Avoiding Dehydration & Beating the Heat
We're now in the dog days of summer. The high school & college seasons are behind us. Many of us are now involved in a variety of different games, from youth All-Star Tournaments, Travel ball (AAU/USSSA), American Legion, NABA, Summer Leagues and more. It is very important to take care of yourself in the heat. Here are some tips on avoiding dehydration and beating the heat.
Too often we do not prepare ourselves adequately for the demands umpiring, especially working the dish, places on our hydration levels. Not only this, but some of the things we do are incorrect and speed our dehydration.
We are all pretty familiar with the physical effects of dehydration; thirst, chills, nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, cramps and more. But also know studies have shown that dehydration effects your mental ability too. Here are some of the negative mental issues with dehydration:
- Longer time needed to process information
- Reduced reflexes and reaction time
- Reduced peripheral vision
- Reduced tracking ability
- Reduced recall
- Reduced attention
All of which are key to a successful umpire.
Did you know that dehydration of only 1-2% of your total body weight will effect your physical and mental abilities. I weigh 225 lbs, 1% would be 2.25lbs or about one quart of fluid. That's not a lot.
Until recently I did an exercise in futility that I believe others may do as well. The day before a game or set of games where I knew it would be hot and I would need to be well hydrated, I would drink about half a gallon of water the night before. My thought was that this would give me a "reserve" and help keep me from dehydration.
The fact is this really did next to nothing. The human body is a complex machine which is in constant search for balance. By the time for my games for the next day my body had balanced itself. While I didn't give me the reserve I was hoping for, I did gain one advantage from this; I was going into the game properly hydrated. In doing a bit of research for this article I read that many athletes who suffer the effects of dehydration went into their event already dehydrated.
So let's start with maintaining proper hydration on a regular basis so we are not dehydrated before we step out onto the field. Through the course of your normal day drink plenty of fluids. Generally your urine should be light enough in color that you could read a newspaper through it (just a reference not meant to be taken literally). The darker your urine the more dehydrated you are. This is because your kidneys, in an attempt to retain as much water as possible, will conserve water by producing more concentrated urine.
While my technique above did very little, pre-hydration can be very important if done correctly. Assuming you are starting out properly hydrated, it is recommended you drink between 16-20 oz of water or sports drink 2-3 hours before your games. Then drink another 8-10 oz 10-20 min before the game. This should ensure proper pre-hydration. Some things to avoid before a game include:
- Carbonated drinks
- Fruit juices
Caffeine and alcohol can actually dehydrate you. Sodas and fruit juices have too much sugar which can cause issues with liquid absorption and cramps. Carbonated beverages lead to a more full feeling which can hamper proper hydration.
During the game keep the fluids going. It is suggested that you consume between 25-50% more fluids than you sweat out. Do not wait until you are thirsty before you get something to drink. Being thirsty is not a good indication when you are beginning to dehydrate. Thirst is a delayed response. When you get the thirsty feeling you are probably already dehydrated. Also, when you drink be sure to drink beyond what just quenches your thirst.
After the game don't think that you're through. The next 2-3 hours are critical for re-hydration. Get the fluids back in you lost, replace the lost sodium and electrolytes. Also, keep clear of the things you should avoid before the game until you have properly re-hydrated.
Another key factor in beating dehydration is to know yourself. Are you a heavy sweater? If so you could dehydrate faster. Are you overweight? Heavier people become dehydrated faster. Know the medications you are taking and how they may effect your hydration. Also know how any medical conditions you have such as diabetes, asthma, or heart conditions effect your hydration needs. In researching for this article I was interested to learn that you dehydrate faster at higher altitudes too.
Now that we've discussed hydration, let's talk about beating the heat. Here in the southeast I've already worked about a dozen games in 100+ degree temperatures and/or heat indexes and with humidity levels at 85+%. The southeast is home of the "air you can wear". Here's my weather forecast for the entire southeast from now until early September: Temps from the upper 80's to low 100's with 85+% humidity, and a chance of late afternoon thunderstorms (if you're lucky). Beat that Sam Champion. I know the rest of the country has their heat issues too and dry vs. humid heat is another story, but they both suck.
Let's start with your uniform. Make sure you have an appropriate uniform for the heat. Umpires like to turn to their powder blue or cream shirts in these conditions and that's a start, but let's look further into the uniform. Look at the material. How thick is it? What type of material is it? Today many manufacturers of umpire shirts are making them light weight with moisture wicking material. You won't believe the difference this makes in staying cooler and more comfortable.
Your undergarments are also very important. I would recommend staying away from the colored cotton t-shirts in the heat. They're too thick and not as breathable. Once again I would recommend getting moisture wicking material. Almost all suppliers offer McDavid, Under Armour, or some other brand of these shirts both long and short sleeved with varying neck lines. I personally get mine at Target for much cheaper. Not only are these shirts moisture wicking, but they are much lighter than the cotton t-shirts and when there is a breeze you can feel it getting through both your shirt and undershirt to cool you down.
I currently wear moisture wicking compression shorts and knee length moisture wicking baseball socks. It works very well for me, but I will probably be moving to moisture wicking, ankle length tights soon. I know many guys who swear by them and say they stay cool and comfortable in the heat. Based on my experience with the shirts, I believe them.
If you're working multiple games, bring extra uniforms. You won't believe the difference it makes putting on a clean dry uniform between games. Other than my compression shorts I will usually change everything between games, and if I had a place I could change my compression shorts with out being arrested, I'd change them too.
Once again between innings get a drink, try to find a bit of shade.
Also, I was taught a trick a few years ago which works like a charm. It's called a number of things; "Ammonia towels", "Ammonia baths", "Florida Water" just to name a few. This is a great mix which cools you off and refreshes you. If you haven't tried it before you won't believe how good it feels. Take a cooler and fill it half way with ice, and half with water. For each gallon of water put ½ - ¾ of a bottle (they are small bottles 2-4 oz) of "spirits of ammonia" (Not Household Ammonia!) which is available at most drug stores. Mix it well and place a couple of hand towels in the water. On the field when you get over heated reach in the cooler and wrap a towel around your neck and enjoy. I know a guy who folds a small rag and keeps it under his cap and changes it between innings to stay cool. I also saw a guy between innings untuck his shirt and place the rag under his chest protector quickly. I wouldn't recommend drinking the water, but I do still place my drinks in the cooler but am certain to wipe off the top with a dry cloth before drinking.
One final note: take care of your catchers, especially the younger ones. Ask them how they are doing, tell them if they feel the need to call time to get a drink or just a breather, to do it and remind them. If there is a break in action try to send them to their dugout to get a quick drink. Reinforce this idea with the coaches. As much as I like a quick moving game I'd rather have a game take 10-20 min longer than have an umpire or player fall out due to heat exhaustion.
If you have other ideas or suggestions on hydration or beating the heat let us know.
* * Please note NOTHING in this article is intended to be medical advice. Please consult your health care professional for more specific information regarding dehydration and maintaining proper hydration levels.