The Heat is On

The Heat is On
Athlete Hydrates

The beginning of the school year marks the end of summer vacations, camping, hiking, and family reunions. It also marks the start of the Fall Season where Football, Volleyball, Soccer, Cross Country, Softball and Tennis all begin their camps and tryouts in hope of constructing a winning team for the season. As exciting as this is for the athletes that are participating, this change in personal activity level accompanied by hot and dry days could be the right mixture for experiencing dehydration and can put even the best-skilled athlete at risk for poor performance and possibly fatal outcomes. Here are a few tips to be better hydrated while practicing and competing in any sport.


As an athlete, one needs to be continuously aware of staying hydrated. Hydration is extremely important for cardiovascular function as well as body temperature regulation and can dictate the level of performance that an athlete can display during practices and competitions. Water is the largest component of the human body. In fact, water accounts for approximately 60% of body weight in the average adult. Water also plays an important role in numerous physiological processes. It functions as a solvent and provides a means of transportation of materials throughout the body. What this means is that water is important for excretion of wastes; blood volume and blood pressure regulation; transport of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and exercising muscles; and water also plays an important role in body temperature regulation by transferring heat out of the body. It is very easy to go through the school day focused on assignments, group projects, tests and quizzes and forget to drink enough beneficial fluid. Beneficial fluid like water and an occasional sports drink like Gatorade, etc. can easily be incorporated into an athlete’s schedule. There is also a high amount of water in fresh fruits and vegetables and incorporating these throughout the day as a snack can also keep unhealthy cravings at bay.


Keeping hydrated throughout the day and during physical activity helps athletes avoid a phenomenon called voluntary dehydration. Voluntary dehydration occurs in a majority of athletes. Research shows that athletes come to practice and competitions in an already dehydrated state and that during practice or competition, they do not rehydrate themselves adequately even when there is fluid available to them during the activity. Research also shows that post–activity, athletes still do not put back adequate amounts of fluid that they lost through sweat during their activity. Because of this, it is very important to develop a proper drinking schedule throughout the day, during practices and competitions and then after activity as well. If an athlete waits to drink until they feel thirsty (physiological thirst), they are already in a dehydrated state. Physiological thirst occurs when either there is a decrease in the amount of water in the blood or by increased plasma osmolality (sodium or glucose particles in the blood). Both of these changes occur during dehydration due to the sweating process. Thirst always comes after fluid needs and therefore needs to be avoided at all times.


Another component that contributes to dehydration during activity is when the athlete has not trained their gut to hold fluids during activity. It is very common for athletes to experience distress when they have fluid in their gut and this discomfort leads to not drinking during activity. It is important for an athlete to train their gut to take in fluids containing sodium, electrolytes, and carbohydrates during activity because these sodium-containing beverages deliver very important components to the body that we lose during the sweating process. If an athlete does not put back sodium, electrolytes, and carbohydrates during activity, an athlete can start to experience decreased performance and spiral into dehydration very quickly.


In summary, athletes need to develop a drinking schedule or pattern throughout the day that trains them to stay hydrated. This drinking pattern also needs to be focused on during activity so that the athlete can replenish the fluid and electrolytes lost during sweating. Athletes should be aware that in order to completely rehydrate after exercise, they will need to drink 24oz. of a moderate sodium/electrolyte drink per pound of body weight lost during exercise. Drinking only water is not sufficient enough post-exercise to rehydrate the body. The sodium in sports drinks help to not only stimulate the thirst response (thus leading to more drinking) but it also helps the absorption of the fluid into the body. Remembering these few tips can help increase an athlete’s performance and prevent them from experiencing the negative effects of dehydration.


 Article by:

David Whitelock,

Athletic Trainer

ThunderRidge High School

 

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