Athletes & Hydration: Good Hydration Gives You A Performance Edge

Monday, December 18, 2006 - 4:18pm

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

Proper hydration enhances sport performance. Without adequate fluids your body can’t efficiently convert food into energy. Along with a proper diet and training, hydration provides an edge to becoming a winning athlete.

What to drink

Choosing the right type of beverages to meet your fluid requirements is important. Water is the best fluid to meet hydration needs and replenish losses. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products are also good options. If excess phlegm is a problem, however, dairy may not be the best choice. Diluted fruit juice also works well. To avoid excess sugar, read the label to ensure it’s 100% natural fruit juice. It’s important to dilute the juice because it slows transit time through the colon. Avoid caffeinated beverages, alcohol and soda. Caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics, which cause the body to lose excess water and thus putting you at-risk for dehydration. Soda contains phosphates that leach calcium from the bones. It also has excessive amounts of sugar, which may cause stomach cramping if consumed before exercise.

The lowdown on sports drinks

Water is the best choice for people who exercise at a moderate level. Endurance athletes (or exercise for more than one hour) may benefit from a sports drink that provides 60-80 calories per 8 ounces. If it contains electrolytes, it will help to optimize fluid absorption and overall performance. Experiment with fluids while training to make sure your body can handle it. Do not experiment with new sports drinks or juice during a competition. People who do not like water or who have trouble drinking when exercising may also benefit from a sports-type drink. If exercise is short in duration or low in intensity, then use a diluted version of the drink, aiming for a mixture of half water and half sports drink mix. Eating a mixed meal with some salty foods after a competition along with water will usually be adequate to replace electrolytes lost through sweat.

When to hydrate

It’s a good idea to drink extra fluids the day before an endurance event. On the morning of the event, consume 16 ounces of water 2 hours before starting time. Then, 10-15 minutes before exercising, drink an additional 1-2 cups of fluid. For every 15 minutes of exercise it is recommended that athletes consume 4-6 ounces of fluid. After the event, it is important to rehydrate. If you already feel thirsty you are dehydrated. However, thirst is a poor indicator of hydration. So if you don’t feel thirsty, drink some fluids anyway. Rehydrate with water, diluted juice, or a sports drinks after exercise.

Checking for dehydration

Monitoring your weight and urination are simple ways to evaluate hydration status. Check your weight before and after exercise. For every pound lost you should consume 2 cups (16 ounces) of fluid to replenish the losses. On average you should urinate every 2-4 hours during the day. The urine should be clear and pale yellow and of significant quantity. If the urine is dark, concentrated, or a small amount, you need to consume more fluids. Practice hydrating before and during exercise to prevent dehydration. Do not consume salt tablets as these will promote dehydration. Instead, use sports drinks or lightly salt your food to meet your sodium requirements after excessive sweating.

In summary: hydration is an important part of your routine

Hydration should be thought of as another part of the training routine. Without proper hydration fatigue and poor sport performance may result. Creating a fluid intake plan is helpful to ensure proper hydration. Make sure to practice this routine during workouts and not the day of the event. Do not try new sport drinks or juices the day of the event as you may find that they do not agree with you. Hydration, like eating after a workout, is important to replenish the losses during exercise. To maximize sport performance, make sure proper hydration is part of your game plan.