The Science of Hydration For Athletes

hydration for athletes

Athletes chug water during practices and games leading us to assume they are being hydrated, but isn’t necessarily true. Hydration for athletes isn’t that simple. There are many factors that come into play and an athletes performance will be compromised if they are in fact, dehydrated.

Most people think that hydration is only important during physical activity, but it’s actually important to keep your body hydrated all day long. When you’re physically active, you sweat and

This can be visibly seen when an athlete steps on the scale before and after the event. Changes in body weight indicate the amount of fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat and metabolic processes.

The Dehydration World

It isn’t just athletes that should be concerned about hydration. In fact, dehydration is one of the most common problems in the world. It’s estimated that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. That number might be even higher for athletes because they lose water through sweat and respiration at a faster rate than sedentary people.

The hydration status of any individual can be understood by certain issues the athlete experiencing.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

The first step to hydration is knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration:

  • Thirst
  • Dark colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Muscle cramps

Many of these symptoms are expressed by athletes well before practices and games. It’s easy to understand an urgent desire for water when you see a sweating athlete, but it is easy to miss the dehydration symptoms that they might express off the field.

Thirst? Grab a glass of water.

Dark colored urine? Maybe it’s the b-vitamins from your pill.

Fatigue? You’ve got a lot on your plate.

Headache? Maybe your neck is tight.

Lightheaded or dizzy? You need to eat some food.

Muscle cramps? Go stretch.

Only once we establish that the athlete is following a proper hydration strategy, will we determine that there may be other issues causing these symptoms.

How to Prevent Dehydration in Athletes

To prevent dehydration you should :

  • Drink fluids regularly throughout the day, even when you’re not thirsty.
  • Drink more fluid than usual when participating in any physical activity or when it’s hot outside.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake, as both can contribute to dehydration.
  • Eat water rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.

This rule applies not just to athletes but all individuals. Athletes are coming into practices and games dehydrated, so it is no wonder that their performance suffers and their energy crashes once the exertion is over.

How Much Water Should an Athlete Drink a Day?

The answer to how much water an athlete should drink a day is relative. It depends on the athlete’s weight, how active they are, what type of sport they are involved in.

Adequate hydration for the wrestler is different from the swimmer. The swimmers fluid intake will be different than the marathon runner.

The sweat rate of the activity is based on heart rate intensity, climate, duration, and other factors. All of which give an athlete a different amount of hourly sweat loss.

To determine the right amount of hydration an athlete needs, you will need to calculate their fluid needs based on their body mass, sport, and the environment.

You will have to consider the different experience each athlete has during a practice or game. Here are a few examples of water loss during physical exertion.

  • A 150 lb male that runs for 30 minutes in cool weather needs about 16.
  • A 200 lb football player in pads during a hot, humid practice needs about 32 oz per hour.
  • A 100 lb female soccer player during a game needs about 20 oz per hour.

Dehydration is a serious issue for athletes. It can lead to cramping, fatigue, heat illness, and impaired performance. Use these hydration strategies to keep your athletes safe and performing at their best.

Hydration For the Sweating Athlete

Nutrition will always be an important aspect of sports performance. As a sports nutritionist, it is our job to look beyond general information and look into the science of sports performance. This is true for hydration how we approach hydration in athletes.

Drinking water does not mean an athlete is rehydrating. In order for an athlete to rehydrate, they need to replace the electrolytes that are lost in sweat. The major electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium.

Sodium: This is the most important electrolyte for athletes because it is responsible for fluid retention. Most people consume too much sodium which can lead to high

Potassium: This electrolyte is responsible for muscle contractions. Low levels of potassium can lead to cramping.

Chloride: This electrolyte helps with fluid balance and is also lost through sweat.

Magnesium: This electrolyte is involved in energy production and muscle contractions.

Athletes need to hydrate before, during, and after practices and games to maintain a high level of athletic performance.

