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Hydration Dos and Don’ts for Athletes

hydration dos and don'ts

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  • Coaches and online fitness gurus are always exhorting athletes and followers to stay hydrated.

    Unfortunately, they don’t often say much about how much or what you should drink, or when.

    Both too little fluid and too much can be life-threatening. Hydration dos and don’ts for athletes apply to professionals, school athletes, and weekend warriors alike.

    Dehydration vs. Hyponatremia

    Dehydration occurs when your body doesn’t receive as much water as it needs. Symptoms range from thirst, lightheadedness, dry mouth, headaches, and muscle cramps to dizziness, irritability, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and fainting.

    On the other hand, hyponatremia, or water intoxication, occurs when you take in too much fluid. It has caused deaths after marathon races and has been detrimental to athletes whose coaches demanded they chug a large water bottle after training.

    Over-hydration dilutes electrolytes, the minerals necessary for proper cell function, causing cells to swell. Unfortunately, symptoms of over-hydration often mimic those of dehydration. Any athlete displaying these symptoms needs immediate, emergency medical attention.

    Make a Plan

    Weighing yourself before, during, and after a training session can give you a guide to how much fluid you need. You shouldn’t be gaining weight during a workout.

    If that’s happening, you’re drinking too much fluid. Losing a little weight during exercise is normal, however. Replace fluids at the rate of about 20 ounces for every pound you lose. If you lose more than 2% of your body weight during exercise, you may be dehydrated.

    What To Drink and When

    Hydration dos and don’ts include remembering that each person’s needs are very different, and any guidelines are meant to be very general. Always check with your doctor about your hydration needs, especially if you have existing medical issues.

    The American College of Sports Medicine has published guidelines about hydration. These guidelines include drinking fluids with meals before you exercise and giving your body at least 8 to 12 hours to recover after your last workout.

    They recommend drinking about two cups of water at least four hours before you exercise, and taking small sips of water when you feel thirsty during exercise. Don’t drink more than you need, but if you’re outdoors and it is extremely hot, you may require more fluid.

    other valuable tips:

    For most people, water is all they need for adequate hydration. Flavorings encourage people who exercise to drink more water. Those who participate in intense 60 to 90-minute workouts may benefit from sports drinks that contain up to, but not more than, 8% carbohydrates. These drinks also replace electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium, plus sugar for energy.

    Avoid energy drinks with massive amounts of caffeine, as they act as a diuretic, causing you to pee more and lose fluid faster. They can also act like laxatives, which is not an effect you want in the middle of a competition.

    Fruit juices can have the same effect, and sodas provide no electrolytes and too much sugar. Recovery drinks with higher levels of carbs and antioxidants, however, can help reduce soreness after a workout.

    Image Credit: hydration dos and don’ts by twenty20.com

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