Reducing Risk in Sports: The importance of hydration

When you hear the word dehydration (not enough water in the body), there’s a good chance that you automatically think of the heat; however, properly maintaining fluid balance in your body before, during and after physical activity is important year round, regardless of the weather.

Unfortunately, many athletes, including those participating in high school sports, begin their workouts dehydrated. This is even true during the cold weather months when many individuals do not think that they need to be concerned about hydration. On the opposite extreme is when athletes consume too much fluid (hyperhydrated). Both dehydration and hyperhydration can compromise athletic performance and increase health risks.

It is important for athletes to have access to water, but to also be aware of the risks of overdrinking which can lead to a condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia caused by excessive consumption of fluids – this includes sports drinks as well as water.

There are several signs and symptoms of dehydration and hyponatremia to consider. Initial signs of dehydration include thirst, irritability and general discomfort. If dehydration progresses, signs and symptoms might also include headache, cramps, chills, vomiting, nausea, head or neck heat sensations, and decreased performance. Early signs of hyponatremia include irritability, general discomfort and headache. If hyponatremia progresses, swollen hands and feet, altered levels of consciousness, mood changes and muscle twitching might also be observed. Keep in mind that early signs and symptoms of these two conditions may have some overlap, including thirst, general malaise, fatigue, headache and vomiting.

Tips for staying properly hydrated

  • Work with your athletic trainer to develop an individualized hydration plan. According to new recommendations from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, this is a critical step in keeping you healthy. Considerations should be given to your personal sweat rate, environment, heat acclimatization, body size, exercise duration, exercise intensity and your individual fluid preferences and tolerance.
  • If you begin your exercise well hydrated, you should not drink more fluid than you lose through sweat during exercise. Monitor your weight before and after exercise to be sure you are adhering to this. You should not gain weight during exercise due to fluid consumption.
  • To measure your personal sweat rate, take your weight (in kilograms) before and after working out 30 minutes in the heat. Do not drink fluids during this workout. The difference in your body weight (pre-exercise body weight minus post-exercise body weight) multiplied by two equals your sweat rate in liters per hour. This is how many liters per hour you lose for that workout’s intensity and environmental conditions.
  • During activity, you should drink an amount close to your personal sweat rate. Typical sweat rate ranges from one to three liters per hour. (Many drink bottles hold approximately one liter of fluid when filled.) It is normal to lose weight during activity, but losing no more than two percent of your body weight by the end of activity is best. Weighing yourself before and after activity is another good way to determine your hydration during activity.
  • Your diet and rehydration beverages should include sufficient sodium (enough to replace losses but not an excessive amount) to prevent or resolve imbalances that may occur as a result of sweat and urine losses during your physical activity.
  • Sodium supplements before and during exercise should be individualized based on specific losses and needs. Check with your athletic trainer for recommendations.
  • Caffeine may increase short-term urine production at rest but does not induce urination during exercise. Therefore, mild or moderate caffeine consumption before and every 30 minutes during exercise is acceptable.
  • Personal cues to gauge hydration status include body mass, thirst, urination frequency and urine color. From day-to-day or throughout a day, these all reflect relative hydration status and can provide important feedback on your personal hydration status.
  • Cold weather can reduce your thirst levels and can induce urination more quickly than in warmer conditions. Therefore, combining personal cues in these environments is key to knowing if you are well hydrated when the weather is cold.
  • Do not try a new beverage or hydration plan on game day. Try different drinks in advance to make sure they work for you before consuming them during competition. You want to make sure your stomach can handle what you put into it during activity.
  • Keep beverages nearby. Individual containers are ideal so that when you get a break, drinking requires little effort.
  • Choose your flavor or type of drink and, whenever possible, keep your beverages on ice. You are more likely to drink up if you like the flavor and it is chilled.

Following these recommendations will help keep you properly hydrated during physical activity year round, whether you are participated in sports indoors or outside. For additional sports safety tips for parents and athletes, visit

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