SUGAR LAND, TEXAS (August 11, 2015)

Most of us are trying to stay inside when the summer heat and humidity is at its peak. But for many athletes, that’s not an option. While baseball and softball season may be drawing to a close, training for fall sports like football and cross country is just getting started.

July and August are typically our hottest months of the year with an average afternoon high temperature of 94 degrees. But when you factor in humidity, the heat index, or what it “feels like” outside can easily top 100 degrees.

The summer heat isn’t something to take lightly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 618 deaths per year were associated with exposure to excessive natural heat from 1999-2010. It’s important for athletes to prepare for the stress extreme heat can place on their body.

Dr. Rehal Bhojani, MD,FAAFP, CAQSM, is the Medical Director of the Sports Medicine Outreach Program at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital. “One of the first things an athlete needs to do before they start to train is to get acclimated to the environment,” says Dr. Bhojani. “An athlete needs to ease into their workouts, take 7-10 days and begin with a light cardio workout instead of going straight into a 2-hour, twice a day football workout.”

Once the workouts begin, it’s important to start well hydrated and then to stay hydrated. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, dehydration is likely to start affecting performance when sweating causes you to lose 2-3 percent or more of your body weight. That’s a little more than 3 pounds for someone weighing 160 pounds.

Dr. Bhojani says an athlete’s weight should not fluctuate significantly from day to day. You need to replenish the fluid loss following a workout. “It’s important to replenish the fluids in your body during the first couple of hours following a workout,” says Dr. Bhojani. “That’s going to allow your body to recover most efficiently.”

In some cases, water simply isn’t enough for your body to fully recover. If you are plan to be working out for more than an hour, you’ll also need to replenish your electrolytes with sports drinks.

An electrolyte is a salt or ion in the blood or other bodily fluid that carries a charge. Electrolytes play a key role in sending electrical impulses that influence our heart, muscles and nerves. They also play a key role in hydration of our cells, tissues and muscles. Electrolytes can be found in fruits and vegetables but also in sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade.

Heat exhaustion is a common reaction to severe heat and includes symptoms like dizziness, headache and fainting. Usually rest, finding someplace cool to relax and hydration will treat heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is more severe and requires medical attention. Common symptoms of heat stroke are dry skin, a body temperature above 103 Fahrenheit, confusion and sometimes unconsciousness.

Dr. Bhojani recommends you don’t overexert your body. “Over-training can actually cause performance to decrease,” says Dr. Bhojani. “You need to give your body some time off, don’t train the same muscle group every day and give yourself at least one day off a week.”

Dr. Bhojani sees patients at the Memorial Hermann Medical Group Sugar Land clinic.