The hot topic in sport

LOCAL football and hockey players risk life-threatening injuries if they are not properly hydrated in the unexpected winter heat experienced over the past few days, according to a Southern Cross University academic.

With temperatures edging 30 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, both rugby union and rugby league matches at Casino and Lismore were sensibly stopped at quarter-time to allow players an extra rest and a chance to gulp some water.

With Monday’s maximum a stunning 36 degrees in Lismore, Southern Cross University senior lecturer in sports and exercise science and sports management, Rudi Meir, warned of the potential harm football players in particular could face if heat like this continues over the next few weeks.

Meir is also the strength and conditioning coach of the Mullumbimby rugby league club but has previously worked professionally with league and rugby clubs in Australia, South Africa and Europe.

“I have recorded players who have lost 3kg to 4kg during a match. Obviously on the weekend I wasn’t weighing players but I have no doubt that some players would have lost about 2kg to 3kg,” Meir said.

“In simple terms, when someone loses about 2 per cent of their body mass – remember for a player weighing 100kg that’s 2kg – that can definitely have a detrimental affect to their performance.

“If a player loses 3 per cent to 4 per cent of their weight than can be worse with potential adverse affects to decision-making skills plus it can become a stress to the cardiovascular system.

“As a player becomes more dehydrated the blood thickens making it harder for the heart to pump blood and this causes more stress and strain.”

An extreme outcome could see a player lose consciousness and lapse into a coma which happened in an ARL (which became the NRL) match in the early 1990s. Sports Medicine Australia rates heat stroke as a life-threatening condition.

Worryingly, according to Meir, it can also take some players up to three days to replace the weight they lose on the field.

“If a player loses 2kg to 3kg of fluid or more and they need to replace that and they use fluids such as beer which can add to the dehydration affect, a player could go to bed still dehydrated and then the next day go to work outdoors and then lose more.

“They could still lose more if they go to training on Tuesday night and it can become a vicious cycle.”

Meir said to combat the extreme heat Mullumbimby players had been given a checklist to help prepare for a game.

“Whenever there is a break in play we have been telling players to take a drink to help top themselves up,” he said.

“The last few weeks we’ve been telling them to drink three-to-four litres of water 24 to 48 hours before the game so they are hydrated.

“Before the game, after the warm-up, we get the players to put their head under the shower to cool down and so that some water runs down their back.

“When they come off we give them ice water and wet towels to put over their heads and across the back of their necks.

“If there was a quarter-time break it would help them. We’ll (Mullum) be discussing it and the NRRRL (Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League) need to come up with a directive that uses common sense and confers with both teams before the games.”

According to Sports Medicine Australia, which has produced a set of guidelines for sport in hot weather, competitors may produce 15 to 20 times the heat they produce at rest, which can raise the core body temperature by one degree for every five minutes of exercise if no temperature-regulating mechanisms are activated.

A person’s normal core temperature is 37 degrees but if this rises to 40 the risk of injury is significant. If it rises to 41 degrees it is dangerous.

NRRRL president Robin Harley said the league had not entertained the thought of starting this weekend’s semi-finals later in the afternoon or evening to beat the heat.

“At this stage we’ll just have to put up with it,” he said.

“We’ve never really run into this situation before but we will probably suggest to the clubs what their options are for these games.”

When asked if the match should be broken up into quarters, Harley said it was a possibility.

“Playing in this heat will favour the teams with extra fitness,” he said.

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