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Hydration for Athletes

After coaching sports myself at multiple levels, I’ve found that the question often arises as to how much an athlete should drink both before, and especially during, exercise. The question is a difficult one to give a universal answer to, but it comes down to the loss of water through sweat. Exercising in heat, especially with increased humidity, can result in heavy sweating (1). Although some electrolytes are lost through sweat (mostly sodium and chloride), there is a much greater proportion of water lost (1). Therefore, it is more important to replace water than it is to replace electrolytes, in most cases (1).

Some of the functions of water in the body include: transportation of nutrients/elimination of waste, lubrication of joints and tissue, temperature regulation through sweating, and facilitation of digestion (2). As water is lost through sweat during athletics, it is important that it is replaced. Consuming fluids during exercise is necessary to reduce the risk of heat-related illness, maintain physiological function, and improve athletic performance (3). According to Quinn, a loss of 2% or more of body weight due to sweating is linked to a drop in blood volume. This in turn causes the heart to work harder and can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, or even heat-related illness (2). The longer and more intensely one exercises, the more important it is to drink the right fluids. Sports drinks with 60-100 calories per 8 ounces are helpful to replace electrolytes for those that are exercising at a high intensity for 60-90 minutes or more (2). Otherwise, water is sufficient, and there are two ways to know if an athlete is consuming enough water. If urine is light colored (diluted), the athlete is hydrated. If urine is dark colored (concentrated), the athlete is dehydrated (2). The other way is to measure sweat loss by weighing in before and after exercise (2). This allows people to realize how much sweat they are losing on average and, in turn, how much water they should be consuming during their sport with approximately 20-24 ounces of water needed for each pound lost by sweat (2)

In conclusion, water intake during exercise/sports is of utmost importance. This is especially true in warmer and more humid temperatures. The amount of water consumed should be based on climate, intensity of exercise, and amount of sweating. Monitoring fluid intake in young athletes should coincide with exercise/training and could prevent heat-related illness.

General guidelines for hydration during exercise/ sports as per Quinn are as follows:

Hydration before exercise

- 15-20 ounces of water 2-3 hours before exercise
- 8-10 ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise

Hydration during exercise

- 8-10 ounces of water every 10-15 minutes
- If exercising longer than 60-90 minutes, drink
8-10 ounces of a sports drink every 15-30 minutes.

References:
1. Wood, Clare. What Athletes Should Drink. From topendsports.com, July 21, 2008.
2. Quinn, Elizabeth. Proper Hydration for Exercise – Water or Sports Drinks.
Updated January 23, 2008. From about.com, July 21, 2008.
3. Coleman, Ellen. Hydration and Hyponatremia in Athletes. Today’s Dietician; volume 7;
number10: pg 14. From todaysdietician.com, July21, 2008.

by (former trainer) Frank LaPuma PT, DPT, cert. MDT
Adirondack Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy Center

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