[STUDY] College Football Players Know Dangerously Little About Hydration

Many athletes are hurting their performance and putting themselves at risk by failing to properly hydrate.

College football players scored a D+ on a hydration knowledge test. And that's a serious problem.

A recent study assessed a total of 100 Division I football players from two collegiate programs. Seventeen questions tested basic hydration knowledge, which every athlete should have to ensure they can perform their best and protect themselves from the negative side effects of dehydration.

The average score was an abysmal 69 percent, with a low score of 42 percent.

Considering the risks of dehydration—decreased performance, premature fatigue, impaired mental focus, increased risk for injury, heat stroke and even death—you would think athletes would have a better grasp of how to properly hydrate their bodies.

However, the study pointed to four serious misconceptions common among about half of the football players.

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Misconception 1: Water is better than a sports drink when you exercise for more than one hour

Football Hydration

It's generally recommended to have some type of sports drink as you approach an hour of exercise to replenish sodium and potassium, which are lost via sweat. These electrolytes are essential for muscle function and to maintain fluid balance.

Misconception 2: Water is better than a sports drink for replenishing energy stores


Water has no calories, so it's impossible to replenish your energy with it. Sports drinks have 100 to 150 calories of carbohydrates, which is the ideal amount to quickly refuel your muscles during extended exercise. Bananas and pretzels are also good options, but they should be consumed with water.

Misconception 3: Salt tablets prevent dehydration


It was encouraging the athletes knew that salt (sodium) plays a role in hydration. It's critical to replenish sodium levels lost through  sweat. But not with salt tablets. Consuming sodium without fluid alters the fluid and electrolyte balance in the body and increases dehydration.

Misconception 4: Thirst is the best indicator of hydration

Hydration for Athletes

If you're thirsty, then you're well on your way to becoming dehydrated. Simple as that.

Proper hydration is more complicated than many realize, and this study shows that football players are either not receiving proper education or they consider hydration an afterthought. We can assume that athletes playing other sports have a similar lack of knowledge about hydration.

So where do we go from here?

The researchers put much of the burden on strength and conditioning staffs to educate athletes about hydration. This is valid advice for a collegiate setting, but many high school teams don't have the luxury of a full-time strength coach. In those environments, it's on both the coaches and athletes to take hydration into their own hands. Coaches need to do what they can to provide adequate water breaks, stay in communication with athletes on their hydration status and be aware of high risk weather.

There are a few simple things that athletes can do to hydrate their bodies, maximize their performance and protect themselves from dangerous side effects. Sports dietitian Leslie Bonci breaks down these guidelines as follows:
  • Drink water regularly throughout the day, especially during meals and snacks. Frequently sip water between meals.
  • Drink 20 ounces of water one hour before exercise.
  • Frequently take big gulps of water during exercise.
  • Drink 24 ounces of water for every pound lost after exercise by comparing your weight before and after.
  • Pouring water on your face or spitting it out does not count as hydration.
  • Drink a sports drink if your activity lasts longer than an hour, it's a grueling event or you have multiple events during the day.
  • Avoid energy drinks.

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