PLAYING IN THE HEAT
The heat is on and with it come some environmental conditions that could have a definite impact on your health, as well as your golf game. Preparing for the warmer temps is a very wise idea, especially if you don’t let those “fry an egg on the sidewalk” days keep you off the course.
There is no doubt that the summer temperatures and humidity can influence a round of golf. When combined, these two measures form the heat index (chart below), which can elevate real feel temperatures well above 100 degrees. . .note that temperatures in the 80s with high humidity levels can even present dangerous conditions. If not prepared golfers will physically struggle getting through a 4 to 5-hour round.
When the outside ambient conditions surpass the internal body temperature, there is an increased demand for the circulatory system to dissipate body heat. This generally requires the heart to work harder as the blood it pumps moves the heat from inside the body out to the skin where it can be dispersed. More blood to the skin means less blood for the working muscles and that could negatively impact performance.
The higher the heat index the tougher it is to dissipate the heat. This will not only tax a person’s energy levels, especially if deconditioned, and bring on fatigue and lethargy more quickly, it can also lead up to more serious disorders such as heat cramps and exhaustion.
Heat cramps are just that, muscle spasms usually caused by loss of essential minerals (electrolytes) through the sweat. This disorder occurs more often in the legs and abdomen than in other areas of the body. To avoid, stay hydrated and drink an electrolyte drink to replace minerals.
Heat exhaustion, which is more serious, may be characterized by a cool, moist, pale skin. The individual may complain of a headache and nausea with a feeling of overall weakness and exhaustion. Dizziness, faintness, and mental confusion are often present and breathing can become fast and shallow. Get the golfer off the course and into an air conditioned area. Give an electrolyte drink and seek medical attention if the condition is severe enough.
Evaporation of sweat is one mechanism for regulating the internal body heat, but that process becomes less effective as humidity and heat index levels increase. Sweat on the skin will take longer to evaporate if the ambient air is more saturated with water vapor as it is on more humid days. Consider wearing sweat-wicking apparel to facilitate sweat and heat loss away from the body.
A second mechanism is convection. On windy days, heat is moved away from the body as air moves around it. The windier it is, the more effective heat removal will be. Windier conditions, however, add to the physical demands of playing. Not only will golfers be more challenged with club and shot selection, they’ll also be required to expend more energy as they move through and against the air resistance.
It takes up to approximately 2 weeks to become physiologically accustomed to changing environmental demands. The good news for most golfers is that the exposure to the summer heat and humidity will be gradual. This will allow for better adaptation by the body, however, there are additional factors that should be considered.
To negate the environmental conditions and physiological responses, golfers should be in good physical shape. This will help them offset and meet the demands for heat regulation and stay sharp, both physically and mentally, throughout the summer round. A fine tuned cardiovascular system as well as adequate musculoskeletal strength and balance are essential for a better golf game no matter what conditions the golfer is confronted with. Seek out a certified golf fitness professional in your area who will be able to help you achieve these essentials through a progressive, individualized program.
Water consumption is also very crucial. Even a small amount of dehydration via sweat loss and increased respiration can impact performance. This can be avoided by simply drinking plain water before, during, and after the round, as hydration must be a priority. Don’t wait for thirst to set in! Drink early and drink often.
A good indicator of adequate hydration is urine color. Try to maintain a pale yellow or clear color. A more concentrated color (deep yellow or orange) equates to dehydration and fluid replacement is a must. Be aware, though, if you are taking single vitamin supplements or a multivitamin supplement, some of the vitamins in the supplements, like excessive amounts of vitamin C for example, can change the color of your urine for a few hours, making it bright yellow or discolored.
Keep in mind, too, that diuretics, such as coffee, beer, and certain medications will flush water out of the body and can make matters worse by increasing the sensitivity to heat stress. Check with your doctor if taking a medication.
If excessive sweat is a trait, electrolyte supplementation may be warranted as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other essential minerals are lost through sweat. This can impair muscle, nerve, and cardiovascular function.
Sport drinks are available, but calorie count and sugar content, for some, are a concern. Electrolyte replacements tablets (NUUN tablets) seems to be a viable alternative as they contain fewer calories and no sugar. Read labels.
Another consideration to keeping cool while playing in the heat is cooling towels and hats. Made from a revolutionary highly evaporative material that retains water while remaining dry to the touch, these items are touted to keep you up to 20 degrees cooler than the outdoor ambient temperature. I must say I have tried a towel from RealXGear and it really did stay cool despite the heat and humidity.
Die-hard golfers who challenge the summer heat and humidity may not succumb to the rigors of the golf course, rather to the environmental conditions present. Preparing will enhance safety and help keep the golfer fresh throughout the entire round.
Bob Forman MS, Exercise Physiology
Director, The Golf Fitness Academy