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BTSC Interviews Sports Science Guru Dr. Bob Murray As NFL Training Camps Heat Up

LATROBE, PA - JULY 29:  Chris Kemoeatu #68 of the Pittsburgh Steelers, currently on the PUP list, takes a drink of water during training camp on July 29, 2011 at St Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
LATROBE, PA - JULY 29: Chris Kemoeatu #68 of the Pittsburgh Steelers, currently on the PUP list, takes a drink of water during training camp on July 29, 2011 at St Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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A little over two weeks ago, I received an email asking if I was interested in speaking with Dr. Bob Murray, who apparently ran the Gatorate Sports Science Institute for more than two decades before agreeing to join Powerade in a similar capacity. With temperatures soaring well into the triple digits throughout most of the country at the time, I thought why not? Thankfully the heat has tapered off and the next week looks like it will be absolutely perfect in Pittsburgh, but there's teams still negotiating scalding temperatures in other parts of the country. Hopefully all stay safe and healthy throughout the remainder of August and the first week of September before the 2011 NFL season kicks off.

Below is some basic background information on Dr. Murray from the original correspondence, followed by an email Q&A between the two of us on Friday. Thanks to Dr. Murray and Lauren Fleming at Catalyst for arranging the quick exchange.

I thought you may be interested in speaking with someone who has a lot of expertise and insight into the unique conditions that players will be facing heading into the 2011 season and some of the health concerns they might face because of it.

Dr. Bob Murray is a leading sports scientist in how heat affects athletes. This expertise is relevant during a heat wave summer in which NFL players will (eventually) report to training camp without any team-run training sessions during the entire off-season.

Murray ran the Gatorade Sports Science institute from 1984-2008, and now is working with my client, POWERADE. In a matter of speaking, he's the "Dr. James Andrews" of the dehydration/heat fatigue world.

How to combat this mental and physical fatigue? Murray has told teams (the Texans contacted him last week) how they should modify their training camps to prepare for what could be the most unusual training camp in league history.

To the questions:

1) Can you talk to us a little bit about the move from Gatorade to Powerade in '08. Were you looking for a fresh start and new challenge after nearly 25 years? What is exciting about being at Powerade at this point in time and how has the product and brand changed since your arrival?

Dr. Murray: The opportunity to lead the Gatorade Sports Science Institute for so many years was a wonderful personal and professional experience. When I retired in 2008, I was anxious to try something new, and the idea of starting a consulting business seemed like a natural next step. So when Powerade asked if I was willing to help support their sports science efforts, I jumped at the opportunity. Powerade is growing rapidly and they want to make certain that the formulas for their current and future products for athletes are based in sound science. As the Powerade business expands, it will be exciting to provide some of the scientific insights that help support that growth.

2) Where can Powerade take its product in the next five years? Ten?
Dr. Murray: There are lots of different opportunities for formulating sports drinks and other sports nutrition products that benefit athletes and physically active consumers. Part of my job is to help Powerade identify opportunities that are based on sound science. As new research teaches us more about how the human body responds to nutrition, Powerade can take advantage of that knowledge to formulate products that provide additional benefits based on that science.

3) Are there different challenges to staying hydrated depending on the sport?

Dr. Murray: Yes, the challenge of staying hydrated does often depend on the sport, or more specifically, on the constraints imposed by some sports. For example, during soccer matches, there are limited opportunities for players to hydrate, so it's critical that they take advantage of every opportunity to replace their sweat losses, especially so during half-time. Distance running is another example where hydration opportunities can be limited, especially during long training runs. Sports such as football, basketball, hockey, and baseball provide athletes more opportunities to drink, and that goes a long way in helping athletes avoid the performance and health-related dangers of dehydration.

4) Do you foresee there being more instances of dehydration this next few weeks because there are not two-a-days and coaches might be more demanding in the precious practice time they do have?

Dr. Murray: My guess is that the players, coaches, and support staff will adjust fairly quickly to the new practice environment. My experience is that in the NFL, there is a widespread understanding of the importance of staying well hydrated, particularly during training and games in hot weather. The biggest risk during NFL training camp occurs during the first five days of camp in those players who aren't accustomed to working out in the heat. But all NFL staffs are well educated on those risks, so I don't foresee any major issues. However, it's impossible to predict who heat illness will strike and that's one reason why the NFL constantly reminds players to stay hydrated with sports drinks such as Powerade.

5) How do you stay abreast of what's going on at training camps in order to identify where more of Powerade's expertise and information might be of use.

Dr. Murray: Nowadays, I rely on my contacts and Powerade's contacts to keep up to speed on the current challenges in training camps. We're always happy to help out where we can, so teams are welcome to ask us to pitch in whenever our help might be needed.

6) Can you remember a summer being this hot? If so, when?

Dr. Murray: The 1995 heat wave in Chicago was responsible for over 700 "excess" deaths. As I recall, we had roughly five days over 100 degrees and that kind of heat stress makes it tough for all of us to stay well hydrated and threatens the health of older individuals, especially those with prevailing health conditions such as heart disease.

7) How far along have NFL teams come in terms of their awareness of how to properly stay hydrated?

Dr. Murray: NFL teams have become quite savvy when it comes to hydration and nutrition. For example, I've long thought that the Steelers' have a secret weapon in John Norwig and his staff. I've always been impressed with their preparation, their desire to learn about new science, their concern for the players, and the practical steps they take to make sure the players are well hydrated. Their efforts go a long way in protecting the health and performance of the players.

8) Can you clarify how to properly stay hydrated -- does it take a day or two of proper fluids intake to achieve maximum hydration? Or can you do so the day of?

Dr. Murray: In training camp, hydration has to be an everyday priority. The players can lose massive amounts of sweat and if that sweat loss isn't replaced, the resulting dehydration will sap performance and increase the risk of heat illness. When I speak to NFL players, I try to emphasize that being well hydrated is the easiest and most important step they can take to protect their performance at a time when their jobs are literally on the line. The best way to stay well hydrated is to drink during exercise to replace as much of the sweat loss as possible. Players are accustomed to weighing in and out, and that simple step helps them understand how much water weight they've lost. Players who lose a lot of weight are those who need to learn how to drink more during workouts. Sometimes that's tough to do, so rehydrating after exercise is also important. Interestingly, one of the reasons that sports drinks like Powerade contain carbohydrates and electrolytes is to stimulate rapid fluid absorption and help keep that fluid in the body, rather than being lost as urine.

9) Mike Tomlin loves to wear all black at training camp so his players don't have any excuse to complain about the heat. Is it in fact true that wearing dark clothes will make you hotter? If so, how much and how might that relate to hydration? Is Tomlin making a good point in a dangerous way?

Dr. Murray: Black clothing does absorb more of the sun's energy, so that makes it tougher for players to shed the heat they produce during workouts. However, that excess heat is only a small fraction of the heat in comparison to what the players produce during workouts. Black clothing adds to their heat load, but not in an insurmountable way. A bigger impediment to heat loss is the clothing and equipment the players wear. That's why it's important for football players to gradually increase the amount of clothing and equipment worn during training camp. Their bodies need a week or two to adapt to exercise in the heat and staying well hydrated is a critical part of that adaptation. Too much clothing too soon can overwhelm their ability to lose heat and result in heat illness