Nutrition and Hydration for Athletes
Hydration is vital for life and a crucial factor in physical and mental performance. No matter how hard you train, no matter how balanced your diet, if you are dehydrated you cannot deliver your peak performance.
Hydration is the process of replacing fluids that are lost from the body. Replenishing lost fluids is vital for maintaining normal muscle function, helping to prevent a decline in physical performance and reducing the risk of heat stress and injury.
Proper hydration means getting the right amount of Water and Electrolytes to achieve fluid balance in the cells..
Water is essential for numerous essential processes in the body including the digestion, absorption and transport of nutrients, body temperature regulation, oxygen transport, blood pressure regulation, joint lubrication and waste removal.
Electrolytes are minerals (sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium) that become electrically charged when they are dissolved in bodily fluids (blood, sweat, urine). This electrical energy is needed to carry nerve impulses around the body, to regulate acid/base balance, to perform muscle contraction/relaxation and to facilitate proper hydration.
In the body water is stored in carefully regulated concentrations inside and outside the cells. Electrolytes control the movement of water in and out of the cells via osmosis, to maintain fluid balance. This prevents the cells from becoming too filled with water and bursting or from shriveling as happens in cellular dehydration.
Dehydration is a harmful reduction in the amount of water in the body. During exercise water is lost from the body through sweat, breathing and urination. Sweat is made up of a mixture of water and minerals, predominantly sodium. The amount of water and salt lost during exercise varies from person to person (visible white/salt stains on your clothing after sweating is a sign of high salt loss) and may be influenced by ambient temperature and relative humidity.
Risk of dehydration may be increased by: extreme temperatures, illness (viral/bacterial infection), vomiting/diarrhea, some medications (eg, cold/ flu tablets), inadequate rest time and low hydration status before exercise.
Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, thirst, headache, dark urine, weakness and dizziness.
Effect of dehydration on athletic performance. A 2% loss of body mass through fluid loss is enough to impact physical and mental performance. In dehydration an athlete may experience loss of strength, power and coordination, reduced aerobic endurance, mental fatigue, loss of focus and negative thoughts. Extreme dehydration can be fatal.
Electrolyte Drinks for Hydration.
The body absorbs water most efficiently during the first hour of intense exercise. After an hour it becomes necessary to start replacing electrolytes, especially if you sweat a lot. Replacing lost fluids with water alone will not re-hydrate the cells if there is insufficient electrolytes to support osmosis to allow water to cross the cell membrane into the cell.
If you are drinking water but still feeling thirsty, have a headache or are feeling as though your stomach is bloating, it is a sign of cellular dehydration due to low electrolytes. In order to achieve proper cellular re-hydration both water and electrolytes need to be replaced.
In order to reduce the risk of dehydration, good hydration should be consistently maintained even on non-training days.
Tips for Healthy Hydration
1. Hydrate on rest days: drink 2L water per day
2. Include hydrating foods: cucumber, watermelon, lettuce, celery, oranges, tomato, kiwi fruit.
3. Include foods rich in electrolytes: green leafy vegetables, bananas, pickled cucumbers, coconut water, lemon, celery, whole fat dairy.
4. Address digestive issues. Poor digestive health can lead to inadequate absorption of nutrients as well as dehydration, and dehydration can lead to poor digestive health.
5. Always start training sessions/competitions already well hydrated.