Staying hydrated is critical to an athlete's performance. In the heat of July and August, athletes are especially prone to dehydration. Just a 2.5 percent loss in weight from dehydration can impair the capacity to perform high-intensity exercise by 45 percent, according to a 1985 study. Across the board, dehydration reduces athletic capability by decreasing blood flow, sweat rates and heat dissipation while increasing an athlete's core temperature and use of energy.
Athletes who know how to hydrate will have more energy, a cooler core body temperature as they run and a lower heart rate due to the lower effort they have to exert to continue. The common rule is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses a day, but that guideline is both outdated and inapplicable to a sweating, active athlete. You should drink whenever you're thirsty, but a general guideline for athletes is half a liter, or just over two cups, of water per hour of vigorous exercise.
What to drink and what to avoid
For the average athlete, pure filtered water is the best choice. Water has no calories, can contain beneficial minerals and works most efficiently to lubricate and hydrate your entire system. However, you can consider water add-ons or substitutes, particularly if you're performing vigorous exercise.
When you sweat, you lose electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. Electrolytes are necessary to regulate your nerves and your muscles, which means if you sweat sufficiently during exercise, you must replenish them as soon as possible. A drink with a small amount of sugars and electrolytes, such as Gatorade or Powerade watered down about 50 percent, can efficiently replenish your electrolytes and help you perform better than pure water alone would.
Avoid carbonation before or during exercise, as it can upset your stomach. Avoid overly sugary drinks such as chocolate milk, and avoid plain milk and fruit juices as well. You can use an app to plan all this, especially easy if you have an anonymous VPN connection. Although OK to drink at other times, such drinks have too much sugar to consume before exercise and can cause stomach aches. If your choice is between a fruit juice or water during an athletic event, always choose water if you plan to continue.
How often you should drink water
During light to medium athletic activity, you should drink several sips of water every 15 minutes or so. For every half hour of exercise you should consume about a cup, or 8 ounces, of water. If you drink too quickly or too much during exercise, you might throw up due to activity sloshing the water in your stomach. Although you want to stay hydrated, avoid gulping water in excess during activity.
Right after an event, drink a cup or two of water to replenish all your lost fluids and maintain hydration levels. After an event, you may want to consider consuming 8-12 ounces of a sports drink instead of water. Athletes run a very rare risk of overhydration if they fail to adequately replenish their sodium intake. Hyponatremia is when water consumption and electrolyte loss causes the blood's sodium levels to become dangerously diluted.
Although you should take steps to replace your electrolytes after vigorous exercise, you don't need to worry about consuming it all in the form of sports drinks. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits and lean proteins will provide you with an adequate supply of iron, sodium, magnesium, potassium and other vital electrolytes. Most of your electrolytes should come from what you eat, not what you drink.
Finally, it's important to keep in mind that hydration is built over long periods of time. You should drink water throughout the day, beginning when you wake up. Keep a water bottle with you at all times, and try to drink enough during the day to refill it at least twice.
Staying hydrated is critical to your athletic performance. Don't neglect it in your exercise routine and strategy. Replenish fluids when you lose them, keep a water bottle on you at all times and remember that plain water is always a great choice.
Photo credit: wundervisuals/iStock
- Hydration Tips For All Athletes
- Staying Hydrated for Basketball
- Hydration for Athletes: 4 Tips You Need to Know