‘Urine, Blood and Muscle’: the human body under stress

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Brent Ruby, the keynote speaker the Midnight Sun Science Symposium on April 14, gives a talk on his research into the environmental stresses fire fighters experience while in the field and how to manage them. Amelia Huff/ Sun Star Photo credit: Amelia Huff

There was talk of firefighting and physical fitness at UAF’s 8th annual Midnight Sun Science Symposium April 13 and 14. The symposium is an opportunity for undergraduates to present on their research, with subjects ranging from DNA repair to invasive Alaskan species. The symposium also offers a platform for professional researchers such as this year’s keynote speaker Brent Ruby.

His talk, entitled “20 Years of Chasing, Urine, Blood & Muscle,” regarded his research on the physiological demands of firefighters who specialize in containing wild fires, also known as ‘hotshots.’ Hotshots have a particularly demanding job, often working up to 18 hours a day during fire season. Most of their activities are highly physically taxing such as traveling long distances over uneven terrain carrying heavy weights and cutting down trees.

By taking urine, blood and muscle samples from hotshots during their work he has developed a more refined understanding of human dietary needs while undergoing extreme physical labor. One of his key findings was that mood and work output under such conditions are greatly improved by having small snacks throughout the day, instead of the typical three meal structure of breakfast lunch and dinner. He also learned that the hotshots were often short of carbohydrates and has begun developing a supplement specially designed to make up for that deficit.

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Brent Ruby, the keynote speaker the Midnight Sun Science Symposium on April 14, gives a talk on his research into the environmental stresses fire fighters experience while in the field and how to manage them. Amelia Huff/ Sun Star Photo credit: Amelia Huff

He also learned that the hotshots were often short of carbohydrates and has begun developing a supplement specifically designed to make up for that deficit.

During his work with the hotshots he had a few opportunities to study cases of heat stroke. He found that, contrary to popular belief, dehydration wasn’t usually a factor during these events. Rather heat stroke was more likely to be caused by the firefighter pushing himself too hard, regardless of how much water he or she was drinking at the time.

Using these insights Rudy is building an app called “The Black” which will provide hotshots and other extreme endurance athletes with information on how to remain healthy during both the on and off seasons.

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