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April 11, 2023

The Importance of Hydration for Athletes

Gaining an Edge, and Keeping It.

You are all in on being the best you can be. You never miss a training session. You follow your diet and supplement regimen to the letter. And you never have a problem sacrificing a fun night out for a good night’s sleep. Everything you can possibly control is dialed in to optimize - and maximize - your performance on the field, court, or track. 

Or… is it?

The fact of the matter is, if that’s all you’re doing, you’re leaving out a crucial tool that directly impacts the benefits of every single element of the above regimen, as well as your overall performance itself.

Proper hydration.

How Hydration Affects Performance

Water is involved in virtually every physiological body process, every minute of every day. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult loses more than 80 ounces of water daily through sweating, breathing, and eliminating waste. And that’s just the average adult. Depending on atmospheric temperature, training intensity, and other factors, athletes can lose two to three times that amount, or more, on any given day.

And unfortunately, just drinking water when thirsty doesn’t quite cut it in terms of keeping your hydration on track. Multiple studies have shown that our “thirst sensation” begins AFTER we are already 1% to 2% dehydrated, and in that state, our peak mental and physical performance capacities have already been compromised. 

Data also shows that maintaining adequate, proper hydration throughout exercise actually improves several critical elements of performance, including:

  • Muscle Function

  • Mental Health & Clarity

  • Digestion

  • Energy Levels

  • Stamina and Endurance

  • Thermoregulation

  • Injury Prevention

  • Recovery

How? Read on.

Muscle Function

Our muscles are made up of 70 to 80 percent water, underscoring the importance of hydration when it comes to muscle function, capacity, and size. When muscle cells lose water through the production of energy and thermoregulation, their volume decreases, protein production slows, and protein breakdown within the muscle tissue accelerates. As proven by multiple studies, even mildly dehydrated athletes experience measurable decreases in agility, quickness, strength, power, endurance, and balance. 

Research has also shown that long-term muscle growth can be slowed - and even reversed - by dehydration. A study performed on weight-training males concluded that long-term, passive dehydration can result in a decrease of lean body mass of 1.5%. 

In short, if you want to get the most out of hitting the gym, you’d better be hitting the water fountain. 

Repeatedly.

Mental Health and Clarity 

And water just isn’t just essential for your brawn. 

It’s also essential for your brain

Water makes up approximately 85% of it, and is a vital component of virtually every brain process - from thought and memory to the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. But despite how critical water is for the brain, the organ doesn’t have the capacity to store it. Thus, it’s in constant need of new fluids to maintain peak functionality. 

Multiple studies have shown that proper hydration positively impacts brain function, enabling individuals to think faster, focus more clearly, and experience greater clarity. Being just 1% dehydrated can result in a 5% decrease in cognitive function while being 2% dehydrated can result in short term memory loss and difficulty computing. Identifiable symptoms include the inability to focus, lack of mental clarity (“brain fog”), mental fatigue, depression, and trouble sleeping.

And that’s just in the short term. Over prolonged periods, dehydration can actually cause brain cells to shrink in density, volume and mass. So while you’re losing muscle mass to dehydration, you’re also losing brain mass as well. 

Talk about a lose-lose. 

Digestion


Whether it’s a pre-game meal, a mid-race sports drink, or a late-night snack, from the moment a nutrient enters the body, hydration plays a critical role in turning it into something your body can use. 

Think about it. Saliva doesn’t just keep your tongue from sticking to the sides of your mouth - it’s just the first stage of many that gradually transform what we eat and drink into the nutrients our body can use.  

Yes, you are what you eat. But only if you drink.

Energy Levels

Point blank: if you want to maintain your energy levels - whether while you’re exercising or just throughout your day - you need to maintain your fluid levels.

Dehydration pulls water out of the bloodstream, increasing its overall viscosity while decreasing blood pressure. This greatly increases the strain on the heart and circulation system and makes it more difficult to transport oxygen and critical nutrients to cells within the brain, muscles, and vital organs. The levels of components needed to make energy subsequently drop within cells across the entirety of the body, resulting in decreased mental and physical capacity.

Net-net, water could very well be the ultimate energy drink.

Stamina and Endurance 

As mentioned above, proper hydration is critically important for both muscle function and energy, which are both foundational elements of stamina and endurance. This greatly underscores the need for hydration protocols during prolonged periods of exercise, as this places a greater strain on the body’s water reserves. While you are physically able to replace the fluids lost as you are exercising and prevent dehydration, studies have shown that most athletes, particularly endurance athletes, do not. This stems from multiple of factors, including the aforementioned delayed feeling of thirst, lack of knowledge about sweat volume, and access/convenience. And by not adequately hydrating, they’re robbing themselves of an optimized performance.

