Staying hydrated

Proper hydration helps athletes stay on top of their games. Get tips on assessing hydration status and knowing how much fluid to drink, what type and when.

The age-old recommendation to drink eight glasses of water a day is still good advice. For young female athletes, many sports nutritionists say that the minimal goal should be to drink half your body weight in ounces of noncaloric beverages daily. So, for example, a girl who weighs 120 pounds should drink at least 60 ounces (1.8 liters) of fluid a day, or about 7.5 cups. The Institute of Medicine recommends that teenage girls drink 78 ounces (2.3 liters) of beverages a day, and 91 ounces (2.7 liters) for young women ages 19 to 30. Although it's certainly true that proper hydration is important for all athletes, hydration recommendations will vary depending on the sport, the duration of activity and the training environment.

Not drinking enough water makes it difficult for athletes to be at the top of their games. The main effects of dehydration include reduced endurance capacity and a diminished ability to keep the body from overheating. In addition, the ability to perform complex tasks — such as those frequently encountered in team sports — declines with dehydration.

The effects of dehydration can vary depending on the temperature outside, the humidity, the elevation and how long the training lasts. In general, though, in hotter weather, fluid loss through sweating is more pronounced and can impact performance.

Tips for maintaining adequate hydration include:

  • Start practice or competition hydrated. The most practical way to assess hydration is by monitoring urine color and volume throughout the day. A well-hydrated athlete will urinate every two to four hours, and the urine will be fairly light yellow, similar to the color of lemonade. The quantity of urine should be fairly substantial. In contrast, a dehydrated athlete will urinate less often, the urine will be darker in color (more like apple juice) and the quantity will be low.
  • Consider hydrating during practice or competition. Athletes should take time to weigh themselves before and after practice and games. A good portion of weight loss during practice or a game is likely water loss through sweat. In general, more than a 2 percent loss in body weight from before to after practice or competition indicates that drinking more fluid during the practice or competition is warranted, particularly in hotter weather.
  • Figure out what works best. Some research indicates that sports drinks containing electrolytes and a small amount of sugar promote better performance than water alone does. However, reserve sports drinks for use during training or competition only. Determining the mixture of the drink takes some experimenting to find the right balance between maintaining hydration and finding what sits well in the stomach.
  • Rehydrate after practice or competition. For every pound of weight lost during a practice, it's generally recommended that 24 fluid ounces, or 3 cups, of water or a sports drink be consumed, at a rate of 13 to 27 fluid ounces an hour. A salty snack also can help replace lost sodium. The goal is to gradually return to a well-hydrated state.
Nov. 16, 2016