Elements of Proper Hydration

September 1, 2012 | Featured in the Back to School 2012 Issue

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Anyone who’s serious about playing sports knows that staying hydrated is crucial to peak performance. But hydrating goes beyond drinking water. Follow these guidelines to make sure you’re fueling at the right times with the right fluids.

An All-Day Thing

When two-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade was younger, his performance was undermined by dehydration. “I used to cramp up in the fourth quarter,” he says. “Early on in my career, I was eating terrible and also drinking a lot of soda.”

Fortunately, Wade made the connection between what he was putting in his body and his tendency to cramp up. “It's just not good for your body,” he says. “You get cramps a lot faster. Your body just feels drained.” Wade learned the importance of hydrating throughout the day, not just during competition. Taking in fluids with electrolytes during an entire 24-hour cycle ensures that his body always has the crucial nutrients he needs to perform. If he waits until he’s thirsty to drink, he knows it’s too late.

Effects of Dehydration

Dehydration as low as 2% can impair your performance, making you sluggish and less reactive. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s only three pounds of sweat loss.

Hydration is also important for health reasons. Dehydration can cause a dangerous imbalance in blood-sodium and fluid levels, which can lead to serious illness and even death. The risks are heightened in extremely warm weather. If you’re training outside in the heat, make sure to take in extra fluids to keep your body temperature down and prevent cramping.

How to Tell if You’re Dehydrated

  • Your pee will be dark in color (resembling apple juice)
  • You may feel nauseous and experience fatigue
  • You might cramp up, lose focus, and feel groggy
  • You stop sweating

Why Electrolytes Matter

As you sweat, you lose electrolytes like potassium and sodium. Drinking water alone will not restore them to your body. GSSI senior scientist Lindsay Baker says, “The most important electrolyte lost in sweat is sodium. Sodium, or salt, helps our bodies act like a sponge to better hold onto fluids.”

The more hydrated you are, the more you can ask of your muscles in critical game situations. So it’s important to hydrate with sports drinks that contain electrolytes before, during and after intense activity. Electrolytes provide a dual defense against dehydration during intense workouts in the heat. The fuel from carbs gives you additional energy to keep going, and the electrolytes replace lost salts and retain fluid.

Learn the Specs

Baker suggests consuming sports drinks that have 110 to 120 milligrams of sodium per eight ounces during games. To figure out how much fluid you need before a workout, divide your bodyweight in half and multiply the number by 0.17. That’s how many ounces you need to drink. Start about four hours before competition.

Staying hydrated is a key to maximizing your potential as an athlete. “I know how important it is,” says Wade. You should, too.

Power your performance by checking out the full STACK Fueling Guide.

Photo: seriousrunning.com

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