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Hydration

Hydration For Athletes: Importance And Planning

hydration-for-athletes

Hydration is one of the most important aspects for athletes in achieving the best of their performance. When it comes to competition and staying ahead in the game, adequate hydration is like a miracle booster.

Fluids and electrolytes are the key drivers in boosting the energy levels of athletes and thus maintaining optimum hydration is on the priority list of athletes.

Importance of hydration for athletes

Almost every measurement of performance – aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and reaction time – decreases with as little as 2% dehydration.

No matter if you are exercising just for recreation or you are a professional athlete, good hydration is equally important. Why? Let us get a detailed insight.

  • The correct amount of water intake helps in maintaining blood volume, regulating body temperature as well as maintaining muscle contractions.
  • When athletes undergo a lot of strenuous high-intensity workouts, there is an obvious loss of water and electrolytes from the body in the form of sweat. Consuming liquids replenishes the fluids lost during exercise. 
  • An adequate hydration status calls for optimum muscle function and helps in improving the physical performance of the athletes.
  • Heat stress is one of the major issues experienced by many athletes while practicing in hot weather conditions. Right amounts of fluid intake prevent the incidences of heat stress by keeping the body rejuvenated.

Facts state that a loss of sweat equal to 2% of body weight can lead to a great deal of reduction in the physical and mental performance of athletes.

In addition to dehydration affecting the capacity for work, if the body loses its fluid stores by perspiration more than 2% of the body weight, then this can lead to serious health complications like diarrhea, vomiting, GI problems, etc.

Hydration plan to improve performance

Following a  proper hydration plan is a good practice when you step into high-intensity exercises.

Well, crafting out your hydration plan requires your close observation the most in association with your fluid intake and habits.

Depending upon your daily fluid consumption, your workout sessions, and your body’s reactivity towards the fluids, a detailed hydration plan can be easily sketched out.

As already discussed, the foremost step is to keep a record of your body weight before you even start creating a plan for yourself. Bodyweight is a potential component that affects and decides your fluid intake amounts. After this, you can apply metric calculations to conclude your final fluid requirements. 

Usually, a basic hydration plan requires you to have a detailed track of your weight before, during, and after the physical activity along with the intensity levels of each of your sessions.

Once you have all this data in hand, it becomes easier to identify your fluid intake requirements. In this way, you can improve your performance and can achieve your target score without feeling dehydrated or facing any health complications.

Detailed hydration plan

Pre-workout

The key goal is to remain adequately hydrated even before you start your physical activity. By hydrating prior does not mean seconds before your activity or performance.

As athletes, anticipate your thirst and drink water when you feel you are thirsty. Have your intake in sips rather than consuming a whole bottle in one go.

According to experts, consuming around 400 to 600 milliliters of fluids approximately two hours before intense exercise is a good practice.

You can also calculate your pre-workout fluid intake if you have your before and after workout body weights value in hand.

During workout

During your activity, make sure you are consuming enough fluids to compensate for the water lost through sweat. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, young athletes drink 1 – 1.5 liters or 34 – 50 ounces of water per hour during the activity.

This brings us to the notion that underconsumption and overconsumption of fluids are both foul plays. 

What we need is an optimum amount of fluid intake which can replenish our lost body stores. Having a sports drink along with your water is helpful and will provide additional benefits in staying hydrated.

Post-workout

After the physical activity, athletes need to focus on their fluid deficit which was lost during the activity. Replacing these fluids after your workout will restore hydration, improve recovery, reduce hypo-hydration symptoms, and decrease post-exercise fatigue.

Experts recommend consuming 1.5 liters of fluids for every kilogram after a workout to replenish fluids. The best way is to get an average of your fluid losses of a few weeks. This would help you identify the fluid amount you need to consume after every workout and plan accordingly. 

One of the most crucial observations to make here is to watch out for your body weight to monitor your lost sweat. If you lost plus or minus 1.5% bodyweight, then you need not worry. But if the number exceeds 1.5%, then you are on the downhill side and should start rehydrating yourself as soon as possible.

Recommended daily water intake for athletes

“Hydrating according to thirst?”

“Drinking water only when you are thirsty?”

These are the two most common questions that arise when it comes to deciding for a daily water intake recommendation. The truth is your fluid intake depends upon many factors like age, gender, sex, body type, type of exercise, sweat levels, weather conditions, the other diet, etc. So, your hydration requirements will vary accordingly. 

Three liters is the absolute minimum requirement of fluid intake for athletes on non-training days. Intense exercising calls for higher than average fluid consumption. Notice that this is a minimum recommendation and you must plan to always drink a  little more.

The actual fluid requirements can only be determined individually based on all the factors discussed prior.

Natural vs Sports electrolyte drink for athletes

Water, in general, is considered as a safe and best option to keep yourself hydrated if you are exercising for one hour or less. The need for sports drinks arises when you are engaged in very long hours, high-intensity workouts in extreme weather conditions resulting in a loss of a lot of fluid as sweat. 

In these situations, a sports drink with at least 110-240 mg of sodium per 8 oz or 0.2 liters is recommended to replace fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat.

Effect of dehydration on the athletic performance

Dehydration is the sign of your body devoid of fluid and major electrolytes which are required for many vital functions It occurs when there is a decrease in total body water content due to fluid loss, diminished fluid intake, or both, It has an adverse effect on the performance of athletes due to the following reasons-

  • Low blood volume
  • Decreased sweat rate
  • Decreased heat dissipation
  • Increase in the rate of muscle glycogen use
  • Increase in the core temperature of the body

Dehydration in athletes majorly affects their cardiac output which is the maximum capacity of the pumping of the heart that can be achieved during exercise.

Due to this decreased cardiac output, the rate of oxygen consumption (also called VO2 max) reduces and the person feels fatigued and tired.

The water loss along with an obligatory loss of ions, especially sodium and chloride, during exercise leads to sudden symptoms like dry mouth and tongue, thirst, headache, lethargy, dry skin, muscle weakness, dark urine, and/or dizziness. Sometimes, these symptoms are so mild that the athletes won’t even know about them. 

Another important aspect that needs to be kept in mind is to prevent Hyponatremia which means low levels of sodium electrolytes in the body. It is also called water intoxication and occurs when you consume an excess water which dilutes the sodium.

High-intensity exercises require restocking of lost fluids and electrolytes but there is always an optimum amount below or above of which you can experience complications.

Take away message

Hydration is something that is very often underestimated by people, even athletes but the reason it is being emphasized upon so much is that adequate hydration works wonders for your performance and health. Thus, it is important for athletes to monitor their hydration and take responsibility for creating their re-hydration strategy. Stay hydrated!

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