By Michaela Gibson Morris
Parents and young athletes need to follow smart hydration strategies in the wake of the tragic death of a Jackson Prep football player.
“If your kids haven’t had problems, keep following a healthy diet and hydrating with water and sports drinks,” said Walt Wilkins, who leads the North Mississippi Medical Center athletic trainers program.
The death of Jackson Prep football player Walker Wilbanks has put a spotlight on proper hydration in hot weather. His medical team at University of Mississippi Medical Center stressed during a Monday press conference that the severe sodium imbalance that caused his brain to swell is extremely uncommon in healthy teens.
“Walker didn’t do anything wrong. His coaches didn’t do anything wrong,” said Dr. Joe Pressler, who was the lead physician treating Wilbanks, in a news conference. “It could not be predicted, and most likely could not be avoided.”
The idea that players in hot weather conditions could have too much fluid in their bodies seems counterintuitive, but studies of marathon runners have shown it does happen, said Tupelo family physician Dr. Anne Haire, whose son Christian plays outside linebacker for the Golden Wave.
“Dehydration and overhydration are equally as dangerous,” Haire said.
Proper hydration isn’t something players can cram for just before the game starts.
“You want to prepare all week for Friday night,” Wilkins said.
The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines advise fluid intake before, during and after exercise. Sports drinks are recommended for those involved in intense exercise beyond an hour. The guidelines advise against taking in more than a quart in an hour.
Watching the color of urine provides a personal barometer of hydration. Light yellow or clear equals good hydration.
“If it’s darker, you need more fluid,” Haire said.
Even with the preparations, players can still run into hydration problems. With last Friday’s high heat and humidity, athletic trainers at Northeast Mississippi schools had a number of players with cramps. Most were treated on the sidelines and at home. One student athlete had to be treated with IV fluids, but that athlete wasn’t considered in a crisis.
“It was the most efficient way to treat the cramps,” Wilkins said.
Heading into this weekend’s games, parents need to be aware, but not panicked, Wilkins said.
“The kids are smart; they know how to take care of their bodies,” Wilkins said, noting that today’s players get much more education on nutrition and hydration than those from previous generations. “They need positive reinforcement from their parents to make sure they do it.”