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.

Optimizing Hydration for Athletes Optimizing Hydration for Athletes

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.

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"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.

The Impact of Hydration on Marathon Training

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One of the biggest challenges of marathon training is staying hydrated. When runners are training during hot summers and pushing themselves to the limit, their hydration can drop to concerning levels.

Not only can dehydration decrease performance, but it can also be life-threatening. When training in the heat, runners should follow a hydration plan to maximize performance and stay safe. 

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To Recover Like an Elite Athlete Focus on Hydration for Recovery

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From day to day, elite athletes' workouts change to emphasize a variety of different strengths and skills and prevent over-training of specific muscles or joints. Over time, intense athletic training improves performance by breaking down the body's muscles, depleting them of their energy stores, and then recovering and repairing them to allow optimal strength and performance. If athletes don't recover properly from their strenuous training regimen, they can't perform at the elite level, and that's where proper nutrition and hydration come into play. 

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