An Athlete's Guide to Water and Staying Hydrated
Under normal circumstances, the human body needs water to replenish itself and remain healthy. Water is such a necessity due to the fact that anywhere between 60 and 78 percent of an adult's body weight is made up of water. Water is necessary to help keep body temperatures at a normal level, carry nutrients to the body's cells, flush out waste, and protect and lubricate important parts of the body such as the spinal cord and joints. As people go about their daily activities, they lose some of this water and replace it when they feel thirsty. Most people are familiar with the missive to drink eight glasses of water a day. This is considered a good guideline to follow; however, athletes who are training or competing have very different needs when it comes to how much water they consume and how they consume it. Athletes work their bodies vigorously, and as a result, this causes them to sweat more profusely in an attempt to cool down. When training outdoors or participating in outdoor sports competitions, they are also dealing with heat from the sun, which can cause even more profuse sweating. This increased loss of water through sweat increases the need for hydration, and as a result, athletes require more fluids than what is typically required.
When an athlete fails to hydrate properly, there's the risk of dehydration. Dehydration is a dangerous threat for athletes that occurs when the body's loss of water is greater than the amount of fluids taken in. When an athlete fails to drink enough fluids, they run the risk of heat-related illness such as heat stroke. For that reason, athletes, trainers and even friends and family should know what the signs of dehydration are. These signs include thirst, headaches, cramps, and dizziness. The individual will note a decrease in performance and experience weakness and nausea. One's mouth, throat, and lips may become excessively dry, and the skin may be clammy. Another obvious indicator of dehydration is the color of one's urine. A person who is dehydrated will have urine that is dark in color as opposed to light or clear.
How and what an athlete drinks is critical to ensure that the appropriate amount of fluid needed to prevent dehydration is obtained. Water is the most suitable fluid for athletic activities, while fruit juices and drinks that are caffeinated or carbonated are to be avoided. The temperature of the water that is being consumed is also important, as it can affect how quickly it is absorbed and how swiftly it lowers one's body temperature. Cool water is faster at both of these than warm water, making it the best choice of fluid for training or during athletic competition.
To achieve and maintain the right amount of hydration, a person will need to drink the right amounts of water at the right time. Before vigorous training or a competition, a person should ideally drink 16 to 17 ounces of fluid. Roughly another eight ounces should be consumed approximately 20 minutes prior to the start of a competition or event. During the competition, an athlete will need to replenish regularly. If the activity is shorter than an hour, the individual should strive to consume between six to 12 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. If it lasts more than an hour, a sports drink should be added. This drink should contain electrolytes and no more than eight percent carbohydrates. Sports drinks will help to delay fatigue and replace electrolytes that are lost during the activity. Hydration must continue even after the activity has come to an end. This is important as the fluid that has been lost must be replaced in a timely fashion. Generally, this should be done within two hours following the cessation of the training or competition. For every pound of water that has been lost, the athlete must drink between 20 and 24 ounces of fluid.
The human body depends on water to remain healthy and strong. When an athlete trains or participates in sports, they lose water more quickly than a person who is engaging in normal activity. People with as low as one percent loss of water weight can begin to experience dehydration. To reduce the risks of dehydration, it is important for athletes to hydrate themselves properly before, during, and even after participating in their sport.
For more information about water and hydration, read through the following pages:
- Athletic Training Services: Hydration
- Sports Nutrition: Eat for Performance - Fluid Balance
- Hydration Guidelines for Athletes (PDF)
- Hydration: Staying Fluid
- Why Your Body Needs Water
- Injury Prevention: Sports Nutrition and Hydration
- Nutrition for the Athlete
- Fifteen Hydration Facts for Athletes
- Athletes: The Importance of Good Hydration
- Staying Hydrated
- Fluid Replacement Guidelines (PDF)
- Prevention: Hydration
- Fluid Replacement in Athletes: How Much is Too Much?
- Hydrate Right
- Hydration for Athletes
Written By: Lynn Taylor