Beating the Heat in the World’s Coldest City

Okay, maybe Winnipeg isn’t the world’s coldest city anymore (that honour goes to Oymyakon, Russia, with average temperatures of minus 50°C, or minus 58°F) but when you tell someone that you live in Winnipeg or you’re going to Winnipeg, the first thing that comes to mind is definitely not how to protect yourself from the heat. As cold as it does get during winter in the “Peg”, it gets reciprocally as hot in the summer.

Photo by Monika Cloutier/2017 Canada Games.
Photo: Monika Cloutier / 2017 Canada Games.

Since Winnipeg is presently just over half way through hosting the the 50th Anniversary edition of the Canada Games, I thought I’d take a minute and talk about protection from dehydration, sun stroke, and other summer dangers. I referee soccer and, although I’m not a medical expert I have experience on howto recognize and deal with dehydration. Most major sporting events now have medical staff on site to assist so the responsibility does not fall to the on field officials anymore.

Simply put, “hydrate” means to supply something with fluids. How you hydrate, when you hydrate and the liquid you use to hydrate with are all important.

CanSportsOne’s very own Jessica Ryan, BKin CAT (C), is a registered Athletic Therapist (who happens to be volunteering as a medic at various venues of the Canada Games). According to Ms. Ryan: “As temperatures rise, so does the risk of heatstroke and heat exhaustion. Athletes are needing to take extra care of staying on top of hydration and replenishing of electrolytes during these games. With temperatures above 30 with some venues with minimal access to shade, dehydration can be a real concern. The feeling of thirst is your first indication, from there muscle cramps and decreased cognitive function can follow, both having negative impacts on the athlete’s ability to perform. This is a concern for athletes and spectators alike.” Ms Ryan went on to point out that “some symptoms to look for are dizziness, headache, changes to vision and nausea.”

My own daughter had a serious incident with heatstroke and dehydration. She was selected to referee at the Canadian Soccer Association’s National Under 15 and 16 All Star tournament in Hamilton in 2012. During the tournament, the temperature on the artificial turf reached well over 40C and she did not properly hydrate prior to one of her games and experienced the early symptoms. These were very high profile games and no-one wants to be removed from the action like that, so she ignored the symptoms. In effect, she didn’t listen to her own body, and fainted. She had hydrated, but not enough. When she became dizzy with a headache, she decided she could work through it.. and was incorrect. The lesson here is that the symptoms are there for a reason. Recognize them and heed them. You cannot power through dehydration.

Photo: Denis Drouin / 2017 Canada Games.
Photo: Denis Drouin / 2017 Canada Games.

Obviously, drink lots. This is the easiest way to re-hydrate. Drink leading up to an event, drink during an event, drink after an event. Hurrying quickly from work or school to run track, or play soccer or participate in a three-hour ball game is a bad way to start, as you’re probably below a decent level of hydration before you even start so drink leading up to the event. As you play, you perspire so it’s essential that you keep up as well as you can. If you play a sport where you can sub on and off repeatedly, obtaining a drink is relatively easy. The sports that require extended periods without access to fluids present a more unique problem. Soccer games have recently incorporated hydration breaks, long distance running has water stops, bicyclists carry water bottles, all great ways to get liquids so now you can drink during an event. After an event has finished, people are in the habit of shaking hands, milling around, then usually jumping into the family car and going back home or to the hotel. Ensure you continue hydrating even after the event. I think we’ve all suffered through muscle cramping well after a game or run and wondered what I could have done to prevent it. It’s not a guarantee, but post-game muscle spasms would be less frequent if we continued to hydrate after we stop the actual exertions.

What you drink is important. Water is a natural body requirement and is never a bad thing to consume. Sports drinks are prevalent now and contain many things that good old water does not.

According to W. Larry Kenney, Penn State professor of physiology and kinesiology, a bottle of a sports drink like Gatorade may be a better choice.

“Sports drinks have extra ingredients that are not found in water,” Kenney explains. “Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are the most important additives, and carbohydrates are a close second.” Electrolytes are physiologically important substances that regulate the body’s hydration, and nerve and muscle function, he adds. During exercise, your body sweats to limit the rise in body temperature. This process keeps your body cool, but results in loss of fluid. “Sports drinks are designed to replenish electrolytes lost while sweating,” he says. The amount of fluid lost varies tremendously between individuals, Kenney notes, and is dependent upon exercise intensity and duration, temperature and humidity, and the type of clothing one wears. “Heavy sweaters can lose up to three pounds per hour,” he says, and advises weighing oneself both before and after exercise. “The goal is to maintain your baseline body weight.” “There is another reason for adding electrolytes like sodium,” Kenney says. “Think of a bartender who offers free pretzels and peanuts—he wants you to drink more. The salt in sports drinks helps to maintain thirst.” He continues, “If you drink plain water until you no longer feel thirsty, you’ve most likely not replenished all lost fluids.”

Photo: Monica Cloutier / 2017 Canada Games.
Photo: Monica Cloutier / 2017 Canada Games.

Officials are not immune to the effects of dehydration. Carrying a whistle doesn’t give you a shield against heat. Wearing a chest protector behind the plate won’t stave off thirst. Officials need to take advantage of all the breaks that a sport offers so they too can contribute at the top of their game. Being able to be in the right position and providing professional, razor sharp quick decisions that they were brought in to provide. The athletes deserve it and the fans expect it.

Notice how none of these experts even mentioned alcoholic or caffeinated beverages. These are NOT good for hydration. They actually perform the opposite of what you want and will contribute to further dehydration as they are diuretics, which help expel things from your body and provide no pre/during/post game benefits whatsoever.