By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
Ok, even the most diehard Miami Heat fans must have thought the photos of various people “Lebroning” were a little bit funny. But the reality is that a severe muscle cramp and heat illness can be very serious. There’s been a lot of discussion about how soccer players are preparing for the heat and humidity of Brazil. With many young athletes exposed to heat and humidity over the summer, let’s take a look at how the professionals prepare, and some take-aways that can be used by the young player.
Preparation/Before The Event
Professional teams with significant resources will do several things prior to a major tournament or game to try to acclimate their players. For example, for the upcoming World Cup many teams are training in Florida to simulate the heat and humidity of Brazil. Some teams in Europe are training indoors in climates adjusted for higher heat and humidity. For all the World Cup players there will be sophisticated metabolic and biochemical analyses performed to tailor a hydration and nutrition plan. For NFL teams that will start formal training camp later in the summer they will have their players start OTAs early and each player has a personalized training plan prior to formal camp. And for all professional athletes regardless of sport, being at their peak fitness prior to important summer events is critical.
Take-away for the young athlete: be as fit as possible prior to any important summer event played in heat and humidity. Fitness training must start several weeks before the event. Pay close attention to nutrition and hydration.
During The Event
The most critical factor during the event is proper hydration. Professionals will have personalized hydration plans prepared during the pre-event phase. Hydration will go a long way to minimize the chance of heat illness and cramps during the event. Cooling strategies have also become complex and scientifically driven. In the World Cup be on the lookout for Adidas’s super high-tech cooling vests which will be worn by players from 9 Adidas sponsored teams during pregame. A lot of our athletes in our orthopedic practice have started using fairly inexpensive evaporative cooling towels placed on the back of their necks during practice and game time-outs or halftime. There are many brands available and I like these a lot- they work.
Take-away for the young athlete: pay close attention to hydration. You can find a very simple hydration strategy in this post. And an important take-away for the coach and parent: recognize signs of possible heat illness and take action early.
After The Event
There is a solid level of scientific evidence showing that starting nutritional recovery in the first 20 minutes after the event is the most effective time to refuel. There are many fluid recovery drinks commercially available. Avoid anything containing high fructose corn syrup or caffeine. I like low fat chocolate milk as an excellent “natural” recovery drink. A carbohydrate based meal (such as pasta) is also an excellent choice.
From the physical standpoint most teams will perform something called “active recovery”, which is a form of mild muscle activation. This can be done with a simple light jog followed by a stretching routine. Professional athletes will often use other modalities such as electrical stimulation, cryotherapy (cold therapy), deep tissue massage, and compressive cooling.
Take-aways for the young athlete: Individual and team athletes should do a light active recovery session after the event. Start your fluid and nutritional refueling as soon as possible after an event, and ideally within 20 minutes.