Hydration important for athletes to compete in heat

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Thursday, August 25, 2022 | 7:41 PM


Greensburg Salem junior wide receiver Cody Rubrecht was having the game of his life to open the 2021 football season against Hempfield.

He caught nine passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns and helped the Golden Lions to a touchdown lead.

But late in the third quarter after catching a big pass from Hayden Teska, Rubrecht developed cramps in his legs.

When he went out of the game, Hempfield scored 22 points in the final quarter in a 29-14 victory.

It was a painful lesson for Rubrecht and any athlete or official: Proper hydration is important during hot weather.

You can bet Rubrecht will do whatever possible to prevent those nasty cramps from returning when the season opens Friday.

With temperatures expected to be in the 80s with high humidity, the conditions are ripe to produce cramps, which are caused by dehydration as well as poor eating habits and conditioning.

“Leg cramps usually occur to the skill position players because they have less fat,” Greensburg Salem coach Dave Keefer said. “We try to hydrate every day.”

There are ways to prevent cramps, and experts say the process should have already started.

Athletes prepare for the season on the practice field and in the weight room, but they also need to take care of their body to prevent dehydration and injuries.

Greensburg Salem trainer Mike States said players can’t start hydrating Thursday night or Friday before a game.

“It has to start early in the week,” States said. “We encourage players to drink a lot of water, Gatorade, Pedialyte and some fruit juices (100 percent) are good.”

The drinks the players are encouraged to stay away from are energy drinks, carbonated drinks and caffeine drinks.

Leslie J. Bonci, a dietitian and sports nutrition expert who authored the book “Sport Nutrition for Coaches,” said athletes should gulp, not sip, 20 ounces of water an hour before a game or practice.

She said gulping water helps get it out of the stomach quicker and into the muscles.

The trainers said there is plenty of information online for athletes to research.

Hempfield trainer Lisa Brose says she talks to the athletes about how they should try to to prevent cramping.

During practice, especially on the very hot days, Brose makes sure athletes get hydrated every 15 or 20 minutes.

“We make the athletes weigh themselves before and after practice,” Brose said. “We want to see how much water they are sweating out. That’s why we have a weight chart to make sure they stay hydrated. We do everything we can to help them out.”

Athletes are also told to check their urine. If it’s dark, it means you’re dehydrated. If it’s lighter, that’s good.

“Dehydration and fatigue can contribute to cramping,” Hempfield assistant trainer Olivia Witherite said. “We encourage drinking a lot of water or sports drinks.”

Hempfield assistant trainer Tori Bulford added: “We also want them to eat salty snacks like trail mix before and after practice.”

She said some athletes eat pickles and drink pickle juice.

Bonci recommends athletes to eat something no larger than the size of a baseball before games.

Other trainers encourage athletes to eat salads and fruits that contain water. They tell them to stay away from heavy foods so they don’t feel bloated.

Greensburg Salem has a team meal in the cafeteria before road games. Players are able to eat protein and carbs (pasta).

States said the players are on their own for home games.

“We talk to them during camp on what’s good food for their bodies,” States said. “The players know what they can eat. We tell them to add a little salt to their meal. They should stay away from greasy foods, sweets and pastries.”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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