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Fluid replacement guidelines for athletes

Dehydration is a potential threat to all athletes and if it’s not addressed in a very systematic fashion, it may lead to injuries, sub-optimal performance or undue stress on the cardio-respiratory system, among others!

Given that the human body is made up of approximately 60% water, it’s quite clear that optimal hydration is crucial to a variety of essential functions that can impact athletic performance. Here are a few reasons why proper hydration is a key to performance:

  • Regulates body temperature: When one participates in an intense bout of physical activity such as the demands of any sport, it leads to an increase in the core temperature. Fluid helps to regulate such increase in temperature, because if it goes above usual, it may impact both performance and recovery

  • Regulates blood pressure & heart rate: Training induces high amounts of stress on the body. An acute response to intensity is an increase in blood pressure & heart rate. Fluid helps to regulate the blood pressure, which controls the heart rate. As a result, an athlete is able to perform better + recover faster.

  • Transportation of nutrients: Fluid acts as a natural carrier of macro-nutrients (proteins, carbs & fats) which allows the body to perform and makes efficient movement possible. Additionally, water is also responsible for clearing the metabolic waste that’s produced in the body, which helps in improved recovery

Hydration specifically can sometimes be ignored and undervalued by athletes, as it may not directly form a part of a good training program. But when this happens, athletes predispose themselves to the risk getting dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to multitudes of issues such as injuries, heat strokes and hyponatremia, which means an excessive loss of sodium and imbalance of electrolytes. Dehydration can also make exercise more difficult, because of the increased stress placed on the muscles.

What is dehydration?

It's simply the state when your body loses more fluid than it intakes. This results in an imbalance which disrupts the usual levels of salts and sugars present in the blood, which can interfere with the way the body functions. Dehydration can be potentially harmful as it affects the lubrication of joints, the process of digestion and toxin clearance.

As mentioned above, when athletes expose themselves to exercise bouts or participate in intense sports, the core temperature of the body rises resulting in sweating and of course loss of water. Which is why it is important to keep yourself hydrated during practice or actual performance and here are some guidelines for fluid replacement before, during and after an intense bout of sporting activity.

If you are someone who engages with intense physical activity regularly, please note:

  • Recording body weight daily is a great tool to prevent dehydration

  • Eg: If you have lost 2 kgs or so of body water during an intense bout of exercise, this water should be replaced before exercising the subsequent day

  • If you haven't been able to do the above, it's best to avoid exercising or at least limit the intensity

While these are the water intake guidelines, I totally understand that it may not be practically possible to weigh yourself right after every exercise bout and if you are someone who definitely doesn't want to do all of that, here is a simple guideline for water intake during exercise:

  • Please note that the thirst mechanism is not sensitive enough and will not be able to prompt when to drink water irrespective of excessive sweating

  • And hence, keep sipping on to water at regular intervals during exercise whether or not you are thirsty

  • Frequent consumption of small amounts of fluid can avoid sweat related weight loss

  • Also note that rehydration with water is adequate and you don't need any sports drinks as such <unless working out in extreme weather conditions>

About the author

Rishabh Telang is the founder of the fitness revolution – He is also a national level basketball player and a CrossFit L2 trainer and Functional movement screen certified.

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