Nutrition Expert and Sports Dietitian Lorna Garden explores the importance of hydration for peak sports performance.
Knowing how much water to drink each day can be tricky, whether you are an Olympic athlete or a weekend warrior. Various recommendations are thrown around from time to time: 2 litres a day, 6 to 8 glasses, etc however, the truth is that drinking enough to stay well hydrated is very dependent on the individual.
There is little doubt that as dehydration increases, physical and mental performance decreases. Dehydration can compromise performance in high-intensity exercise as well as endurance activities. Training and competing in a well hydrated state is a clever strategy for optimising your performance.
Getting to know your sweat rate can help you determine how much you need to drink under different exercise conditions. Sports dietitians routinely measure an athlete’s sweat rate during training and competition in a range of environmental conditions, to provide them with the information required to design an individual fluid plan.
A simple strategy to calculate your individual fluid loss is to weigh yourself in minimal clothing, before and after an exercise or training session. The difference in weight is roughly equivalent to your total fluid losses. For example, 1kg = 1 litre.
Repeat this in different exercise situations to gauge usual sweat losses. You will then have an idea of the volume of fluid you need to consume over an exercise session to match your fluid losses. If you are dehydrated after a session, you should aim to replace 120 to 150 per cent of fluid losses that occur over the next two to six hours.
Aim to drink at frequent intervals during exercise to replace sweat losses as they occur.
Water is generally the best choice for fluid replacement, although in some high intensity and endurance sports, an athlete may benefit from the use of a carbohydrate/electrolyte sports drink.
To minimise fluid loss, make sure you begin an exercise session in a well hydrated state.
Checking that your urine is a pale straw color and is copious in volume is a good indicator of being well hydrated. Believe it or not, there are now apps for smart phones to help you assess your daily hydration status by interpreting the color of your urine in conjunction with a weight change from the previous day!
There is no benefit to overhydrating (and, in fact, chronic over-hydration can lead to a potentially serious condition known as hyponatremia) so it is good to learn as much as you can about your individual fluid requirements and tailor your hydrating strategies accordingly.
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Disclaimer: This article provides general advice only. Readers should seek independent professional advice from their general practitioner or dietitian in relation to their own individual circumstances or condition before making any decisions based on the information in this article.