Real Life Stories: A college student from the northern United States made the decision to spend his summer lifeguarding in hot and humid central Florida. After a late night out, the guard skipped breakfast and arrived for his shift early in the summer season. On this particularly hot day, the lifeguard was on rotation at the facility’s wave pool. Less than an hour into the shift the unthinkable happened.
The lifeguard had to be rescued by the other guards after an eight-foot drop from the stand into the waves below. The guard luckily avoided serious injury and was back on duty a few days later. After further investigation, it became clear that not only had he missed breakfast, but also failed to hydrate at any point before starting his shift.
Almost 700 people die from exposure to extreme heat every year in the United States. Most heat-related deaths and injuries occur to young children and the elderly, but considering how much time a lifeguard is likely to spend in the sun or in a humid natatorium, special attention must be paid to proper hydration and nutrition. Dehydration of 1 to 2 percent of body weight begins to compromise physiologic function and negatively influences performance. As dehydration moves beyond 3 percent of body weight, a lifeguard is at increased risk of developing heat cramps or heat exhaustion.
Recognizing Lifeguard Dehydration
When supervising lifeguards, it’s important to recognize the basic signs of dehydration and take proactive measures to combat the negative side effects. Dr. Mark Caselli, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, lists irritability, headache, weakness, dizziness, chills, heartburn, and nausea as the principle signs of dehydration. Thirst is typically a poor indicator of hydration because it’s a delayed response. In fact, an active person can lose more than 1.5 liters of body water before ever experiencing thirst.
Preventing Lifeguard Dehydration
To ensure proper hydration and effective aquatic surveillance, all lifeguards should have fluids constantly available. Either purchase water bottles or require the guards to bring their own for every shift they work. Not only does this aid in keeping your staff at peak performance, but it also alleviates the need to leave the stand to get a drink.
Standard recommendations for athletes consist of drinking up to 20 ounces of water or sports drink two to three hours before duty, and another 8 to 10 ounces 20 minutes before. While lifeguards may not burn as many calories as a traditional athlete, the need to perform at a high level over a long period of time requires similar caution.
Persuade your guards to hydrate during each of their breaks. In order to maintain optimum performance, the crew needs to replace all of the fluids they lose while on duty. On particularly hot or humid days, it becomes even more important to monitor hydration.
In addition to providing your lifeguard staff with fluids, it’s also important to encourage your guards to maintain a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Breakfast is extremely important, yet 35-40% of all Americans skip the most important meal of the day. Providing your staff with healthy fruit to supplement a missed meal is a great way to improve performance and boost morale.