Thursday, May 3, 2018

Time to reload: The importance of hydration in the summer heat.

Although it may not seem like it in some parts of the country, summer will be upon us soon. A challenge we always face during shooting competitions in the summer heat is the risk of dehydration — something I experienced firsthand.

Just as we finished cleaning up from a match, I began to feel uncomfortable. I sat down and quickly started to have vision problems. Literally, everything was beginning to "white out." I was not seeing any color.

Clearly something was wrong and I suspected I was dehydrated. I drank the better part of a liter of water and was feeling somewhat better so I left the range and drove home to rest.

Shortly after lying down, my muscles started to cramp — arms, legs, abdomen — all of them. At one point, I stood up and almost immediately fainted. I regained consciousness lying on the floor near a chair (thankfully I did not hit the chair) with the cramps continuing. The pain was so intense I could not call out to my wife who found me a short time later literally rolling on the floor.

I was experiencing severe heat cramps, undoubtedly resulting from dehydration and electrolyte loss. My wife immediately began first aid (she's a physician) and I recovered sometime later. I learned a good lesson about dehydration. However, if I had been alone, I might not be around to pass it on.

Besides being unpleasant and dangerous, dehydration can also interfere with shooting performance and can do so quickly in hot conditions — in less than one hour. So how do we avoid dehydration? Start hydrating early — ideally throughout the day before a match.

Avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea), high sugar and caffeinated sodas, and drinks containing alcohol, all of which act as diuretics and actually reduce hydration. These drinks will aggravate dehydration, not improve it, as the body will take water from tissues to filter and excrete these substances or their derivatives.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, active people should drink at least 16 to 24 ounces of fluid one to two hours before a vigorous outdoor activity to avoid dehydration. After that, you should consume 6 to 12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes you are outside. When you are finished with the activity, you should drink at least another 16 to 24 ounces (2-3 cups). In the course of leading up to, during, and after a four hour match that could literally be 2.5 gallons or 8 liters of fluid.

What to drink? Drinks with electrolytes are better than plain water if you are exercising or perspiring heavily. Sports drinks work well and contain electrolytes that you must replenish. Those who don't want to spend the money can make their own rehydrating drink with six level teaspoons of sugar, a half-teaspoon salt and one quart or liter of water — adding juice from a fresh lime or lemon can help taste.

Coconut water (not to be confused with coconut milk or oil) is also a good rehydrating drink. Coconut water is low in calories, naturally fat and cholesterol-free, has more potassium than four bananas and is super-hydrating. You can mix coconut water with plain water if you wish.

One way to make sure you are properly hydrated is to check your urine. If it's clear, pale or straw-colored, it's OK. If it's darker than that, keep drinking. If you are not urinating, then you are already experiencing the early signs of dehydration and should drink at least 32 ounces of fluid within 30 minutes. Keep drinking after a match until your urine is normal once again.

I tell everyone shooting on my squad that if they do not urinate at least twice during the course of a match, then they are behind on hydration. Pay attention to your fellow competitors. If they are flushed or seem confused or weak, get them in the shade immediately. If they have a headache, difficulty breathing, chest or abdominal pains, seizures or cramps, or if they faint, get them in the shade and seek medical attention for them. They may not be a good judge of their condition.

Dehydration can lead to heat stroke which is the most serious form of heat injury. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

-- a lack of sweating despite the heat

-- red, hot and dry skin

-- rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak

-- rapid, shallow breathing

-- confusion, disorientation, staggering, or other behavioral changes

-- seizures

-- unconsciousness

Heat stroke is a medical emergency, so if you suspect someone has heat stroke, call 911 immediately and give first aid until paramedics arrive.

Along with changes in physiological performance, dehydration affects judgement, concentration, reaction and coordination — assets vital to competitors in the shooting sports.

You must take in adequate fluid and the choice of beverage depends on the intensity and duration of the match. Water is fine for a low-to-moderately intense match that lasts less than two hours or one with frequent rest periods in the shade. Carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks become more important as the intensity and duration increases.

However, everyone is different in terms of age, physical fitness and medical condition. Each must take the responsibility to educate himself about his personal optimal hydration levels.

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