Production arborists are industrial athletes. They physically exert themselves for a prolonged period of time and utilize a tremendous amount of energy, all while working in a variety of environmental conditions.

However, not all arborists care for their bodies like they should. Maintaining peak physical performance can make an arborist more productive and efficient, which can benefit both small and large companies by decreasing the risk of injury and greatly improving productivity.

Basic principles

Production arborists can enhance physical performance as well as decrease the risk of injury by following some basic principles. These include: proper nutritional intake; appropriate rest and recovery; adequate sleep; proper training and conditioning; and adequate hydration.

Proper nutritional intake includes eating healthy carbohydrates and fats to be utilized for energy, as well as protein for tissue repair. Rest and recovery involve taking time off from physical activity, allowing the body to heal and refuel. Adequate sleep allows the body to repair itself, while training and conditioning for arborists is done on the job during the sawdust biathlon of climbing and dragging brush. Adequate hydration is needed for a variety of bodily functions, including allowing the body to cool itself.

Time to cool off

Arborists use a tremendous amount of energy during their workday, whether dragging brush or climbing. When the body utilizes energy heat is produced. As with mechanical equipment, increased heat must be dissipated from the body to prevent overheating and maintain a core temperature within a few degrees of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The body does this by cooling itself.

The body cools itself progressively in three ways. As the body initially heats up, there is an increase of blood flow to the skin, removing heat from the core. If activity and heat production continue, our breathing becomes heavier, expelling heat during exhalation. The final stage of cooling as activity continues is sweating. Sweat beads up on the skin and cools through evaporation.

Sweat must evaporate in order to cool the body, therefore if the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate and cooling is not as effective. In high humidity environments, moisture-wicking clothing can aid in the evaporation of sweat from the surface of the skin. The body can lose up to three liters of water in the form of sweat in one single hour, but can only absorb one liter from fluid absorption.

When working in the heat, there is a risk of heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can lead to death. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot and if not cooled down can lead to heat stroke, which occurs when the internal body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit and is life threatening at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Proper hydration is one way to decrease the risk of heat-related illness.

Hydration is crucial

The adult human body is made up of approximately 60 percent of water. Adequate hydration is necessary for a variety of bodily functions, including effective cooling through sweating.

Two ways to determine the body’s hydration needs include the use of body weight and by determining sweat rate. Hydration needs can change based on the environmental conditions of temperature and humidity, therefore determining sweat rate should be repeated as environmental conditions change. For example, wearing a T-shirt while working in 41 degree Fahrenheit weather would allow the body to cool primarily by increasing blood flow to the skin, and there would not be as much water loss through sweat, compared to working in a T-shirt on an 82 degree Fahrenheit day.

Proper hydration needs to begin prior to activity. Fluids for proper hydration should be noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic and noncarbonated. Water is best, but electrolyte replacement is also necessary for production arborists working and sweating for more than two hours per day. Sports drinks can replace some electrolytes, but are high in sugar. Also, consider making your own electrolyte replacement.

Talking dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough water for bodily functions. It can range from mild to severe, which can be life threatening. Signs of dehydration include: dark-colored urine, difficulty concentrating, feeling thirsty, cramping, headache, low blood pressure and feeling lightheaded. Dehydration impairs coordination, makes concentration difficult, decreases performance, causes quicker fatigue and afternoon sluggishness, slows reaction time, increases the risk of heat- related illness, and ultimately increases the risk of an accident in production arborists, whose work is precise and physically demanding. Dehydration will not only affect the way one feels, but also production and precision on the job, which can be life threatening for an arborist.

Determining Hydration Needs Using the Sweat Rate

  • Weigh yourself at the beginning of the day before food intake;
  • Track your fluid intake in fluid ounces for the day;
  • Weigh yourself at the end of the day before the evening meal

The amount of weight loss during the day (in fluid ounces), plus the amount of fluid consumed during the workday (in fluid ounces) equals the amount needed to replace sweat loss and prevent dehydration. For example, an arborist weighing 160 pounds at the start of the day drinks 80 ounces of fluid during the day and weighs 158 pounds at the end of the workday.

Consumed + weight loss = hydration needs/day | 80 ounces + 32 ounces = 112 ounces (3.3 liters)

* Hydration needs change based on the environmental conditions of temperature and humidity. Approximately 15.33 fluid ounces equals 1 pound; for ease of calculations, use 16 fluid ounces equals 1 pound.

According to a demonstration by Dr. John Ball, a professor of forestry at South Dakota State University, who presented at the International Society of Arboriculture Conference in Toronto in August 2013, an approximate 3 percent loss of body weight was observed in arborists after four hours of climbing, indicating dehydration. Dehydration decreases performance and increases reaction time, which was noted with a 20 percent increase in the time required to complete the same climbing tasks later in the day.

Other considerations

Although dehydration is more common, it is possible to overhydrate, which causes low sodium levels in the blood (hyponatremia) and can be life threatening. To avoid hyponatremia, electrolyte replenishment is important. The body uses electrolytes to ensure proper cell functioning. They regulate water balance and play a vital role in muscle, nerve and brain function. Sweat is composed of body water and electrolytes. The most common electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride.

When sweating for short intervals, between 90 and 120 minutes, electrolytes can be replaced by normal food intake. However, if activity lasts more than 120 minutes, electrolyte replacement may be necessary, which is the case for most production tree care workers.

Sports drinks are most often considered for electrolyte replenishment, however they contain high amounts of sugar and other additives. Sea salt, coconut water and citrus fruits (oranges, lemon, limes, grapefruit) are good natural sources for electrolyte replenishment. Proper hydration includes both fluid and electrolyte replenishment.

Ensuring proper hydration of tree care workers will make them feel better, enhance their performance to improve productivity and efficiency, decrease the risk of an accident, and can ultimately improve the profitability of a tree care company.