Hydration for Performance

Stay hydrated to perform to full athletic potential.

Drinking enough water is crucial to an athlete’s performance. Physical activity can result in a large amount of water and electrolyte loss, which can in turn lead to dehydration, and therefore affect athletic performance. If an athlete is not properly hydrated, heat illness can occur. Heat illness can present minor side effects, such as muscle cramps and headaches, but can also have more serious outcomes, such as loss of consciousness and seizures. To prevent dehydration (and especially dehydration that leads to heat illness), there are a few simple tools that athletes should use to maintain hydration throughout activity.

How to know you’re hydrated

Determining hydration status can be done using a self-assessment, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. One of the easiest and most reliable ways to determine if an athlete is hydrated is through urine color. A pale-yellow to clear color is the best indicator for hydration. Another way for athletes to self-assess hydration is to weigh themselves before and after activity and note how many pounds were lost through sweat. If more than 1 percent of body weight is lost through sweating, it is considered “minimal dehydration.” When more than 5 percent of body weight is lost, performance can start to be severely affected, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. This equates a moderate (which can quickly turn to severe) level of dehydration, where medical interference might be required.

How much athletes should be drinking

Assuring athlete hydration can be achieved a few ways. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, water should be consumed throughout each and every day before one feels thirsty. The feeling of thirst is actually one of the first signs of dehydration. Drinking 16 ounces 2-3 hours before activity and then another 8 ounces 15-30 minutes before activity is recommended. About 4-8 ounces of water or an electrolyte drink is recommended every 15-20 minutes during an activity that lasts less than 60 minutes. If exercising for longer than 60 minutes, an electrolyte drink of 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes should be used to replace lost fluids. After activity is completed, it is recommended to use the weight loss calculation and consume 16-20 ounces of a sports drink or water per pound of body weight lost, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Other ways to stay hydrated

Aside from drinking water throughout the day and during activity, athletes can also consume beverages or snacks with sodium and potassium to help maintain electrolyte balance. As previously mentioned, electrolyte drinks are a good alternative to water when exercising more than 60 minutes, and they may be appropriate during other times depending on the intensity, surrounding temperature and duration of the activity. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates which help with energy balance, as well as and sodium and potassium to help maintain hydration. However, it is important to note that sports drinks do have a lot of extra sugar and calories. They are not necessary unless the physical activity is intense or sustained for a long period of time. Additionally, as suggested by National Colligate Athletic Association, athletes can use fruits and vegetables to maintain hydration, as these foods are made of mostly water and can keep an athlete hydrated when included in everyday nutrition.

Hydration is an important aspect of athletic performance and can prevent the various negative outcomes of becoming dehydrated. If peak performance is the goal, hydration must be prioritized. Drink enough water to sustain you through your workout, practice or game! Michigan State University Extension supports maintaining a balanced diet and keeping hydration levels up, especially during sports or other physical activity. 

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