Summer is the time of year that firefighters are bombarded with hydration information – for an important reason! Staying hydrated on the fireground can prevent a sudden cardiac event. This is crucial considering 46% of the line of duty deaths are caused by sudden cardiac events. Maintaining hydration boosts blood volume, reducing the workload and strain on your heart. Adequate hydration will also prevent that “hangover” headachy feeling that can come after a hot call.
Fireground hydration starts before you step foot in the station. At a minimum, the recommendation for first responders is 91 oz of fluid per day for women and 125 oz per day for men. This is the starting point without hot calls and high-intensity workouts.
All fluids count! That includes water, coffee, tea, juices, smoothies, etc. Caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea won’t cause dehydration, but you might pee more in the first hour of drinking them. Coffee does not appear to impact total body hydration over the course of 24 hours. Doses of caffeine of 300 mg or more may compound the effects of dehydration. Limit the caffeine per serving to 200 mg or less.
Firefighters lose 50-70 oz of sweat within 30-45 minutes on the fireground. Water alone won’t replace this much sweat loss; you have to include electrolytes! Sports drinks are a great option, but consider adding a salty snack like pretzels to replace sodium losses.
Sports drink is not particularly high in sodium, which is important to replace considering sweat losses. Oral rehydration packets like Liquid IV, Drip Drop, or Pedialyte Sport have more electrolytes and portability relative to sports drinks. If you are a salty, heavy sweater, consider storing a few packets on the rig or in a PIC kit. The earlier you drink these packets, the better you will feel after. One to two packets are adequate for an hour or more of high-intensity activity or overhaul.
Focus on replacing fluid, carbs, and protein after a fire-related call. Carbohydrates are important to help shuttle protein to the muscle for recovery. Fruit is a healthy source of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Aim for 16-32 oz immediately after a fire, keeping in mind that you may have to drink more than usual the rest of the day.
Of course, many departments will order pizza after large alarms. Pizza is not an ideal choice, but if you’re starving, don’t beat yourself up over it. To make it a better choice, do 2 slices with a protein shake. The main concern with pizza is the fat content. Cutting back from 3-4 slices to 2 slices and a protein shake will reduce the fat quantity and balance out the meal.
Consider a smoothie to help replace fluid, carbs, and protein. Check out the Reeses and Berry Blast smoothie recipes posted this month. Both of these smoothies are great for replacing fluid, electrolytes, carbs, and protein. The berry smoothie is high in antioxidants, which can help with recovery. Antioxidants are also associated with cancer prevention. Consuming more fruit and veggies after an alarm can help with recovery in more ways than one!
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F
Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.