For sport it is essential to eat a balanced diet to ensure that the body is fuelled pre and post exercise and in my role as a Sports Nutritionist when analysing athletes’ diets, I often find that athletes do monitor their food intake.
However it is equally important that adequate fluids are consumed to reduce the risk of dehydration by promoting good health and enhancing sporting performance.This area of nutrition is often overlooked and working with athletes it is apparent that many have experienced at some point symptoms of dehydration including; poor gut health resulting in episodes of constipation and impaired sporting performance which affects them in achieving their personal sporting goals.
Thirst should not be used as an indicator to drink fluids, as at this point you have already lost approximately 1 to 2 litres of water from the body. Working in sport has exposed me to poor practice from athletes who have failed to hydrate sufficiently due to the weather being cooler with the athlete thinking that sweating had not occurred significantly in such a climate to hydrate appropriately. The intensity and duration of their training did in fact cause an increased sweating rate and as a result their reaction times were reduced, they experienced headaches combined with physical and mental tiredness which would affecti further training sessions.
If you feel thirsty you are already in a dehydrated state so to avoid this drink water throughout the day, aiming for at least 2 litres of water. For some it is not practical to carry a 2 litre bottle of water, instead carry a 500ml bottle and top it up with water throughout the day.
A general guide to monitor your hydration status is to check your urine, it should be a light yellow colour indicating that the body is well hydrated, however if you consume lots of fruit and vegetables then the colour of your urine will be a slightly darker yellow.
To hydrate the body it is necessary to consume water containing electrolytes, this will not only replace lost fluids but also replace salts lost through sweating which will maintain a positive fluid balance. There is an increased demand by the body to drink additional water as a result of sweating occurring more rapidly in warm weather, increased duration of exercise and intensity of exercise. Failure to hydrate can cause fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and due to these symptoms, can ultimately inhibit sporting performance for the athlete. Many athletes make the mistake of eating more when they experience these symptoms however it is likely that these symptoms would be a result of poor hydration.
In my experience many athletes consume other drinks which they are not aware do not hydrate the body. Tea and coffee for example can cause the body to lose water as they have an anti-diuretic effect and will ultimately increase the risk of dehydration. Other drinks such as fizzy drinks due to the caffeine content have a negative effect on the hydration status and should be kept to a minimum and not replace water.