Athletes push their bodies and minds to the limits, striving to be better no matter their sport of choice. Teams strategize and invest in all of the best equipment, trends, and tools to better their athletes’ chances at victory. From mothers carting H20 and orange slices at youth soccer matches, to the eager team of people equipped with water bottles to rehydrate players on the NFL sidelines…hydration and the sports community go hand in hand.
But how does hydration specifically affect the performance of athletes?
Whether you exercise for recreation or are a serious athlete, it’s important to stay hydrated - before, during, and after physical exertion. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult loses more than 80 ounces of water every day through sweating, breathing, and eliminating waste.
Our body is made up of 60-70% water. It helps our bodies to:
- carry nutrients to our cells
- absorb and digest nutrients
- eliminate waste and toxins
- control our body’s temperature
- pump blood to our organs
- regulate blood pressure
- play a functional role in mental activity
Whether you exercise for recreation or are a serious athlete, it’s essential to stay hydrated - before, during, and after physical exertion. The action of drinking water seems simple, but we must understand its importance. Hydration impacts virtually every aspect of sports performance. Experts have learned that our “thirst sensation” begins AFTER we are already 1% to 2% dehydrated, and our mind and body performance are already impacted. Maintaining adequate hydration throughout exercise reduces fluid loss and reduces the potential for heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. This is true of any physical activity, but it is crucial for prolonged training sessions and competition events.
- agility and muscle function
- mental clarity
- energy level
- stamina and endurance
- injury prevention
…all of which enhance physical performance and reduce the risk of injuries. Let’s dig deeper into how hydration impacts each aspect of performance.
Agility and Muscle Function
Our muscles are 70 to 80 percent water, implying the importance of hydration concerning muscle function and growth.
When cells lose water their volume decreases, protein production slows, and protein breakdown accelerates. Studies have shown that even acute dehydration negatively impacts agility, quickness, and balance.
Muscle growth can also be slowed by dehydration. A study performed on weight-training males concluded that passive dehydration can result in approximately 1.5% decrease of body mass and adversely affects performance.
Mental Health and Clarity
The brain itself is made up of approximately 85% water. Water gives the brain energy to function including thought and memory processes. Water is also needed to produce hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Our brains do not store water, and we are constantly losing water through perspiration and other body functions. Thus, it is essential that athletes continuously hydrate. With proper hydration, individuals can think faster, focus more clearly and experience greater clarity when their brain is functioning on a full reserve of water.
Studies show that only 1% dehydration can result in a 5% decrease in cognitive function. 2% dehydration can result in short term memory loss and difficulty computing. Prolonged dehydration causes brain cells to shrink in density, volume and mass.
Mental symptoms of dehydration can include:
- Afternoon fatigue
- Sleep issues
- Inability to focus
- Lack of mental clarity, sometimes referred to as “brain fog.”
Dehydration slows down circulation, which impacts oxygen flow to the brain, muscles, and vital organs, subsequently decreasing their functionality.
In addition, to compensate, the heart works overtime to pump oxygen throughout the body—this increased level of exertion results in additional feelings of fatigue and loss of focus.
Water plays an important role in our body’s thermoregulation- the process in which our system regulates overall body temperature by helping to dissipate heat. If the body becomes too hot, water is lost through sweat, and the evaporation of this sweat from the skin surface removes heat from the body. Sweating is the most effective way that the body prevents itself from overheating, thus replenishing the lost water is critical.
Stamina and Endurance
During prolonged endurance exercise, the importance of maintaining adequate hydration becomes crucial. Dehydration of as little as 1% has been shown to affect performance. High sweat rates can maintain for hours during practice and competitions, presenting a greater strain the body’s water reserves.
While it is possible to consume sufficient fluid to replace the lost sweat and prevent dehydration, studies have shown that most athletes, particularly endurance athletes, drink less fluid during exercise than they lose in sweat.
Dehydration causes several physiological and perceptual alterations during prolonged exertion, namely the reduction in plasma volume and increased perceived level of exertion. These variables have a significant impact on an individual’s stamina.
Dehydration weakens muscles and makes them inflamed and fatigued. Staying adequately hydrated can help reduce muscle fatigue and decrease the risk of injury. Rehydrating and replenishing our bodies with necessary minerals and electrolytes also prevents cramping, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. By staying hydrated, preventing unnessary injuries and allowing our bodies to run smoothly.
Water has a significant impact on multiple aspects of recovery.
Exercise causes muscles to become stronger by breaking them down, and then rebuilding them using muscle protein synthesis. However, this process requires the muscles to be hydrated. If you are dehydrated following an intense workout or injury, your recovery process slows dramatically and halts the protein synthesis necessary to rebuild muscles.
Water plays a key role in the digestion process. Saliva is crucial to digest and absorb the nutrients you eat. It is responsible for the beginning stages breaking down food. Rehydrating post-exercise supports the digestive process and enhances recovery.
Hydrating during and after substantial workouts has shown to improve heart rate recovery. Meaning, our bodies recover more quickly from the stress of exercise when we are adequately hydrated.
Providing universal fluid intake recommendations is difficult. Fluid needs vary based on activity, intensity, environmental conditions, body size of the athlete and training status. The more highly trained an athlete is, the more they will sweat, requiring greater levels of hydration.
Remember to consider that sweat contains electrolytes: sodium, potassium, chloride and small amounts of minerals (iron, calcium and magnesium. Of all these, sodium takes the biggest hit from sweat loss, thus it’s the most important to replace.
Stay Hydrated on the Go
RainMaker Inc. is at the forefront of active hydration, aiding the performance of athletes in motorsports and more with automated drink systems that simplify body hydration. Our innovative line of FluidLogic products make hydration simple and efficient.
FluidLogic is an intuitive, automated, active hydration system, featuring quick release magnetic connectors and a sleek, ergonomic design. Our system is created for decision-makers and end-users in all motorsports industries who are looking for an edge in performance, and athletes of all disciplines who want to increase their performance.