Ultimate Guide to Protecting Football Players from Heat Stress

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Arctic Heat cooling vests, cooling towels and portable ice baths are available to help prevent and treat heat-related illness during preseason football practice.

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Arctic Heat cooling vests available in blue or white

Heat stroke is mostly preventable, yet young football players keep dying. This really is a sad situation. No High School football championship was ever won in August."

The start of August is kick-off time across the country as pre-season football teams move from the conditioning phase into team pre-season practice. Players will expect to get hot and sweaty, as their coaches attempt to whip them into a championship team. However a combination of hot/humid weather, tough conditioning drills and players unaccustomed to practicing once or twice a day in the heat, typically make August a deadly and dangerous month.

Despite all the warnings, the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research reports that 47 football players (including 36 high school players) have died from heatstroke since 1995.

“From reading the media reports over the past few years, there appears to be a lack of knowledge about how to prevent heat stress on the football field,” says Dean Sainsbury from Arctic Heat USA. As an Australian who grew up coaching elite athletes in the hot local conditions, he knows all about coaching athletes in the extreme heat. “Arctic Heat is all about keeping athletes cool and keeping them safe. Arctic Heat USA supplies cooling vests to sports teams and individuals, NFL teams, USA Olympic and World Championship teams, London 2012 Olympics through to Formula 1, NASCAR, NBA, Tour de France, Triathlon and every other major football code in the World (Soccer, Rugby, Australian Rules Football). They are all concerned about heat stress and keeping their athletes cool so that they remain safe and can perform better. Yet many football coaches seem to have a mentality that if players just drink lots of water, or if the players are weighed every session then there won’t be a problem, everything will be fine. Sadly this is not the case. Heat stroke is mostly preventable, yet young football players keep dying. This really is a sad situation.”

So how can heat stress illness on the football field be reduced? Here is what the Cool Down Fire Up experts recommend. Education, Prevention, Treatment, Responsibility.

1) Education. Providing the correct information to players, coaches, parents, administrators about how the heat affects the body. Recognizing the signs of heat stress and heat stroke. Correct information about what to eat and drink, when and how much, and also what not to eat.
2) Prevention. Tips to keep athletes cool and help regulate core body temperature.
3) Treatment. Immediate emergency first aid treatment available at every practice session.
4) Responsibility. Make someone responsible. It would seem that current heat illness education levels are not up to the mark. Prevention is limited to commonsense actions such as don't practice in the heat, or have more rest stops, reduce training times, and remove gear. Availability of immediate first aid treatment seems to be non-existent.

EDUCATION . The main problem associated with exercising in hot weather is the loss of fluids (blood plasma volume) through sweating. Drink more water is the mantra, however quite often drinking water is simply not enough to replace the sweat. Younger athletes don’t have fully developed body cooling systems, they heat up quicker and can take longer to cool down than adults, so they are at a higher risk of heat related injuries.

In extremely hot weather the body will sweat at a rate which can be faster than the rate water can be absorbed into the body system. This vital information seems to be missing from the education manuals. Drinking too much water can also prove fatal, hyponatremia.

The use of sports drinks, or water with some added salt (a pinch per quart) during practice will help to replace those lost fluids quicker, and help to retain the fluid in the body. Having some salty pretzels available with plain water has also been suggested. Hydration is a key factor, however drinking gallons of plain water doesn’t necessarily mean that you are hydrated. The trick is to get that water absorbed through the stomach wall or small intestine and back into the blood stream so that it can be useful in regulating core temperature. The salt will help to maintain thirst longer so that more water will be consumed, it will reduce urination rates, and it will help you to increase water ingestion rates.

Recovery eating with the correct foods (high GI foods) within 30 minutes of every practice is important to ensure that athletes are replacing their energy stores for the next practice session. Less available energy means that the athlete is going to have to work harder, and will therefore create more heat.

PREVENTION. Tips to keep the body temperature cool and regulated include using ice vests / cooling vests, ice-slushy drinks, ice baths, ice-cold misting fans, shade areas and frozen ice blocks. Arctic Heat Cool vest can be used to pre-cool before practice, during practice, or for post practice recovery. Elite athletes in nearly every other sport regularly use them. Several NFL teams are now implementing them. Ice slushies made from water or mixed with sports drinks help to keep the body cool, they work better than just cold water. Portable ice baths are almost an essential item for practices in extreme heat and are used for post practice recovery and also for immediate treatment of any player suffering from heat stress. Frozen ice blocks. Freeze water in paper or cheap plastic cups. These are often used to create ice blocks for first aid injuries; additionally the palms of the hands are a great area to help cool the body down. Players can also hold onto a couple of frozen ice blocks for a few minutes to aid in recovery. Wear light colored loose fitting breathable moisture wicking clothing and reduced warm-up times (as the players are already warm) should be common-sense.

Set up a recovery area with a tent for shade and with a rented ice water misting fan. A make shift cooling area can be created with fans blowing across chests of ice, and using ice cold water sprays. The cold icy breeze will help to cool players. Inside the tent you could also have sports drinks, water, the salty pretzels, frozen ice blocks, cold ice vests and so on.

TREATMENT. If someone is suffering from heat stress it is imperative that they are cooled down right away, immediately. This means either access to an ice bath, or access to a cooling vest, cooling blanket or cooling towel and additional cooling packs. The athlete's core temperature needs to be reduced fast. Portable ice baths are now readily available from Cool Down USA . The Arctic Heat cooling products are used worldwide for the immediate treatment of stroke and heart attack victims, and are ideally suited to treating athletes suffering from heat stress. “If heat stress could be an issue then an Emergency Action Plan should be developed with measures to immediately reduce and stabilize core body temperatures. That could be an ice bath, Arctic Heat cooling vest, cooling towel or some frozen towels. Bags of ice alone are not sufficient. If there is no Emergency Action Plan in place, are you really looking out for the welfare of your athletes? ” said Dean Sainsbury.

RESPONSIBILITY. Who is going to be responsible for the treatment of any heat stress illness? Normally this would be a sports trainer, however it is reported that 50% of schools don’t have a sports trainer. Teams that are going to practice in the extreme heat should have a heat stress emergency rehearsal. The Head Coach or sports trainer should educate the players and team staff on the emergency action plan and then execute that plan with a designated player during the first practice session. Somebody should be responsible for the organization of the cooling equipment and the emergency action plan for every session. The large number of athletes on a football team makes it difficult for the Head Coach to be leading practice and then monitoring all of their athletes. Ideally assistant coaches should be responsible for each watching a select group of athletes for signs of heat stress and monitoring their preparation and post-practice recovery. Parents should ensure that their high school program has an emergency heat stress action plan in place.

Check out http://www.arcticheatusa.com for more information about the Arctic Heat cooling vest and cooling towels.

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