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How to Stay Hydrated While Playing Sports

  • Category: Sports Medicine
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: James Suchy, MD

Dehydration is a unfortunately a common occurrence among athletes, especially with those playing sports where a lot of equipment is needed such as baseball and football. Being educated on what leads to hydration as well as ways to properly hydrate yourself before and after practice is essential. We spoke with Hoag Orthopedic Institute non-operative sports medicine physician James Suchy, MD, to discuss more about hydration for athletes.

Q. What are the most effective ways to monitor hydration?

A. There are a few effective ways to monitor hydration. First, you need to understand if you are hydrated, which can be measured by thirst, urine color and body weight. With thirst, if you are desiring or craving water, that can be a good first indicator that you need more hydration. Second, you can look at your urine color, which should be a light yellow. Too pale a yellow can indicate over hydration, which you also want to avoid, and darker urine indicates you need to increase your fluid intake. Lastly, body weight can be a good indicator of hydration. You should aim for less than one percent variation in your body weight. Studies indicate that even two percent loss in body weight can negatively impact your performance on the field. A good indicator is that for every pound of weight you lose after exercise, you want to replace with 16-24 ounces of fluid after exercise.

Q. How do athletes stay on top of their hydration during their sports?

A. Hydration is not something you do during exercise. It’s important to think of hydration as an around-the-clock activity. During exercise, your body is not in a state to absorb fluid to its fullest extent because blood flow is being diverted to your muscles. Hydrating before and after practice is key. Although the exact amounts will vary from person to person and depending on the weather, a good example would be if practice is at 3-4pm, you should drink between 16-24 ounces of fluids 3-4 hours before exercise, like at lunchtime. You can also drink about 8-12 ounces around 30 min before practice. You have to adjust the amount based on your size, level of activity and the weather. Running during the winter versus exercising in football pads during 90 degree weather requires very different levels of hydration.

Q. Should I drink only water or is an electrolyte needed to stay hydrated?

A. When you’re hydrating before exercise, you want to make sure you are consuming some degree of salt to help retain the fluid. There are electrolyte drink mixes without sugar that you can drink and you may need to include a simple processed carbohydrates before practice – such as a couple of salted pretzels – that will have a little carbohydrate, a little salt which will help retain the water you’re consuming. Also consider the temperature of the drink you’re consuming. A cold beverage is shown to be more advantageous for your body compared to a lukewarm beverage as your body is more capable of absorbing the cold drink.

Q. When is it important to seek a medical professional for dehydration?

A. Symptoms that could indicate underhydration are: dizziness, light headedness, excessive fatigue, feeling more irritable/tired and muscle cramps. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to take a break and tell your coach or athletic trainer. They may determine that you are able to return to practice but you may need 10-15 minutes to rest. When athletes push through the symptoms, like with any injury, they are putting themselves at risk of worse injury. A good takeaway is that if a student athlete is always having cramps during practice, then they should sit down with their coach and certified athletic trainer (ATC) and look at their hydration strategy before, during and after practice. If you are having dizziness or lightheadedness, speak with your trainer and coach immediately to determine the next step. If you’ve experienced heat exhaustion recently, you may need to be evaluated by a doctor to ensure you are safe to return to your normal activity level.

Dr. Suchy is the team doctor for several Orange County high schools including University High School in Irvine.