As athletes, and parents of athletes, you regularly hear how important it is to stay hydrated. What does it really mean to “stay hydrated” and why is hydration so important?
Water and the Human Body
On average, the human body consists of 50 to 75 percent water. The amount of water needed varies from person to person, but fluids need replaced daily because the body uses water for normal everyday functions such as regulating body temperature, carrying oxygen, and protecting organs, tissues and joints. Dehydration occurs when water intake is less than water lost.
Dehydration Affects Performance
Cindy Cassell, PhD, RD, LD, sports nutritionist for Kettering Health Network stated “Thirst is not a good indicator for hydration needs. If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.” If you wait to drink until you are thirsty and stop drinking when your thirst is satisfied, you will stay dehydrated.”
As dehydration increases, physical and mental performance gradually decline. In addition, heart rate and body temperature increase, especially when exercising in the heat. Courtney Powell, AT, athletic trainer for Kettering Health Network watches for “sluggishness, athletes not paying attention, and those taking longer than normal breaks.” If she sees an athlete showing these symptoms or acting abnormally, she “engages the athlete in conversation to check for awareness and cognitive function.” Since the brain is mostly water, even mild dehydration can bring on changes in mood and a decline in concentration and alertness.
Dr. Cassell explained “urine color is the best way to determine hydration. A light yellow is ideal.” Evaluate urine color throughout the day to check hydration, but note that the first urine of the day is typically a darker concentration of color from being held overnight.
Daily fluid intake can be obtained from a variety of beverages and foods. There are a variety of options available if you find water boring. For a flavored water choice, Dr. Cassell recommended a carbonated water or flavor add-in. “Just avoid the flavored waters that have high fructose corn syrup.” Dr. Cassell also suggested foods with a high water content, such as watermelon or cantaloupe, to help hydrate.
When asked about caffeine and energy drinks, Dr. Cassell said “it is best to use food as fuel instead.” Caffeine can act as a diuretic, preventing water from traveling to necessary locations in the body. Large amounts of caffeine can lead to dehydration.
Hydration and good nutrition should be a part of your daily routine. Dr. Cassell challenges athletes to look at each practice and game performance. “If you had trouble getting through an activity, did you not eat enough, or are you dehydrated? A good rule of thumb for athletes is to consume 1000 to 1500 calories before 3 p.m. to have enough energy to get through the after-school practice. This number varies based on activity level and individual metabolism, but is a good starting guideline.”
Powell noted “hydration is important for the fans in the stands as well. Sometimes parents and family are so focused on the student athlete they forget to care for themselves when they are watching practices and games.”