Water is the essential constituent of the human body as all cells, organs, and tissues are primarily comprised of water making it vital for the correct functioning of the body. Proper hydration means getting the right amount of water before, during and after exercise.
Water transports nutrients and oxygen into cells, regulates body temperature, acts as a lubricant and shock absorber to protect joints, supports digestion & removal of waste products, and is also required to breakdown food so we can use it as energy.
As a sportsperson trains or competes, fluid is lost through sweating and through the lungs while breathing. If this fluid is not replaced at regular intervals during practice or competition, it can lead to dehydration. The amount of water one needs to drink while exercising however differs from one sportsperson to another due to differences in factors such as body size, exercise intensity, exercise duration and environment.
In cool weather or when the exercise pace is gentle, the rate of sweat loss may be quite low. It is unnecessary and potentially dangerous to drink at rates that are far greater than sweat losses as overhydration can cause a dilution of blood sodium levels (hyponatremia).
A dehydrated sportsperson on the other hand has a decreased volume of blood circulating through the body and consequently: exercising muscles don’t receive enough oxygen; the sportsperson suffers more exhaustion and the byproducts of exercise are not flushed out of the body as regularly as they should.
All sportspersons should begin exercise well hydrated by drinking between 500-600ml of fluid two (2) hours before exercise.
Drink to thirst if well hydrated. Electrolytes can be included to replace salts lost during event for example Sodium and potassium. It is advisable to drink water every 15- 20 minute about three (3) gulps. This can also be influenced by environment.
It is recommended that athletes drink 750ml of fluid for every kilogram of body weight lost during exercise. Re-hydration should be completed within 2 hours of finishing exercise.
If a sportsperson is exercising in extreme conditions over three (3) or five (5) hours like a marathon for example, they may likely want to add a complex sports drink with electrolytes. Sports drinks can be useful during some activities, especially high intensity or endurance sports, as it contains both carbohydrate for fuel and flavour and electrolytes contained in sodium to help the body ‘hold on to’ fluid more effectively as well as stimulate thirst.
For proper hydration, a sportsperson should weigh-in before and after training, especially during hot weather and conditioning phases of that season. The athlete should also drink 1200ml- 1500ml of fluid for every kilogram lost during exercise so as to ensure full fluid restoration and balance electrolytes.
Therefore, it is important for track and field sportsperson competing to begin training and competition in a state of optimal hydration and consume sufficient fluid during exercise to optimize performance and health.
Catch you next time as we unpack ‘How to eat to maximize sports performance’.
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Certified Nutritionist, Nutrition By Nthenya