The Role of Hydration in Athletic Performance

Steve Pritchard, MS, AT

Southwest General Sports Medicine

The human body is made up of approximately 70 percent water, so it makes sense that adequate hydration helps to positively fuel performance. Water is vital to our survival. Add athletic performance, and the role of hydration becomes much more important.

Water plays a vital role in the body, helping to maintain healthy cells, control body temperature, cushion joints, and regulate blood pressure among other things. Without proper water intake, the body becomes more susceptible to fatigue, decreased mental capacity, decreased reaction/response time, headaches and more.

There are many different kind of fluids available for rehydration, and some are more effective than others. Water is still the fluid of choice, but some athletes prefer more taste, which helps increase the amount of fluid ingested. Examples include:

  • Water – during athletic performance, approximately 20 ounces of water two to three hours prior to performance and seven to 10 ounces every 10-20 minutes is recommended. This is in conjunction with adequate water intake throughout the day.
  • Sports drinks – help to replace electrolytes (like sodium, chloride and potassium), which are important for many bodily functions. However, sports drinks can contain sugar and can be an excessive calorie source. Mostly recommended for activities of two hours or longer to help replace energy as well as rehydrate.
  • Milk – milk is mostly water and is a good choice, particularly chocolate milk post-exercise due to its 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. However, some athletes are unable to drink milk, and it is not a drink of choice during athletic contests.
  • Juice (fruit and/or vegetable) – another fluid choice comprised mostly of water. Fruit juice contains sugar, which can cause spikes in blood sugar with a subsequent crash that can negatively impact performance.

Caffeinated drinks are not a good source of fluid as caffeine causes the body to rid itself of fluid, which can lead to dehydration.

Adequate hydration and prevention of problems related to dehydration is not difficult to achieve. A good rule of thumb for daily water consumption is 60-70 percent of your body weight in ounces. For example, a 200-pound individual would consume 120-140 ounces of water per day. This amount is based on normal activities of daily living. When athletic activity is added, daily water intake should be supplemented (see list above). In addition to drinking a variety of fluids, a healthy diet (fruits/vegetables, lean meats, etc.) will help provide good dietary balance and body hydration.

Proper hydration doesn’t require rocket science to achieve. A hydration plan is easy and, once established, provides enhanced performance in the classroom and workplace as well as on the field. All it takes is a little planning and a little discipline and you’re off to better performance!