Most people know that to stay healthy, you need to drink water. Hydration is part of what helps your body function properly, and it helps you feel at your best.
The effects of dehydration for anyone can be uncomfortable at best — at worst; they can be dangerous. That's true for athletes as well, and if the effects are too serious, it might become impossible for them to compete at all, let alone at the top of their game. Regardless if you are a weekend sports warrior, marathon runner, involved in adult recreational sports, or participate in a serious league, hydration is key.
Sometimes, staying hydrated during exercise isn't as simple as just drinking water, which is why it's important for any athlete to understand the relationship between hydration and performance.
What's Your Hydration Status?
Hydration status refers to how much of a person's body weight is water compared to their typical day-to-day levels. For optimum health, water should account for roughly 70% to 75% of body weight in children, and closer to 60% to 65% of body weight in adults. At these levels, you're considered well hydrated.
In athletes, dehydration occurs when fluid losses — whether from sweating, increased core temperatures, or even breathing — exceed fluid consumed through both foods and beverages. Athletes can lose fluids rapidly during exercise, especially any exercise performed in hot or humid conditions.
Mild dehydration is generally defined as losing roughly 2% to 3% of one's body weight in water. For instance, if someone weighs 180 pounds, and they lose 2%, that is 3.6 pounds in water weight and indicates the start of dehydration.
The Effects of Dehydration on Sports Performance
Even in a state of mild dehydration, cells throughout the body — from the brain to muscles — cannot function properly. The blood begins to thicken slightly, making it more difficult for the heart to get oxygen-rich blood to those cells.
As the body's cells lose fluids, they also lose electrolytes — minerals/salts that aid in healthy cell signaling and function. During exercise, your cells excrete sodium, chloride and then potassium in the greatest quantities, largely through sweat. It's the dry sodium and chloride (salt) that can make your skin gritty or salty after a tough workout.
Electrolyte imbalances can exacerbate the effects of fluid losses in athletes, not only inhibiting performance and making a given workload feel much more difficult, but also raising heart rate, core temperature and increasing the risk of a dangerous heatstroke.
Smart Hydration Strategies for Sports
The first step to staying hydrated during sports is to already be well hydrated when entering training or competition. As a general rule, urine color is a convenient gauge of hydration status. Clear or light yellow urine signals adequate hydration — the darker that urine is, the more likely a person is to be dehydrated. Prior to exercise, athletes should also weigh themselves, ideally naked, to know what their weight is when they are well hydrated.
During exercise lasting less than one hour, water may be sufficient for maintaining hydration. Keep track of how much water you consume during your workout; because, this can help you narrow down the best average intake for your unique needs. While preventing dehydration is important, forcing yourself to drink water when you don't want or need it may have adverse effects on performance. One small study of college students published in the Biology of Sport found that exercise performance was negatively impacted by dictated drinking — they performed better when they chose to drink on their own.
If athletic events span more than an hour, occur in extreme temperatures or are particularly grueling, athletes will likely need to take extra steps to maintain hydration. During challenging exercise, athletes can lose 6% to 10% of their body weight through sweat. That's a lot of water, but it's also a lot of electrolytes. In these cases, it's important to consume an electrolyte-containing beverage like Pedialyte to replace fluids and electrolytes in the body.
Pedialyte provides sodium, potassium, and chloride, which are the main electrolytes lost, - as well as some glucose to help carry those electrolytes into the cells of the body. Because it has twice the amount of the key electrolyte sodium as leading sports drinks, Pedialyte is designed to replenish fluids more effectively. The leading sports drinks also have at least twice the amount of sugar as Pedialyte, and that can cause negative gastrointestinal symptoms.
Following exercise, athletes should weigh themselves, again naked (sweaty clothes can weigh you down), with a goal of losing as little weight as possible. Every pound lost between the beginning and end of an athletic event represents roughly 16 ounces of fluids lost. Excessive losses indicate that, during your next workout, you need to drink more. To replenish lost fluids and be prepared for the next game or training session, athletes should drink 1.5 times the amount of fluid that they lost during exercise.
Whether you're an amateur athlete or competing is your job, good hydration is essential to ensuring that you perform at your best every day.
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