Ask an Expert: Sports science insights for athletes

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It can be difficult for athletes, coaches and parents to sort out fact, fiction and fads in the evolving field of sports science.

The Sanford Sports Science Institute is here to help. Through its role as the official research partner of the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation, SSSI experts are going to your questions in this ongoing segment: Ask an Expert.

If you have a question you’d like to be answered here, send an email to lisa.macfadden@sanfordhealth.org.

Q: How can I stay safe when training in the heat?

A: Training in hot, humid conditions can be challenging for any athlete. Heat illness is more likely to occur and performance can often be limited, particularly in sports and events that take place over a long period of time. It is important to allow your body a chance to adapt to the heat and humidity by slowly increasing the length and intensity of your workouts in these conditions.

This adjustment (acclimatization) period normally takes one or two weeks, and should also include a gradual introduction of protective gear in sports that require it (e.g., football).

During your practices/workouts, you should take longer rest periods and adjust the length and/or intensity of your sessions based on the temperature and humidity. If possible, work out during cooler times of the day (early morning or late evening) and wear lightweight, light-colored, breathable clothing. Begin every session well-rested, well-nourished and well-hydrated. Start drinking fluids (water, sports drink) well before your training session begins, drink regularly throughout your workouts and remember to drink extra fluids afterwards to replace what you lost from sweating. Rehydrating after a training session will make your body more prepared for subsequent workouts in the heat.

Finally, be aware of the symptoms of mild and severe heat illness. Symptoms of mild heat illness include fatigue, weakness, and feeling overheated. More severe heat illness may cause you to experience headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or confusion. Recognize these symptoms early and take action to prevent your condition from becoming more severe.

If you suspect that you may be getting ill, stop your workout, go to a cool place, lie down and elevate your feet, drink fluids and notify someone who can help you. If you train SMART, you can perform safely in the heat and may even get an edge on your competition.

S – Seek shade

M – Modify activity

A – Adjust gradually to conditions

R – Rest frequently

T – Take in fluids

Thayne Munce, PhD, FACSM; Manager, Exercise Physiology
Sanford Sports Science Institute