The Importance of Hydration in Sport

November 18, 2022

We all agree that water, like food or air, is vital for the human body. When we have a deficit of any of these, we can experience many different interactions which can be detrimental to our bodies. Moreover, it is said that the loss of 20% or more water in the body can lead to death.

Our bodies are made of about 60-70% of water. This fact is enough to understand the importance water has for our overall functioning. 

Its role in the body becomes even more crucial if you are an athlete or someone who frequently performs a moderate physical activity. 

Hydration in sport is a subject that covers a lot of content and which we could talk about for hours and hours, since there are factors that directly influence the quantities to be ingested, such as the type and duration of the physical activity, the characteristics of the environment and the qualities of each individual. 

On the other hand, water fulfills vital body functions such as cooling, elimination of metabolic waste, lubrication of joints, as well as helping in the transportation and absorption of nutrients, among others.

Hydration in athletes is essential, so much so that it directly influences their performance. However, on some occasions, we have heard colleagues say that we should drink before and after training but not during training. They argue that we may experience some stomach pains.

This is incorrect. We should drink water before, during, and once we have finished training, and even more so if the body "asks for it." 

Hydration before, during, and after exercise is a basic tool for maintaining physical performance and preventing harmful dehydration effects on the athlete's health. The dilemma is not to ask when to drink water, but how much.

The intake of specific volumes of liquid, whether water or isotonic drinks, avoids the effects of body water deficiency on thermoregulation, physical performance, and health.

As mentioned above, water has certain vital functions for human beings:

  • Thermoregulation: physical exercise increases our body temperature, and the release of water in the form of sweat is one of the main mechanisms for cooling the body. 

  • Nutrition: water plays a fundamental role in the transport of the nutrients we ingest to the muscle cells, as well as in their absorption.

  • Elimination of waste substances and toxins

  • Lubrication of joints

If hydration influences so many processes and fulfills these vital functions, it is logical to think that dehydration will have a negative effect on both performance and health. 

In terms of performance, dehydration can cause a decrease in physical endurance and muscular strength, and there may even be an increase in injury risk (due to the lubricating effect of water). 

At the health level, a series of illnesses can occur, ranging from muscle cramps to dizziness or even, in extreme cases, death.

When we talk about dehydration, we refer to when people ingest fewer fluids than they lose. To maintain adequate performance, you should never allow your body to feel thirst, as this sensation is already a sign of dehydration.

Negative effects of dehydration can produce:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Temporary uncontrolled increase in body temperature

  • Rapid feeling of fatigue

  • Risk of heat stroke, sunstroke, injuries

Remember that hydrating while doing sports is essential for both your athletic performance and your health. The important thing is to hydrate before, during, and after training. 

As we have said, the amount will depend on several factors, but as a guideline we can use the following data: 500ml an hour and a half before training, 100ml every half hour of training, and another 500ml at the end.

The ideal temperature is around 60 F. It doesn't need to be colder. In fact, at this temperature, water is assimilated more quickly than at lower temperatures because the body must regulate the temperature of the liquid.

Think that when the sensation of thirst appears, we have already lost too much body fluid. Therefore, it is not necessary to wait until you feel thirsty. 

The ideal is to drink from time to time. It is advisable to drink small sips regularly during exercise so that we stay constantly hydrated.

Avoid drinking during moments of high respiratory rate (hyperventilation), because by hydrating at these moments, you will be depriving your body of oxygen when it needs it most.

Also, avoid drinking caffeinated beverages before exercise as they have diuretic effects that can promote dehydration. 

Water is the best liquid you can give your body to keep it hydrated, but without overdoing it, isotonic drinks also help you replenish minerals and electrolytes that you lose through sweat during physical exercise. 

Final Word

The human body is 60% water, which makes this element the most vital factor for our regular functioning. 

Athletes, of course, need extra hydration due to excess sweating and loss of fluids. 

The recommended water intake for athletic people is 500 ml an hour and a half before training, 100 ml every half hour during training, and another 500 ml at the end of the workout.