Back in the day, “water discipline” was the order or the day to create the ideal “desert fighter”. It was used to make a soldier tough. The idea was to condition a soldier so they could fight on just a pint of water a day.
Today, military training is singing a different tune.
Why? Partly as the result of non-acclimated soldiers dropping dead at home as the symptoms of heat stress take their toll on training maneuvers and partly because we know more about how the body works.
Why is Water and Hydration So Important for Military Training?
Ok, this seems like a no-brainer right?
Most of us know we can go without food a lot longer than we can go without water and still survive. But many of us forget to get adequate water when we’re training for our sports, going through military bootcamp, competing for those precious few spots on an elite team such as the Navy Seals or Rangers, or are out on active duty and in combat.
Sometimes it’s because water is not readily available. Other times it’s because we try to tough it out during maneuvers, trying to “will” our way through the symptoms of heat stress.
But there’s a problem with that.
If you’re not aware of the symptoms of heat stress, or if you choose to ignore them, then you run the risk of lowering your performance ability, putting your team at risk, putting the mission at risk, and even the risk of preventable death – both yours and anybody around you that is compromised because you didn’t take care of business.
As a soldier, you have an obligation to yourself and your team to stay in top physical and mental shape. This means training, preparation, and knowing the dangers of physical and environmental conditions that can compromise your health.
Stuff like dehydration and heat stress.
Sun Tzu, a 6th century B.C. Chinese general and military theorist said
“An Army that does not suffer from 100 diseases is said to be certain of victory…”
Don’t fool yourself. This is not just about avoiding malaria…this is also about staying focused mentally because you are properly nourished and have the right amount of water in your body.
The Symptoms of Heat Stress
Water is responsible for about 70% of your body’s weight. The effects of dehydration can occur with as little as a 1% loss of your body’s water weight and can become life threatening at a 10% loss.
How much you sweat is not always a good indication of how much water you are losing. In hot and humid climates, your body loses some of its natural ability to sweat and keep your body cool. And in colder temperatures, the sensation of sweat and water loss may not be as apparent.
Your environmental conditions, level of acclimation and physical fitness, duration of the exercise or training (which in military missions often lasts 4–6 hours), the type of clothing you’re wearing, how much alcohol or coffee you drink, and even the types of medications you take can all contribute to your body’s ability to avoid dehydration.
The symptoms of heat stress should be addressed quickly. If they’re not then heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat rash, and at the extreme end – death – can occur.
Water is important.
It’s how chemical reactions occur and it supports normal function of the cardiovascular system. And, if you’ve been following our information then you know your cardiovascular system in the primary foundation for overall health.
Protect that foundation!
So what do you look for? Well, what starts as symptoms of heat stress can escalate to something worse if left unchecked:
Heat Stoke Symptoms:
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- High body temperature
- Slurred speech
- Throbbing headache
- Confusion or dizziness
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms:
- Heavy sweating
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Confusion or dizziness
- Muscle cramps
- Slightly elevated body temperature
- Clammy, moist skin
- Pale of flushed complexion
- Fast and shallow breathing
Heat Syncope Symptoms (which can result from dehydration or lack of acclimatization):
- Heat cramps (usually an indication of low salt levels):
- Muscle pain or spasms usually in the arms, legs or abdomen
Heat Rash Symptoms:
- Located most often on the neck, upper chest, groin, underarms, and elbow creases
How to Maintain a Safe Body Temperature During Military Training
What you need to be aware of is that until your body is acclimated to the climate you are working in, your level of sweat alone will not be a good indication of how much water you’re losing, or how efficiently your body’s “climate control” is functioning. So, be aware of the symptoms of heat stress.
“Military personnel and endurance athletes alike regularly engage in high-intensity training. But exertional heatstroke is a life-threatening, exercise-induced condition that needs to be treated immediately. Anyone involved in vigorous exertion must be cautious of the real dangers of this condition. If your body temperature exceeds 104 degrees F, seek help immediately, particularly if your temperature has remained high for some time.
Importantly, medications should not be used to treat those afflicted. Instead, as a first step (given there are no life-threatening complications) attempt whole-body cooling before being transported anywhere for medical help. This involves cool water immersion. If that’s not possible, apply ice water towels and/or ice packs on to head, torso and extremities.”
Source: David R. Ray Branch Medical Clinic, Quantico, Virginia, USA.
If you normally live in a cold and dry climate, and are going to military bootcamp in a humid and hot area, your body must adjust. Likewise, if you’ve trained in a humid and hot climate but are deployed to a hot and dry climate, your body is going to respond differently until is it acclimated.
Be aware of what your body is telling you. And be sure that you are giving it all the nutritional support it needs as well as the amount of water it needs to transport those nutrients, support your cardiovascular system, maintain a safe body temperature, and protect the tissues of your most vital organs.