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Choosing Appropriate Hydration Methods for Athletes

As summer is officially upon us and athletes push themselves in challenging weather conditions, it becomes crucial to implement effective hydration strategies for optimal performance. While athletes may get away with general hydration recommendations through the winter months, the summer brings a whole new set of challenges. For instance, hot weather can increase an athlete’s sweat rate which drives the need to consume more water to quench thirst. Thirst is the body's way of signaling for more water consumption to replace water lost during exercise. While consuming water alone may be sufficient, high-performing athletes may need more strategic hydration methods to


  1. Maintain optimal effort during long training bouts

  2. Avoid dehydration which has been shown to decrease exercise performance and induce muscle cramps, fatigue, and even heat-related illnesses

  3. Recover from mass depletion after a sweaty, gruesome session


By choosing appropriate hydration methods such as consuming electrolyte-rich drinks, staying consistent with water intake, and monitoring hydration levels before, during, and after training sessions, athletes can significantly elevate their athletic abilities and maintain peak physical condition in the scorching summer months.


The Basics

Electrolytes are minerals that play a crucial role in hydration and muscle function. When you sweat during exercise, you lose electrolytes that need to be replenished to maintain proper fluid balance in your body. Key electrolytes to look out for include sodium, potassium, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals, especially sodium, can dissolve in water and be lost from the body through waste, breath evaporation, and sweating (“Sports and hydration for athletes: Q&A with a dietitian,” 2023).


Signs of dehydration:

  • Urine frequency & color

  • Muscle cramping

  • Fatigue

  • Lightheadedness

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion

  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes

  • Increased heart rate and breathing


Keep in mind, that to avoid exercise-induced dehydration, you may need to take a sip of your beverage before you get thirsty.


A Little Bit More Complex

When it comes to choosing a beverage for hydration, osmolarity becomes an important factor to consider during exercise (Wilson, 2020). This is because we want to optimize the speed at which we can rehydrate. It's been advised to avoid extremely hypertonic beverages such as apple juice, soft drinks, and pickle juice as these beverages have a higher concentration of solutes than your blood. Sports drinks rich in carbohydrates and electrolytes [aka, solutes] will drive the net movement of water from your blood to your small intestine lumen (Wilson, 2020). This net movement of water delays the speed at which fluid is absorbed. 




Opting for slightly hypotonic beverages, on the other hand, can create an osmotic drive for water absorption, making it a better choice for athletes during exercise (Wilson, 2020). A slightly hypotonic beverage has about 10-25g of glucose and 1,000mg of sodium per liter. 

Hypertonic beverages which have greater levels of carbohydrates [often in the form of glucose-only or glucose-fructose mixtures] and electrolytes are a better option for post-exercise or during long endurance events to replenish muscle glycogen stores.


Sample Hydration Strategy

Proper hydration for athletes involves more than just drinking water. To optimize your hydration levels, consider the following strategies from the CPSDA:


  • Before Exercise: Drink 16-20 ounces of water at least 4 hours before exercise and an additional 8-12 ounces 10-20 minutes before starting your workout.

  • During Exercise: Aim to drink every 15-20 mins. 

  • 3-8 oz of water (or 2-3 gulps) for exercise less than 60 mins.

  • 3-8 oz of sports beverages (or 2-3 gulps) for exercise greater than 60 mins. 

  • After Exercise: Rehydrate with 16-24 ounces of water for every pound of body weight lost during exercise. 


Pro tip: chocolate milk is a sports dietitian’s go-to recommendation for rehydrating and refueling post-workout!


Take Away

Choosing the appropriate hydration methods for athletes is essential for optimizing performance, recovery, and overall health. By selecting the right beverages that makes the most sense for both an athlete’s sweat rate and exercise intensity, athletes can ensure that their body stays properly hydrated to support performance. 


If you only take one piece of information from this article, let it be: DON’T START TRAINING ALREADY DEHYDRATED. Cheers!



Resource




Wilson, P. (2020). The athlete’s gut: The inside science of digestion, nutrition, and stomach distress. VeloPress.



About the Author

Jourdan Delacruz is a 2X Olympian and represented Team USA in the sport of Weightlifting for both the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. Jourdan holds a bachelors in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Northern Colorado. She is pursuing her masters degree in sport nutrition with hopes of becoming a sport registered dietitan. Jourdan is the founder of Herathlete, a brand committed to supporting female athletes through education and community.



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