Dizziness, headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, full body cramps, heat exhaustion—all symptoms of dehydration that football players can experience. Fortunately, they're all preventable; and Gatorade and the NFL are collaborating to raise awareness about how and why.
According to the 2007 Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, there have been 114 heat-related deaths among high school, college and professional football players since 1960—including, most notably, that of Minnesota Vikings linebacker Korey Stringer in 2001. Last year, there were two deaths at the high school level, which, according to the experts, is two too many.
"When kids suffer from heat-related illnesses it's definitely heartbreaking, because it is somewhat senseless and definitely preventable," says Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber.
That's why the Bucs, along with every other team in the NFL, have partnered with Gatorade around "Two-A-Day Safety Donation Day," a program that educates high school coaches, trainers, parents and players about the importance of hydration.
Research from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute [GSSI] indicates that nearly 70 percent of high school football players show up to practice significantly dehydrated, which puts them at a greater risk for heat illness.
"Proper hydration is very important in training camp and throughout the year, because when you're out here practicing, having two-a-days, running hard for two [to] three hours at a time with pads on, you need to make sure that your body has its fuel," explains Greenbay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. "I decided to get involved with Gatorade, the NFL and the heat safety program," Hawk continues, "because it's a good thing to educate and get the word out to kids and let them know that if you're staying on top of your hydration, you're going to be all right."
Critical hydration periods are the night before and the morning of practice. Barber makes sure he's full of water before practicing. "Sometimes you don't feel like you can perform when you have [fluids] in your stomach, but believe me, when you're in the heat, it doesn't take long for that feeling to go away. And in the back of your mind, if you know you're properly hydrated, you'll be able to go out and perform and be the best player that you can be."
Hawk makes hydrating an all-day and all-night habit. "You need to make sure you're prepared before you get on the field and [that] your body has plenty of fluids," he says, "because if you start [hydrating] when you get to practice, it's too late—you're probably going to cramp up by the middle to the end of practice. The night before, I make sure that I'm getting lots of fluids. The morning before practice, I'm drinking fluids all day."
Kansas City Chiefs coach Herm Edwards says many athletes tend to overlook hydration at night, even though it's a prime time to saturate your cells. "We're a [proponent] of really making the guys hydrate at night before they go to bed," he says. "That's probably the best time to hydrate, because at that point in time you're going to get sleep, it's in your system and you're ready for the morning."
According to Edwards, you need a solid understanding about hydrating properly to keep yourself going strong during camps and games. "Every year we're involved with Gatorade, we learn more about the tools to really help ourselves," he says. "I think that awareness is very, very important. Most people are not aware of the things they can do to hydrate."
Adds Barber, "That's the importance of this partnership, to raise awareness and let kids know it's really all right to be hydrated, and it's all right to drink during practice and [to] really make sure you're taking care of yourself."
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