Hydration is essential for life. The human body is 60-70% water, keeping your body properly hydrated improves the functioning of all the systems of the body. How much water each individual person needs is determined by age, activity level and body composition. Muscle cells are 70-75% water while fat cells are 10-15% water. At it’s most basic, people are hydrated when they urinate frequently and their urine is a pale yellow color. It’s hard to stay hydrated because our bodies are using water all the time. Dehydration occurs when you lose fluids in excess of 1% of your body weight. Perspiration, digestion, urine, bowel movements, respiration all use water from cells and can contribute to dehydration. When 9-12% of your body weight is lost via water, dehydration can be fatal.
Athletes are at an increased risk for dehydration as exercise increases body temperature, which triggers perspiration and they increase cardiovascular functioning, all of which use water from body cells. Studies have proven that athletes can lose up to 2 quarts of water an hour when exercising. By the time we feel thirsty, the body is already beginning to feel the effects of mild to moderate dehydration which can include fatigue, sleepiness, headache and elevated heart rate. At this point, it becomes hard for the body to rehydrate, as the body needs more than water to be able to absorb and use the water effectively. Athletes can mistake symptoms of moderate dehydration for pains and discomforts due to exertion, which adds additional risk. Once the body becomes severely dehydrated, medical attention is necessary. Symptoms of severe dehydration include the inability to sweat or urinate, dizziness, chills and nausea.
When athletes continue to perform through mild, moderate or severe dehydration they risk serious health problems. Dehydration is not just being thirsty, when you become dehydrated the body experiences thermal stress which affects all the major systems, organs and functions of the body. As the body pulls water from the blood, becoming dehydrated decreases plasma volume, and puts athletes at risk for injury and kidney failure. The kidneys are the main organ responsible for balancing water and electrolytes if the kidneys stop working electrolytes, fluids, and waste products can build up in the body.
How to Stay Hydrated
Athletes need to be thinking about hydration all the time, not just when you are ready to exercise. Proper hydration during recovery, training and rest days will ensure that every time you are going to exert yourself your body is hydrated. Being hydrated helps you to recover faster, as your body can rid itself of lactic acid easier and maintain normal body functions during the recovery process. You’ll want to know how much you need to drink because over-hydrating can lead to hyponatremia. Hyponatremia happens when you drink too much water and deplete sodium levels. The best way to figure out how much water you should be drinking is to figure out how much water you are losing during exercise. Weigh yourself before you exercise, drink water or electrolyte drink while you are exercising ½ cup to 1 cup for every 30 minutes, then weight yourself when you are done. The difference in your beginning weight and your ending weight will let you know exactly how much fluid you need to drink to properly rehydrate. Your hydration needs will change with the seasons and with the intensity of your workout, so you can check your water intake with different workouts several times a month. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine will also help you stay hydrated for peak performance as caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics. Eating a balanced diet that provides your body with all the minerals and vitamins it needs will also go a long way to maintaining optimal health and performance.
For an easy rule of thumb to make sure you’re staying hydrated throughout the day, keep in mind your body will absorber between 20 – 25oz of water per hour. This may differ some from person to person and depend on your activity level during the day, but the 20 – 25oz per hour is a good starting point. Another way to gauge your level of hydration or dehydration is to look at your urine when you pee. You can use the chart below to help to determine if you should drink more water.
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