents mentioned above communicate key ideas such as: 

  • Sport Risk Classification (sports are given a classification as to their risk for health-related illnesses occurring. For example, cricket, rugby, and baseball are a risk category of 4 out of 5, making them higher risk for heat illness). 
  • How to interpret heat and humidity conditions to prepare for sport 
  • Using preventative measures as a way of mitigating the risk of heat related illness in athletes 
  • Recognising the signs and symptoms of heat related illness 
  • Specific populations at higher risk of heat stress 

In addition, SMA together with the University of Sydney have developed a tool that can help guide your management of athletes and sport played in hot conditions. You can access this tool HERE. Simply add in the sport and the location it is being played and voila, you will be provided with the estimated Heat Stress Risk and additional recommendations on how to proceed to protect your athletes. 

Refresh your Skills 

It is highly encouraged that sports trainers make themselves familiar with the resources available and refresh their basic First Aid principles when it comes to recognising and managing heat illness. When refreshing this information, sports trainers can refer to the Australian Resuscitation Council Guidelines as well as the Australian government’s HealthDirect website. 

Heat and Hydration 

Dehydration can occur at any time, but it is more common during the hotter months of sports competition. Dehydration is the result of not having enough fluid in the body. It occurs when an athlete is taking in less fluid than what they are losing (through sweat and other bodily functions). Strenuous exercise in particularly hot climates is one cause of dehydration related to sport. In the heat, athletes will sweat more and hence lose more fluid at a faster rate. Dehydration impacts an athlete’s performance and leads to the earlier onset of fatigue. 

Sports Dietitians Australia state that our bodies are made up of around 60% water. During exercise, water is vital to help maintain blood volume and regulate our core temperature. Dehydration decreases blood volume and puts additional stress on the cardiovascular system. 

Commons signs and symptoms of dehydration include: 

  • Headaches 
  • Reduced urine output 
  • Dark urine colour 
  • Thirst  

More severe signs and symptoms such as a rapid pulse, confusion and disorientation could indicate a progressive heat illness that may lead to an athlete becoming unconscious and unresponsive. 

There can be varying opinions and information about how much an athlete needs to rehydrate after a bout of physical activity. Sports Dieticians Australia advise that replacement fluids should be 125-150% of the body fluid loss. This can be calculated based on weight lost during physical activity, which requires an athlete to weigh themselves before and after exercise. A 1kg loss in body weight is equal to 1L of fluid loss. This would require an athlete to hydrate with 1.25-1.5L of fluid to meet rehydration requirements. 

While fluid replacement is incredibly important, what is contained in that fluid is significant too. When athletes sweat, they lose sodium. Precision Hydration mentions a study from 2015 that found that athletes who adequately replaced the sodium lost in their sweat finished a middle-distance triathlon an average of 26 minutes quicker than those who did not. Sodium is not only important for maintaining fluid balance, but aids in the absorption of nutrients in the gut, maintenance of cognitive function, nerve impulse transmission and plays a role in muscle contraction. 

All athletes sweat at different rates and have diverse levels of sodium concentration in their sweat. Regardless, all athletes should include sodium in their pre-exercise hydration and post exercise fluid replacement. For athletes who are interested, Precision Hydration provides online advice and activity to help athletes estimate how much sweat they lose during physical activity.