Our bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent water and depend on hydration. For a multitude of chemical reactions to take place, the body has a complex messaging system that ensures its fluid levels are kept balanced. Despite these systems, it's actually difficult for us to know when we need more water, because many of the noticeable warning signs don't manifest themselves until some dehydration has already taken place.
It's fairly easy for athletes to have suboptimal fluid levels for a number of reasons, including intense exercise, climate conditions and improper nutrition. Hydration can have a significant impact on training, allowing you to perform at a higher level. On the opposite end, inadequate hydration can have detrimental effects ranging from nausea and cramping to more severe consequences.
Hydrated athletes are able to maintain stable core temperatures, reduce cardiovascular strain, allow nerves and muscles to function properly, maintain cognitive function at ideal levels, and properly assess intensity of exercise. On the opposite end, dehydration of as little as 1 percent has been linked to performance declines during exercise. For a 145-pound athlete, 1 percent is only 1.45 pounds, which is a little less than 3 cups of water. Slight dehydration has been linked to decreased cognitive function, weakened contractile strength (less explosiveness), and earlier onset fatigue. As our dehydration levels increase, the consequences become even more severe.
Follow these tips to ensure your fluid levels remain optimal.
1. Know The Warning Signs
By understanding the warning signs of dehydration, athletes will be able to act aggressively to prevent further dehydration.
- Increased perception of effort
- Flushed skin
- Increased breathing rate and heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- Quicker to fatigue
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased weakness
2. Track Hydration Status
Athletes often rely on signs that are common when someone is already experiencing slight dehydration before they realize they need to take in more fluids. By tracking your fluid levels proactively, you can avoid performance declines and any of the more serious health risks associated with dehydration. Here are some of the simplest ways of tracking.
Skin Tugor: Skin tugor is the skin's elasticity. Lightly pinch the back of your hand for a few seconds, release, and observe how long it takes for your skin to return to its normal position. The longer it takes your skin to return to normal, the more likely you are dehydrated.
Urine Color: This can be done periodically throughout the day (but note that certain foods and supplements can alter color). The scale ranges from dark colored urine (indicating dehydration) to completely clear urine (a little too much water consumption). A pale straw color to transparent yellow color indicate proper fluid level.
Tech Gadgets: A variety of products on the market can be used to help you keep track of how much fluid you've been consuming or to measure your current body fluid levels. These include water bottles that track fluid consumption, wearable devices that measure hydration level, and scales that measure percentage of fluid in the body.
3. Calculate Sweat Rate
Knowing your sweat rate is a crucial part of any athlete's hydration plan. Exercise-induced hyponatremia is a serious condition that occur in many athletes when their sodium levels are inadequate. By calculating your sweat rate, you'll be able to track how much fluid you typically lose during a normal exercise session (typically through sweat) under normal conditions. This is beneficial by letting you know how much fluid you lost during a training session so you can take steps to maintain ideal fluid levels.
- Sweat Rate Calculation: (A + B) / C =
- A: Pre-exercise body weight minus post-exercise body weight — recorded in ounces (16 oz = 1 lb)
- B: Fluid consumed during exercise — recorded in ounces (1 cup = 8 oz, 1 gulp is approx. 1 oz)
- C: Exercise duration — recorded in hours (45 min = 0.75hrs)
An athlete weighing 160 pounds loses 2 pounds during his or her workout and now weighs 158 pounds.
- A = 160 - 158 = 2 lbs or 32 oz.
- During the workout, he or she consumed a total of 2.5 cups or 20 oz. B = 20 oz.
- The total workout lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes. C = 1.25 hrs
This athletes sweat rate is: (32 + 20) / 1.25 = 41.6 oz/hr
4. Peri-Workout Hydration Plan
By developing a peri-workout plan, athletes can ensure that they can enter a training/competition with ideal fluid levels, maintain proper levels throughout the session to avoid performance declines, and recover from fluid losses when the event is over.
Individuals require different amounts of fluids due to a variety of factors that impact their fluid levels, including outdoor temperature (more fluid in warmer climates), gender (males typically sweat more), and athlete size (heavier athletes require more fluid).
Pre-Workout: 16 oz around 2-3 hours prior to the workout and another 8 oz 15-25 minutes before the workout
Intra-Workout: 4 oz every 15 to 20 minutes. If workout exceeds an hour, drinks with electrolyte and carbohydrates should also be consumed every 15 to 20 minutes after the 60-minute mark.
Post-Workout: 16-20 oz of fluid for every pound lost.
5. Get Charged Up with Electrolytes
Electrolytes are chemicals in body fluids that form electrically charged ions that transmit messages required for the body to function properly. Electrolytes influence the osmotic gradients in the body (how much water goes in/out of cells), regulate muscle contractions and nerve impulses and influence blood pH. The key electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium. When we exercise, we lose electrolytes through sweat, albeit in lesser amounts than the water we lose. It's important for athletes to ensure that they're consuming adequate amounts of all these minerals throughout the day, in their diet and post-workout, especially after long or very intense training sessions.
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