Hydration Tips for Fall Athletes
As the summer is coming to a close and we begin to prepare for the start of the school year, it also marks the start of fall sports. In the upcoming weeks high school, collegiate, and adolescent athletes will be ramping up for their fall football, soccer, field hockey, and cross country seasons. It is important to keep in mind that although the days are getting shorter the temps are remaining warm, therefore helping your athlete stay hydrated is essential to their health and overall athletic performance. Sweat rates between individuals vary greatly based on genetics, metabolic efficiency, body composition, environmental factors, and clothing/equipment worn for sport. Even within the same sport, different positions on the field may affect the sweat rate of players. Figuring out the best balance for one’s body will help prevent dangerous consequences of both dehydration (hypernatremia) or over hydration (hyponatremia).
Consuming too much or too little fluid can lead to dangerous imbalances in the body’s electrolytes, particularly sodium, which can have dangerous consequences. Electrolytes play an essential role in the process of fluid balance. Sodium helps to hold onto water in the body and promote fluid balance. Sports drinks provide a nice balance of electrolytes as well as carbohydrates that provide calories to working muscles. I like my athletes to alternate between sport drink and water in competition and practice particularly in warmer temperatures (see guidelines below for more specifics).
Dehydration is defined as >2% loss of overall body weight, however, performance decreases are also shown at even a 1% decrease in body weight. The greater the degree of dehydration the more laborious the exercise feels and the greater the stress on the aerobic system. Dehydration is also a risk factor for heat stroke and heat exhaustion. By developing an individual hydration strategy you can help to avoid health risks and promote euhydration (optimal fluid balance).
Below I have listed some guidelines for before, during, and post activity hydration strategies. Due to the high variability in sweat rates, it is near impossible to recommend a “one size fits all plan.” Please use the below information as a guide to create your own personalized fueling strategy.
Fluid replacement before activity:
- Focus on hydration several hours out from exercise if possible to give the body time to process the liquid and avoid excess urine output during exercise. Consider having ~10-20 ounces approximately 3-4 hours out from activity (if possible)
- The closer to the start of activity taper down the amount of liquid to avoid excessive urine output
Fluid replacement during activity:
- Drink prior to becoming thirsty as thirst can indicate that you are already in a state of dehydration
- Alternate a sport drink with water during exercise; consume ~5-12 fl. oz. every 15 minutes
- For activities lasting 3 hours or longer, more consideration may need to be given around hydration schedule
- If at any time you feel a “sloshing” in the gut, back off fluid intake as you may be at risk for hyponatremia and/or cramping
Post-activity fluid replacement:
- Fluid and electrolyte replenishment is key to restoring euhydration
- Including foods with sodium post exercise can help to stimulate thirst as well as hold onto water being consumed
- Consume about 16-24 oz. fluid for every 1 pound of weight lost (a salty snack or meal will also help you hold onto the fluid you are taking in!)
Again, hydration is very individual and therefore it may be helpful to meet with a sports dietitian to help customize a plan based on your individual needs. A sweat rate calculation can be helpful to determine the amount of fluid lost during exercise and how much that individual needs to consume in order to remain hydrated. The bottom line is drink and drink often to stay on top of your game!
Reference: ACSM Position Paper on Exercise and Fluid Replacement, 2007.