Optimizing Hydration for Athletes

Optimizing Hydration for Athletes

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Hydration status affects athletic performance more than you may realize.

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MAR. 16, 2023   4 MINUTE READ

Water makes up two-thirds of the body's composition, and one way that humans lose water is through sweat, which is amplified during exercise. Sweat is more than just water. It also includes electrolytes, such as sodium, chloride, magnesium and potassium. These electrolytes help the body retain fluid, making them a crucial part of hydration for athletes.

In a webinar by Abbott and Real Madrid, medical and nutrition experts discuss how inadequate hydration can hinder athletic performance and why it's so important to assess dehydration and rehydration status in elite athletes. Here's a synopsis.

The Impact of Dehydration on Athletic Performance

In simple terms, fluid intake must match fluid loss to maintain a well-hydrated state. And fluid loss occurs at different rates for different athletes based on a variety of circumstances, such as body size and fitness level, exercise intensity, urination frequency, clothing and equipment, and activity duration. The combination of humidity, temperature and level of heat acclimation can also play a role.

"The process of losing fluid during exercise — otherwise known as dehydration — implies lower blood volume, which puts a strain on the cardiovascular system and reduces blood flow to the peripheral parts of the body with a clear negative impact on the player's performance." 

Dr. Niko Mihic, head of Real Madrid's medical team

Research shows that fluid loss greater than 2% of body weight can affect athletic endurance. For example, think of a 150-pound athlete who loses 3 pounds during exercise. At this level of sweat loss, the body heats up rapidly and may not be able to cool down properly. When fluid losses aren't restored, the body reaches a hypohydrated state, which can be associated with muscle cramps, impaired endurance, increased perceived exertion and reduced alertness and reaction time.

Rehydration for Athletes: Key Strategies

Maintaining adequate hydration before, during and after exercise (practice or competition) requires intentional fluid habits among athletes. Below is a list of key hydration strategies according to the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and American College of Sports Medicine.

Before Exercise

Two to four hours leading up to exercise, an athlete should drink 2 to 4 milliliters per pound of body weight in fluids. For example, a 150-pound athlete would require 300 to 600 milliliters (approximately 10 to 20 fluid ounces) of water or an electrolyte drink. Urine should be pale yellow in color before exercise. This strategy can help to maximize safety and performance during exercise.

During Exercise

The goal during exercise is to maintain hydration and not allow more than a 2% loss in body mass. Generally, an athlete should drink approximately 14 to 28 ounces per hour; however, needs should be customized to an athlete's tolerance, experience and external factors (e.g., outside temperature, breaks for hydration, exercise intensity, etc.).

An athlete can calculate their sweat rate by subtracting their post-exercise body weight from their pre-exercise body weight and dividing it by the exercise duration. For example, if an athlete loses 2 pounds (or 32 ounces) during 1.5 hours of exercise, this equates to a sweat rate of about 21 ounces per hour. Therefore, they should ingest this volume to maintain hydration. Understanding sweat rate will allow an athlete to help maintain hydration for future practices or competitions.

After Exercise

The goal after training is to drink approximately 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of weight loss during exercise. Supplementing with food that contains carbs, protein and some fat will also support muscle recovery.

Composition of Rehydration Beverages

Water is necessary for hydration, but electrolytes are crucial for healthy nerve function, muscle contraction and enhanced fluid uptake. Therefore, beverage composition can play a key role in both hydration and rehydration.

"To address fluid needs and prevent impaired athletic performance, it is crucial to ensure adequate provisions of water, electrolyte and carbohydrates. For example, sodium helps the body retain fluid, reduce urine production and prevent muscle cramps, and glucose and sodium work together to help promote gut absorption." 

Dr. Hakim Bouzamondo, head of Research and Development at Abbott

Pedialyte®Sport is a smart hydration solution for athletes as it contains five key electrolytes: sodium to avoid muscle cramps, chloride for fluid balance, potassium for muscle and nerve function, magnesium for muscle health and phosphate for muscle repair. It has a scientifically designed balance of sugar and electrolytes to replenish fluids and replace electrolytes lost during exercise.

Powered by Science Pedialyte Sport

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Elite athletes don't have the option of taking a day off when they aren't feeling their best. To improve performance, they must be prepared to work harder day after day and that means working out. Which also means a lot of sweat. 

A new survey finds the majority of adults in the U.S. who exercise intensely understand the importance of maintaining hydration throughout a workout (93%) and that hydration is important for muscle recovery (89%), yet many have misconceptions about the type of hydration that may impact their ability to perform and recover optimally.

The survey conducted on behalf of Abbott by The Harris Poll found 46% of people who report regular, intense exercise at least three days per week believe that energy drinks and soda can aid in rehydration after a strenuous  workout. This conflicts with guidance from the scientific community that these drinks can contribute to dehydration due to large amounts of sugar and insufficient levels of electrolytes. 1,2,3

During a workout dehydration occurs when fluid losses--whether from sweating, increased core temperature or even breathing-- exceed fluid consumed through both foods and drinks.

Dehydration can hinder physical performance while out on a run or playing a sport. That's where a rehydration solution such as Pedialyte® Sport comes in. 

What Are Electrolytes?

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Electrolytes are molecules that are critical to both your body's hydration levels and cellular function. Given their direct relationship with the body’s muscle and brain functioning, many people increase their intake of electrolytes when working out or playing sports. But what is the function of electrolytes in everyday use?


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