Maintaining Optimal Hydration For Athletes: A Guide To Proper Hydration

Maintaining optimal hydration is not only required as an athlete but is an integral part to keeping all of us healthy and alive!

Staying hydrated ensures that we can regulate body temperature, remove toxins and waste from our body, keep our joints and muscles strong and lubricated, deliver nutrients to cells, improve sleep quality and cognition, regulate our mood, keep our organs healthy, excel at our sport, and so much more.

Although we should all aim to keep hydrated through-out the day and keep a water bottle on hand, there’s a bit of strategy when it comes to hydration for athletes!

When athletes engage in sport, it is natural for them to lose a percentage of body weight through water loss (sweat) as they try to regulate their body temperature during exercise.  This means it is extremely important to establish hydration protocols before, during, and after your sporting events. It is also vital to have a working knowledge of the signs and symptoms of dehydration, though, your strategy should be well planned out enough not to see any dehydration symptoms at all! Overhydration is also a possibility that can lead to severe health consequences and is something to be mindful about too.

Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration:

Dehydration can occur during high-intensity or long-duration exercises and can be a result of losing more than 2% of body weight during the athletes event and could result in the following:

- Excessive thirst
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Irritability and general discomfort
- Headache and dizziness
- Weakness and cramps
- Chills and heartburn
- Vomiting and nausea

What is Overhydration?

Overhydration by athletes is called hyponatremia and it occurs when athletes drink even when they are not thirsty. Drinking too much during exercise can overwhelm the body’s ability to remove water. The sodium content of blood is diluted to abnormally low levels and can result in:

- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of energy, drowsiness, and fatigue
- Muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps
- Seizures or coma

Although you want to avoid dehydration during your sport, you don’t want to overdo it! We’ll go over steps to proper hydration below so that you can avoid both dehydration and overhydration.

 

Steps to proper hydration for athletes



Steps to Proper Hydration:

The intensity of the sport or the energy level required for the sport is a major factor in how much fluid is lost. For instance, if the sport requires helmets and padding then this will increase the amount of perspiration and result in a larger fluid loss.

Rest breaks and fluid access are important facts that affect hydration too. If hydration opportunities are frequent, the athlete can consume smaller volumes of liquid at a convenient pace. But in endurance athletes, it’s important to consume fluids at specific times, making it more difficult to rehydrate.

The first step in maintaining adequate hydration as an athlete is to remain hydrated throughout the day, every day. The easiest way of doing this is by checking the colour of your urine every time you’re in the bathroom. A pale yellow is a sign of adequate hydration with a darker urine means a possibility of dehydration.

Another useful test to perform is determining your sweat rate during exercise, which can be done by following the step below:

- Weigh yourself naked before exercise

- Exercise for 1 hour and drink normally (only water) during exercise

- Weigh yourself naked again post-exercise

- Calculate your sweat rate by subtracting your post-exercise weight from your pre-exercise weight and then adding back in the amount of fluids you consumed.

This calculation gives you an estimated hourly sweat rate which can be useful in determining the amount of fluids to consume during exercise sessions. This method should be repeated as the seasons change in order to determine sweat rates in both hotter and cooler conditions.

Our Hydration Recommendations:

It can be difficult to provide precise fluid recommendations as everyone has different hydration needs based on sweat rate, sport, exercise habits, body weight, and environmental conditions. However, drinking enough water throughout the day so that you don’t feel thirsty and your urine is a pale colour  is a good place to start!

Day of Activity - as we said above, daily fluid amounts will vary from individual to individual based on many factors. However, a general guideline of 400 to 600 mL (13-20 ounces) of fluid every 2-3 hours will ensure the athlete is adequately hydrated prior to each training session

Before Activity - 500 to 600 mL of water or sports drink 2 to 3 hours before exercise and 200 to 300 mL of water or sports drink 10 to 20 minutes before exercise will ensure optimal pre-exercise hydration.

During Activity - as a general guideline, we suggest 200 to 300 mL of fluids every 10 to 20 minutes to maintain hydration at less than a 2% body weight reduction

Post-Activity - we recommend 150% of weight loss replacement with fluid after exercise which equates to nearly 1.5 litres of fluid replaced for each kg of weight loss. However, we also recommend taking your time with drinking your fluids post-activity as drinking it too quickly could make you feel bloated and ill.

A glass of water - what athletes should drink to stay hydrated

What fluids should I be hydrating with?

For most activities, good old-fashioned water will do the trick to ensure you are hydrating before, during, and after your sport! However, if your activity lasts an hour or more, either diluted fruit juice with water, coconut water, or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy plus minerals to replace lost electrolytes in your sweat. You should still continue our hydration recommendations above whether you choose water or a sports drink!

We hope all of this information helps you and supports you in your activities! Remember, every athlete is different and there is no one-size fits all way of doing things, especially when it comes to sports and abilities. So, we always recommend you do your own research, talk to professionals, speak to your coach, and find what feels the best for you. Overall, drink when you’re thirsty, plan ahead, and have fun out there!

Written by 
Samantha Emerman