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How Hydration Prevents Injuries & The Best Ways to Stay Hydrated

Your body depends on water to survive; every cell, tissue, and organ in your body needs water to function the right way. This is especially important in athletes in order to maintain proper health and conditioning. Our body uses water to maintain its core temperature, remove waste, lubricate joints, and keep our brain functioning at an optimal level. The brain cannot work efficiently or effectively if the body doesn’t maintain proper hydration, leading to fatigue, mistakes, and more importantly injuries on the field or in training.

woman drinking water at the gym

How Do We Become Dehydrated?

Water makes up more than half of your body weight. You lose water each day when you go to the bathroom, sweat, and even when you breathe. You lose water even faster when the weather is really hot and especially when you are physically active during those times. Issues like vomiting and diarrhea can also lead to rapid water loss. If you don’t replace the water you lose, you can become dehydrated and put yourself at risk for injury or worse.

What Are Some Warning Signs That We May Be Dehydrated?

  • Little to no urine

  • Urine that is darker than usual (very yellow)

  • Dry mouth

  • Excessive exercise with little to no sweating

  • Tiredness or fatigue

  • Extreme thirst

  • Headache

  • Blurred vision

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Are Certain Types of Athletes More At-Risk Than Others?

There are many different factors that play into hydration, including sports. For example, soccer players are at a higher risk of dehydration because they exercise at high intensity multiple times per week and are not able to get enough fluids each day. The heat, high temperatures, and hot sun in San Diego can pull moisture from your body very quickly. Older athletes are also at higher risk. As you get older, your brain may not be able to sense dehydration and send the signals for thirst. Adults often may confuse the feeling of thirst with hunger. Water will not satisfy hunger so start with a glass of water before you eat. *You may need to increase the amount of water you are drinking if you:

  • Will be outside during hot weather (this is very much the case in Escondido and Southern California)

  • Will be vigorously exercising during practice and games multiple times per week.

  • Attend gym classes at school and don’t properly hydrate before you go to practice later that evening.

  • Have been vomiting or have diarrhea (let parents and coaches know about this prior to games or practices)

How Much Water Should Athletes Drink Each Day?

Different athletes need different amounts of water to stay hydrated. Most healthy people can stay well hydrated by drinking water and other fluids on a regular basis. This means a sip or two from the water fountain every time you pass by one. For some people, fewer than 8 glasses may be enough, but NOT for a high-level athlete. A general rule of thumb is to consume 500ml per hour of vigorous exercise in addition to the two liters per day!

Besides water, what else can I consume to stay hydrated?

Water is always the best option for staying hydrated. Drinks like fruit and vegetable juices, milk, and herbal teas can contribute to the amount of water you get each day. A moderate amount of caffeine (200 to 300 milligrams) is not harmful, but it's best to limit caffeinated drinks because caffeine may cause some people to urinate more frequently, or feel anxious or jittery causing faster de-hydration. Water can also be found in fruits and vegetables (for example, watermelon, tomatoes, and lettuce) and in soup broths. These are some great options for post-practice/game meals.

What about sports drinks and energy drinks?

For most athletes, water is all that is needed to maintain good hydration. However, for our athletes exercising at a high intensity for longer periods of time, a sports drink may be helpful. It contains carbohydrates and electrolytes that can increase your energy and help your body absorb water. These electrolytes like sodium are essential in human function and need to be replenished quickly after loss.

Some key things to look for when selecting the right sports drink:

  • Check the serving size; some sports drinks contain 2-2.5 servings per bottle.

  • Avoid energy drinks with high levels of sugar and caffeine.

  • Don’t mistake an energy drink for a sports drink. We want to avoid too many stimulants such as caffeine, guarana, and taurine, just to name a few.

  • We want to look for sports drinks that provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per 8-ounce serving. The drink's carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose -- all of which are easily and quickly absorbed.

Tips for Staying Hydrated

  • Keep a bottle of water with you during the day. Carrying a reusable water bottle around with you will more likely prompt you to drink from it than seeking out fountains or bottled water.

  • If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try adding a slice of lemon or lime to your drink during the day. Avoid this trick at practice and games as the acidity of the fruit may cause upset stomach or heartburn.

  • Be sure to drink water before, during, and after a workout.

  • When you’re feeling hungry, drink water. Thirst is often confused with hunger. True hunger will not be satisfied by drinking water.

  • Try drinking a small glass of water at the beginning of each hour. Putting yourself on a schedule will hold you more personally accountable.

  • Drink water when you go to a restaurant. It will keep you hydrated, and it’s free!

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Scott Ryan, BS, CSCS, CF-L1, CF-W, BFRC

A professional coach who specializes in Applied Functional Science, Strength and Conditioning, CrossFit L1, and Olympic Lifting. He attended New England College in New Hampshire obtaining a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis on Biomechanics. He has a passion for injury prevention and coaching, as he was a collegiate athlete who suffered sports injuries. His goal is to get athletes back to optimal shape as well as prevent future injuries.

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