Keeping fit during IPL 2020: Operation Desert Storm

We will cover the precautions that need to be taken to avoid serious injuries and medical conditions during the 2020 IPL season in the dry and hot conditions of the UAE.

Exercise in the morning or the evening, when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors. If possible, exercise in shady areas, or do a water workout in a pool.   -  R. Ragu

The 2020 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is being staged in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is a brave and bold move by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The logistics and other administrative challenges are humongous, as are the physical and mental challenges of the players and support staff.

It will be interesting to see how the players remain injury-free and try to improve their performance while playing back-to-back matches in hot and dry conditions for the next two months.

We will cover the precautions that need to be taken to avoid serious injuries and medical conditions during the course of the tournament. The protocols will need to be individualised since each player’s response to a particular situation or stimulus will be different.

Problem areas to be addressed

Weather conditions and hydration protocols: Since the weather is always hot and dry, make sure you drink enough fluids throughout the day. Enjoy water-rich foods such as watermelon, grapefruit, cucumber, broccoli, orange and tomato. Consumption of 16-24 ounces of water a couple of hours before exercising in the hot temperature is recommended. Beyond that, take in another 6-8 ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes. For physical activity longer than 60 minutes, sports drinks can help the body refuel and rehydrate more efficiently. Water alone is not sufficient; it gives a feeling of being waterlogged and gastric emptying takes longer. Choose an appropriate electrolyte drink to replenish salts and minerals.

Dehydration is a serious medical condition: Exercising or playing in the hot, dry weather can rapidly raise your body’s core temperature, putting you at risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Since the heat is dry, there are no indicators like sweat, which cools the core body temperature, and other red flags to identify dehydration. The role of the physio or trainer is to ensure that the players are well-hydrated but not overly so. Every player needs to be given a specific amount to drink according to their readings.

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or imbalanced replacement of fluids.

The following are heat illnesses:

  • Heat cramps
  • Heat syncope and exercise-associated collapse
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heatstroke

Keep your cooling pulse points in mind — the wrists and neck areas. Wrap a towel immersed in cold water or cooling vests with gel around your neck during the game or after, or use cooling vests before or after the match to prevent heat-related problems.

Mental fatigue affects physical capacity in many ways, and the role of sports psychologists and senior players is important to guide the junior players and the team. It is important to avoid stress hormones and to bring out the happy hormones to be in the best state of mind.

Cortisol and adrenaline are stress-related hormones, while dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin are related to mood elevation and happiness.

Various methods can be used to initiate secretion of happy hormones, such as:

Watch the temperature: Pay attention to weather forecasts and heat alerts. Know what the temperature is expected to be for the duration of your planned outdoor activity or play. During match days, keep an eye on the heat factor. If there are coloured flags to indicate the heat level, it would be a good visual cue to follow, like the flags in motor racing.

Get acclimated: If you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first when you exercise in the heat. It can take at least 10 days to adapt to the temperature. As your body adapts to the heat over time, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.

Know your fitness level: If you are not fully fit or are embarking on a new exercise regime, be extra cautious when working out in the heat. Your body may have a lower tolerance to the heat. Reduce your exercise intensity and take frequent recovery breaks.

Less is more: High-intensity workouts keep the body’s metabolism kicking throughout without spending too much time under the sun. Twenty minutes would be more than sufficient for maintenance of fitness.

The following is important in order to not strain the players, which may hamper performance:

Dress appropriately: Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and cools you faster. Avoid dark colours, which can absorb heat. If possible, wear light-coloured clothing and a Panama hat. Ventilated suits were introduced during Operation Desert Storm of the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Such technology-based tools can be added to the recovery protocols.

Check urine colour: This should be done at least twice or thrice daily as it is a good indicator of dehydration. The specific gravity of urine can be tested to measure accurate dehydration levels.

Wear glasses: Sunglasses with light-coloured frames that block ultraviolet (UV) light are useful for avoiding harmful rays due to extreme heat.

Avoid the midday sun if possible: Exercise in the morning or the evening, when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors. If possible, exercise in shady areas, or do a water workout in a pool.

Wear the right sunscreen: Choose a water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels) and apply it 30 minutes before going out.

Have a backup plan for the workout: If heat is a concern, stay indoors. Work out at the gym, and embark on light-maintenance cross-training.

Recovery protocols: Ice baths and swimming pools play a very critical role in keeping players in good shape and avoiding injury. They help in excellent recovery after games and practice sessions, and are very important for the longevity of the players. Other gadgets can also be used to cool the body.

Proper diet regime: This is critical due to the timing of the matches and the heat. Calibrated diet patterns are a must for all the players before, during and after matches and training sessions.

Understand your medical risks at these times: Be in touch with medical experts to avoid COVID-19.

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