Are you drinking enough water? Peak athletic performance starts with a solid understanding of hydration.
While every athlete knows staying hydrated is essential to peak performance, few fully understand how much water they should drink, and when. Many unknowingly struggle with when to decrease their water intake, and when to step their water intake up.
By “water” I mean “total water” — the term for all the fluid that goes into the stomach and keeps the heart pumping at the optimum rate, distributes nutrients throughout the body, lubricates joints, and regulates body temperate by helping to produce sweat.
Total water includes any coffee or tea, fruit juice, sports drinks, soup, and even the moisture in food (Note that I didn’t include soft drinks, or diet soda which I, along with others, strongly discourage). A full 20 percent of the water you absorb comes from food. Believe it or not, eggs and most shellfish are about 75% water, while meats come in at 50% to 70%. Not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables provide the most water as some have concentrations as high as 96%!
Knowing that, here are some questions to ask yourself:
How much “total water” do I need?
According to the latest research, just enough to keep you from becoming thirsty—no more, no less. Of course, the more intense your activity the more you have to replace water lost to sweat. That amounts to the traditional “eight glasses a day” at the very least.
Just make sure not to overdo it. A few years ago, a Vanderbilt track star drank so much water the day of a relay in Florida that his blood salts dropped to dangerously low levels. What he should’ve done instead is cut his total water intake by half and had a mix of water and a sports drink like Gatorade—which, as you probably already know by now, supplies electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other minerals). Electrolytes not only help the blood carry electrical impulses to your nerves and muscles, but also help you absorb fluid quickly and retain it longer.
How do I know if I’m well hydrated?
One easy way is to pay attention to the color of your urine. A pale-yellow or clear color generally indicates adequate hydration. A dark-yellow color generally means that you need more fluids.
How much should I drink before a game, practice or workout?
Good question. I tell my athletes to drink 20 ounces of water or Gatorade five hours before a run, practice session, or competition; another 20 ounces two hours later; and 5 ounces fifteen minutes before start time. This progressive approach works well for two reasons: 1) It enables the body to absorb and distribute fluids to the muscles, tissues, organs, and blood stream in advance; and 2) it ensures that athletes won’t have 40 fluid ounces of liquid weighing them down as they play the game.
I’ll be back next time with more tips for high school and college athletes. In the meantime, eat smart.