Hydration for Athletes: What You Need to Know to Maximize Performance

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An athlete drinking water to hydrate

 

With the warmer months approaching and more outdoor activities beginning, staying hydrated is extremely important. Uniforms, equipment, length of activity, and hot temperatures all play an important role when it comes to dehydration among athletes. Did you know that football players wearing uniforms can become dehydrated after as little as 30 minutes of play? Dehydration can have serious implications and can have a significant impact on an athlete’s performance at practice or on game day. That’s why we decided to offer some droplets of information on proper hydration for athletes.

Why Is It Important to Hydrate?

With more and more studies proving that drinking as much water as possible is essential to our bodies, it’s even more important for athletes. But why is water so important? 

Bottom line, about 60% of our body is made up of water, therefore it’s crucial that we continuously replenish our bodies with it.  By not properly hydrating we run the risk of becoming dehydrated, and this can have a serious impact on our well-being.

 

What Happens When You Become Dehydrated?

Contrary to popular belief, drinking fluids when a person feels thirsty is not a good indicator for staying properly hydrated. Often, once the first pangs of thirst are felt, the body is actually telling us we’re already in a water deficit. Dehydration occurs when a person loses more fluid than they’re taking in. So, what happens when an athlete becomes dehydrated?

 

What happens when an athlete becomes dehydrated

 

It’s important that parents, coaches, trainers, and athletes are able to recognize the signs of dehydration and know when it's time to take a break.

Want to learn how to prevent heat illness? Check out our infographic here.

 

What Are the Best Practices for Keeping Athletes Hydrated?

To make sure your athletes stay properly hydrated, there are a few steps that should be taken before, during, and post exercise. By applying these best practices, you’ll ensure your athletes are performing their best.

Pre-Exercise:

It’s important to start off the workout well hydrated. Before your athletes exercise, have them drink 2-2.5 (big!) cups of fluid two hours prior.

During:

Specific recommendations for how much fluid to drink while exercising varies from one individual to another based on weight, sweat rate, and the environment. However, it’s important to balance out the fluids lost through sweating. A good guideline is to intake fluids on a consistent schedule. Start with ½-1 cup of fluid every 20 minutes. If the weather conditions are hot or the workout is intense, you can up this amount.

After-exercise:

Replenishing liquids after working out is extremely important. To know how much to drink post-workout, have your athletes weigh themselves right before and after working out. A good recommendation is to drink 3 cups of water for every pound lost.

 

Squash player staying hydrated with sports drink
What's Better: Water or a Sports Drink?

Now that you know when and how much your athletes should drink, you’re probably wondering what they should drink? A frequently debated topic is water versus sports drinks. One rule of thumb is that water should be drunk for any physical activity that lasts for less than one hour, while a sports drink should be consumed after a longer or more intense workout.

Sports drinks are great for longer and harder workouts as the body tends to lose more electrolytes through sweat, and sport drinks help replenish them. If levels of electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, diminish too greatly, the body can react with headaches and muscle cramping. Therefore, it’s important for your athletes to pick a sports drink that has sodium and potassium in it, as well as carbohydrates. Carbohydrates offer the body energy, which is helpful after a long workout when the body needs to refuel.

At the end of the day, the athlete knows what he personally prefers or what his body needs - make sure they find the right balance.

Is It Possible to Over-Hydrate?

With all this talk about staying hydrated, it is possible to drink too much? The answer is yes. Drinking too much before, during, or after working out can cause hyponatremia, which causes low blood sodium levels. Symptoms include vomiting, confusion, swollen hands and feet, wheezing, weight gain during exercise. So while it’s important to keep up with the water intake, don’t go overboard!

There you have it, everything you need to know on proper hydration for athletes. Apply these guidelines and get your athletes performing their best at all times.

Have any tips on keeping your athletes healthy and hydrated? We’d love to hear them! Join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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