Elias column: Hydration, acclimation helps to beat the heat

NFL Health Playbook will feature a guest columnist every Tuesday, each with a different viewpoint of player health and safety from the youth level to pro football.

By Keith Elias, contributing columnist

One of the most important things a young athlete can do during the summer months to prepare for the coming season is to get their body acclimated to the weather, particularly the heat.

Football training and practice have grown more intense over the years, and athletes are more finely tuned. Many practices start in the hottest months of the year and during the hottest part of the day. The risks of heat exhaustion or heat stroke increase as the body loses precious fluids.

This risk is one of the reasons USA Football's Heads Up Football protocol added a Heat Preparedness and Hydration component to their training regimen and safety protocol. So the question becomes, how can you as a young athlete prepare your body for the rigors of the summer heat?

One of the best ways to get acclimated is to be out and active in the heat. Your body is amazing at fingerprinting itself -- once you have had an experience, your body remembers and deals with it in a better way each time.

However, you will find that simply being in the heat won't help unless you learn that that single most important thing is to be hydrated in the heat. I know Slurpees and sodas are tasty but athletes drink water. So, get out of the air conditioning and play and exercise outside while remembering to drink plenty of water.

The more you are outside, working out and playing in the heat, the more you will learn about your body and how it feels. For me, I know I am becoming dehydrated when my feet get hot. I know that sounds weird, but for me and my body, that is sign. Learn yours, because your body will speak to you.

The color of your urine is another key indicator. If it is dark yellow or gold, then you need more water.

Trust me, getting your body acclimated now is the key. Several years ago I went on a mission trip to Thailand to build an activity center at a church for children who were orphaned by the tsunami. We had a team of dedicated men and women, but Thailand had something as well -- a devastating heat.

Within a couple of days, every member of our team suffered some sort of heat ailment. Several had to stay back at the hotel and two went to the hospital, including my future wife. Only three members of our team were unaffected. Two had been soldiers; one stationed in the Philippines and one in Kuwait. The other was myself.

Why were we unaffected? No, not because we were tougher or anything silly like that. It was because each of us had put our bodies through the rigors of heat acclimation earlier in our lives. We knew to stay hydrated, salt our food and made sure we replenished our electrolytes.

These were the keys to keep us going in the heat, and they are the same for you. Drink your water and go out and play, and you too will beat the heat.

Keith Elias is a former NFL running back with the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts. He now works as a motivational speaker and as an ambassador for the Heads Up Football program.

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