Keeping the Athlete Hydrated

Again, drinking plan water isn’t the best choice for athletic or exercise performance. reverse osmosis water pulls the vital minerals from the water which can lead to mineral leaching. Athletes should be hydrating on and off the field with spring water and water with added minerals.

Don’t just use any sports drink during practice and games. Read the labels an electrolyte drink that has the right mineral balance and fast digesting form of carbohydrate that easily converts to glucose in the body.

Natural Sources of Electrolytes

Coconut water is a great natural option for hydration and electrolyte replacement. It contains potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium. Coconut water can be a little sweet for some athletes so it can be diluted with water or added to smoothies.

Other fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, celery, and spinach are great sources of hydration. These foods also contain electrolytes that can help with hydration. Since these foods contain fiber, juicing them will make digestion easier.

Cucumber is great for hydration because it contains EZ Water. This substance helps the body retain water and hydrate cells. It also contains electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Cucumber juice can be added to other juices or smoothies for flavor and hydration.

Electrolyte Supplements For Athletes

For urgent electrolyte replenishment you can use electrolyte pills or gels . These are easy to carry and can be taken without water. They are a great option for long endurance events or when an athlete becomes nausues and cannot keep fluids down.

electrolyte supplements are not a replacement for proper hydration and nutrition. They should only be used in addition to these things.

Don’t make your decision based on athlete endorsements. Understand the research and science that goes into an electrolyte supplement and see how sports nutritionists feel about the product.

Electrolyte supplements are not regulated by the FDA so make sure to research them before you buy. Some can contain banned substances such as glycerol monostearate, so it is important to know what is in them if your athlete is competing in a tested sport.

How often should they be drinking water during practices or games?

Frequency of hydration is important to prevent bloating and gastrointestinal distress. Sipping on water or electrolyte drinks every 15-20 minutes is ideal. If an athlete is only drinking when they are thirsty, they are already dehydrated.

Monitoring hydration levels can be done by checking weight before and after practices or games. For every pound lost, the athlete should consume 16-24 oz of fluid. It is unlikely that you will keep a scale on the sidelines of the court, so this strategy is best for athletes where you are trying to identify if dehydration is an issue.

Staying hydrated for any form of prolonged exercise should not happen by chance. Whether it is a lengthy training session or athletic performance, a hydration plan should be put in place.

Advice for Extremely Dehydrated Athletes

Extremely dehydrated athletes should not consume large amounts of water at once. They need to rehydrate slowly over the course of several hours with a hydration drink that has electrolytes. They should also be monitored for signs of hyponatremia which can occur when someone drinks too much water without enough sodium.

Heat Exhaustion and Dehydration

For outdoor sports such as endurance athletes where the sport is not temperature controlled, reduce the dehydrated athletes body temperature gradually by using cooling pads or ice on head, hands and feet of the body.

Introvenus Fluid Replacement

In extreme situations such as heat exhaustion, you may need electrolyte I.V. fluid replacement. Intravenus electrolyte and fluid replacement should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

A sports med qualified to help with this rehydration strategy can help the athlete feel better in the fastest amount of time.

For outdoor sports such as endurance athletes where the sport is not temperature controlled, reduce the dehydrated athletes body temperature gradually by using cooling pads or ice on head, hands and feet of the body.

Advice for Youth Athletes

Youth athletes should be encouraged to hydrate throughout the day, not just during practices and games. They should have access to water and hydration drinks at all times. Parents should be aware of how much their child is sweating during practices and games and make sure they are consuming enough fluids.

Coaches also need to provide adequate breaks for young athletes to hydrate. If your athletes coach is not allowing for these breaks, explain to them why it is important for your athlete.

Learn the Science of Sports Nutrition

In this online Sports Nutrition Course, you will learn advanced hydration strategies for athlete. You will also learn how to create meal plans for athletes, how to improve energy levels, and how to optimize sports performance.

Enroll Now!