How to Properly Hydrate While Playing Sports

hydration for athletes

How to Properly Hydrate While Playing Sports

Our bodies were made to move. Some of us enjoy it more than others, but exercise is an important part of creating a more healthy lifestyle and should be on everyone’s radar. Many of us make the decision to get up and move more in the new year, but an equally important part of developing a healthy lifestyle is understanding proper hydration. 

Staying well hydrated delivers a myriad of benefits. It keeps our muscles moving freely and keeps us from cramping. It also lubricates joints and regulates body temperature. We all need enough water, but hydration for athletes is especially important. It helps us perform at our full potential, and it keeps us from getting injured. Since hydration is such a critical part of staying healthy, it’s a good thing to familiarize ourselves with.

The basics of staying hydrated

Even if you don’t spend much time in the gym or on the court, your body needs water to function properly. Learning how to hydrate muscles is essential to keeping yourself healthy and mobile. Here’s how to stay on top of it.

Make sure you have a hydration goal

Every person’s body is different, but the average adult female will stay well hydrated with around 90 ounces of fluid per day, and men at about 125 ounces. Your body’s needs may vary slightly, but this is a good starting point. These numbers include all fluids, whether we drink them or eat them, so if you eat a lot of foods with high liquid content like soups and certain fruits, you can cut back on the amount of water you drink. Your goal should get you to your target without overhydrating.

Get water from both food and drink

A great way to make sure you get enough water throughout the day is to eat foods with high water content. Fruits like watermelon, grapefruit, and cantaloupe not only supplement your water intake but they provide healthy sugars to help sustain your energy and cognition. While these brain foods are great for hydration and brain function, overdoing sugars can have downsides in the long run, so make sure you consume fruits in moderation.

Bring fluids with you

The most important thing you can do to keep yourself hydrated is to make sure you have access to the fluids you need. You can’t always count on water or sports drinks to be readily available, so carrying them with you means you can always be certain you’ll have enough fluids to keep you hydrated. Take a reusable bottle along with you when you start your day and top it off whenever you get the chance.

Hydration for athletes

Athletes have to pay more attention to their hydration than the sedentary set. Exercise causes your body to lose water more rapidly. In fact, we can lose up to a quart per hour when performing strenuous activities in warm temps. 

When we become dehydrated during a workout, we can feel sluggish, experience muscle cramps and fatigue, and even have issues with coordination and athletic performance. This can mean the difference between winning and losing big matches. 

As important as hydration for athletes is, many people don’t know that much about how to do it properly. For instance, can you drink too much water? What’s the difference between water and other fluids? When is the best time to rehydrate? Learning how to hydrate properly will keep your body and mind fit for competition. 

Weigh yourself before and after your workout

The best way to track your hydration levels during an activity is to weigh yourself before and after that activity. The amount of weight you lose will let you know how much water for working out is needed to properly rehydrate. 

If you find yourself losing 1-3% of your body weight during a workout, you are likely becoming dehydrated. If you are losing considerable water weight, drink 20-24 oz of water for every pound of body weight lost. This is best done within two hours of working out.

Once you have an idea of how much water you are losing, you are better equipped to put together a hydration plan that keeps you well hydrated throughout your workouts.

Should I drink water while working out?

It’s not only about how much water we drink. It’s when. It’s better to drink a moderate amount of water before, during, and after workouts than it is to drink a lot of water before or after the workout. Some athletes have a hard time remembering this, but there are some good reasons to avoid overdoing your water intake before or after workouts.

Drinking too much water before workouts can lower the levels of sodium in your blood to the point where your kidneys have trouble removing the excess water. A good rule of thumb is to drink a glass of water before working out, take regular water breaks during the workout, and drink enough afterward to replace the fluids lost.

Make sure to take hydration breaks

Even with the best intentions, many people simply forget to drink water during their workouts. If we don’t feel thirsty, or the weather is incredibly comfortable, we may not realize how much water our bodies are losing, and rehydrating can skip our minds. 

Put a plan in place that has you drinking 4-8 ounces of water for every 15-20 minutes of activity. Keeping yourself accountable to a schedule is a great way of getting yourself into a habit. Once that habit has been established, most of us will begin naturally taking the water breaks we need to keep from drying out.

Sports drinks

While water provides all the hydration we need, sometimes the excessive sweating associated with workouts causes us to lose electrolytes and sugars. For an athlete, electrolytes are an important part of staying hydrated. Many of us use a sports drink or other electrolyte drink for athletes to replenish what we lose through exercise. Sports drinks are formulated to deliver carbs, electrolytes, and fluid that we need to make it through an intense workout, so they can be a great alternative to water.

Keep in mind that some of these drinks contain copious amounts of sugar, and a single bottle may contain two or three servings. Drinking a full bottle can deliver more sugar than you want, so be mindful of the labels of whatever drink you choose to help you rehydrate.

Coffee and alcohol

Not all drinks hydrate. Coffee and alcohol are common indulgences, but these types of beverages can work against your hydration goal if you drink excessive amounts. That’s because they can both lead to dehydration, and the more you drink, the more pronounced the effect. Along with dehydrating you, they can also have a diuretic effect, meaning you’ll have to pee more often. That will result in you losing even more fluids. If you’re going to drink coffee or alcohol when training, make sure you try to drink them in moderation.

Risks of dehydration

As important as hydration is to sports performance, it’s equally important in maintaining optimal health in everyday life. If you find yourself dehydrated regularly, you can experience a multitude of adverse reactions.

Muscle cramping and fatigue

One of the first things you’ll notice when you become dehydrated while working out is that your muscles will show signs of strain. You may experience anything from muscle cramping and fatigue to involuntary contractions and spasms. All of these reactions make it harder to perform at your best, so it’s important to stay hydrated to avoid them.

Heat illness

Some of the more serious reactions to dehydration involve the many levels of heat illness. When dehydration passes the point of muscle cramping and you are unable to keep your body temperature within the acceptable range, you can suffer heat illnesses with serious repercussions.

If your body stops sweating and your body is unable to cool itself, it’s possible to damage your muscles, brain, and internal organs. If this sounds serious, it is. Severe dehydration and overheating can lead to death in the worst cases, which is why hydration for athletes is so important to your safety.

Start now

Learning how to hydrate properly for sports will not only help you perform at the top of your game, but it will help prevent injury and overheating. Hydration for athletes is incredibly important in all aspects of the game. The sooner you develop good habits, the more likely your hydration routine will be automatic by the time you compete in the big events that make sports so special.

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