5 Tips for Proper Hydration

Struggling with hydration this fall? Check out these five quick tips to maximize hydration so you can feel and perform your best!

Hydration is often marketed as being the magic pill for great skin or good digestion, but its benefits go far beyond that for overall health, especially for athletes. Failing to hydrate properly as an athlete can lead to suboptimal performance in training sessions and on competition days.


Dehydration can lead to chronic fatigue, quicker time to exhaustion during exercise, inability to sweat enough to cool you down, impaired recovery, and can even cause you to wake up feeling less rested despite adequate sleep.


That being said, staying hydrated can be challenging, especially when hydration needs increase during periods of heavy training, altitude training, or exposure to heat and humidity. If you're someone who has a hard time maintaining adequate hydration, read on to learn how to make proper hydration work for you!


Tip #1 - Understand Your Hydration Needs

The most important place to start with hydration is making sure you understand your hydration needs. Many athletes think they're hydrating properly, but are actually well under their daily fluid requirements. Sweat rate testing is needed to determine exact needs, but there are some general numbers you can aim for to help you stay hydrated.


A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces, plus 8-24 oz. of fluid per hour you spend training. For example, a 130lb athlete needs at minimum 65oz., and if they ran for 1 hour they should aim for 73-89oz. of fluids.


That being said, certain conditions can increase hydration needs. Any time you start sweating more than usual, begin training in the heat or humidity, train at altitude, or increase training volume, your hydration needs ramp up. Some athletes are heavy and/or salty sweaters, meaning they will need more fluids and electrolytes to replenish after training or competition. You may be a heavy sweater if you're losing more than 2-3% of your body weight from the start to the end of a training session. You may be a salty sweater if your sweat leaves white salt marks on your clothes or skin, burns your eyes, or tastes salty. Factors that cause athletes to lose more electrolytes and sweat per hour of exercise include being biologically male, training and competing in an endurance sport, and exercising at a high intensity.



Tip #2 - Incorporate Electrolytes


We often think of water as the end-all-be-all of hydration, but exclusively drinking water is actually not the most effective way to hydrate. Water requires electrolytes - minerals such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium - to move into our cells. Without proper electrolyte balance, water essentially goes right through you and you may continue to feel dehydrated despite drinking a high volume of water. Not to mention, drinking only water and no electrolytes while training or competing can put you at risk for a severe electrolyte imbalance called hyponatremia, which is extremely dangerous.


An easy way to incorporate electrolytes into your hydration is simply swapping out one or a few servings of plain water a day for an electrolyte sports drink, an electrolyte powder/tablet mixed with water, or a homemade hydration drink made from maple syrup, water, lemon/lime, and salt. Look for products that contain at least 300mg of sodium. You can also get electrolytes from food by adding salt to food and eating fruits and veggies high in potassium, like potatoes and bananas. Keep in mind that endurance athletes can lose up to 1000mg of sodium per hour, so on big training days dietary electrolytes may not be adequate enough to replenish what you lost during training.



Tip #3 - Get on a Hydration Schedule


Another common mistake athletes make with hydration is attempting to cram all of their fluids in the night before a race or competition. However, it can take up to 24 hours to rehydrate from training, so your long-term performance will benefit more from hydrating well all the time. Make consistent hydration more manageable by getting onto a hydration schedule. For example, if you have a water bottle that you carry with you aim to finish one by 10am, one by 1pm, one by 4pm, and another before bed if you have time. Taper off fluids 1 hour before bed to avoid getting up all night to use the bathroom and 45-60 minutes before exercise so you don't experience a sloshing stomach. Remember, hydration is a marathon not a sprint!



Tip #4 - Incorporate Hydrating Foods


Did you know that eating certain foods can actually contribute to meeting your hydration needs? Not only are fruits and vegetables crucial for a healthy, balanced diet, but many of them have a high water content, making them hydrating. Eating fruits and veggies with a high water content can be a great way to add a couple of extra ounces of fluid to your diet each day. Examples include cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, apples and berries. Additionally, adding salt to your meals and eating foods naturally high in electrolytes, like bananas (potassium!), can make obtaining enough electrolytes less daunting.


Tip #5 - Make Your Hydration More Exciting


Many athletes find it challenging to drink enough water because they get bored with it or aren't a fan of plain water. If that's the case for you, try putting fruits (such as sliced lemons, limes, oranges, or cucumber) or herbs (such as mint or rosemary) in your water to add some fun flavors. You can use products such as sparkling water or coconut water to switch it up from plain water. If your current water bottle doesn’t motivate you to drink more, shop for a bottle that is a different size, has a different lid (straw lid vs. screw lid), or different insulation capabilities. As for electrolyte drinks, sample plenty of different brands, flavors, and forms (powder, tablet, or pre-mixed) to find electrolytes you enjoy including in your routine. Keep in mind other fluids such as juices, herbal teas, and milk also counts towards total daily fluid needs!


Maximize hydration, maximize performance


Losing just 2% of your body weight from dehydration can impair performance, so getting behind on your hydration minimizes your ability to perform your best. Now that you can identify the gaps between your current hydration regimen and the best practices for proper hydration, you can start improving your hydration with small changes to your usual routine. Consult a Registered Dietitian to learn which electrolyte formulations would work best for you and how to optimize hydration timing to your training schedule!


Sources

Barnes, K.A., Anderson, M.L., Stofan, J.R., Dalrymple, K.J., Reimel, A.J., Roberts, T.J., Randell, R.K., Ungaro, C.T., Baker, L.B. Normative data for sweating rate, sweat sodium concentration, and sweat sodium loss in athletes: an update and analysis by sport. J Sports Sci 20, 39 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2019.1633159


Casa, D.J., Cheuvront, S.N., Galloway, S.D., Shirreffs, S.M. Fluid needs for training, competition, and recovery in track-and-field athletes. Intl J Sport and Nut Ex Metabolism 2, 39 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0374


Kalman, D.S., Feldman, S., Krieger, D.R. et al. Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9, 1 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-1


Sims, S.T., Rehrer, N.J., Bell, M.L., Cotter, J.D. Preexercise sodium loading aids fluid balance and endurance for women exercising in the heat. J Applied Phys 2, 103 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01203.2006


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