In short, if you want to keep it up, drink it up.

Thermoregulation 

Sweating is the body’s way of keeping itself cool. When the body becomes too hot, the evaporation of sweat from the skin surface acts as a conduit to remove heat from the body. This process helps protect us from ailments related to overheating, like heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. 

How much we sweat varies greatly from person-to-person, as it is dependent on multiple factors ranging from age to cardiovascular health. For instance, children tend not to sweat as much as adults, and therefore are more sensitive to heat and have a higher risk of heat-related injury.

While it’s rather obvious that atmospheric conditions like temperature, humidity, and attire/equipment greatly impact sweat rate, most athletes don’t fully realize the extent. For instance, in measured tests, it’s been found that professional race car drivers lose between 5 and 10 pounds of water during a race, while football players can lose upwards of 2 liters of water (4.4 pounds) per hour of practice.

And while sweating is largely associated with exercise, the human body sweats all throughout the day, so it’s important to continually rehydrate even on days that are not particularly strenuous. 

So the next time you get asked to Netflix and chill, take a bottle of water with you.

Injury Prevention 

Coaches have been saying “The greatest ability is availability” since the dawn of time… or at least since the days of those weird polyester coaching shorts. And the reason why that saying has stuck around is that it’s pretty accurate: it’s hard to be competitive when you’re stuck on the sidelines, nursing an injury.

Enter hydration.

Staying properly hydrated does much more than help athletes maintain mental focus and protect them from heat-related injuries like heat stroke. It also greatly decreases the risk of musculoskeletal injuries like joint sprains, muscle tears, and bone fractures. Physiologists attribute these phenomena to the fact that in a dehydrated state, muscle tissue becomes dramatically less pliable and more rigid, and joint lubrication is reduced. 

So if you want to increase your odds of “availability”, increase your attention on hydration.

Recovery

Want to bounce back after a tough workout? Start drinking (water, that is).

Hydrating during and after substantial workouts has shown a significant impact on multiple aspects of recovery. As mentioned earlier, hydration impacts the amount of exertion of the heart during exercise. This is also critical to the pace of recovery, as hydration enables the heart to slow to its resting rate far more quickly.

Hydration also plays a key role in muscle strength recovery and muscle-building. 

During exercise, muscle cells break down, only to be rebuilt stronger through muscle protein synthesis. However, this process requires that the muscles are well hydrated. If an athlete is in a dehydrated state following an intense workout or injury, their recovery process slows dramatically and halts the protein synthesis necessary to rebuild and strengthen their damaged tissue. 

Recommendations 

You’ve made it this far. Now what?

Quite simply, now it’s time to put your knowledge to work. Since every athlete, activity, and condition differs, there is no “universal fluid intake recommendation” to follow. But there are ways you can optimize your hydration… thereby optimizing performance.

  1. Weigh-in and take notes

    Weighing in before and after exercise gives athletes a clear sense of the amount of sweat they tend to lose amidst different variables. In order to stay properly hydrated, an athlete that loses five pounds over the course of a typical practice in moderate conditions needs to be taking in at least 80 ounces of fluid.

  2. Mind the volume


    Sweat contains important electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride and small amounts of minerals (iron, calcium, and magnesium). During very heavy sweating occasions, to optimize performance and avoid the risk of injury, components like sodium should be replenished.

  3. Pre-hydrate

    Studies have shown that ample hydration well before a competitive event or exercise decreases the likelihood of becoming dehydrated.

  4. Get ahead of it


    As mentioned earlier, thirst is a delayed response. Get ahead of it. By the time you know you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

  5. Drink smaller, more often

    It’s better for the body to drink smaller portions of water throughout the day and during exercise than “chugging” large volumes of fluids all at once.

OK. Enough reading. 

Let’s get out there and get one day better.

FluidLogic FluidLogic is at the intersection of hydration and wearable technology. Our products were born in the harsh conditions of the Baja 1000 and have been field-proven by the Department of Defense (DOD) and law enforcement community members. The first-of-its-kind FluidLogic system with Active Hydration™ is designed to maximize the performance of anyone involved in an active pursuit or profession, including motorsports, powersports, public and industrial safety, outdoor recreation, and the military.”

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