Hydrate for Optimal Performance, in Sports and in Life

As kids head back to school and begin their fall sports schedules with the summer heat still lingering in the air, it’s important to pay attention to hydration. And while the kids are off at practice, maybe you’ve decided to use the extra you-time to train for a 5K or head back to they gym. More activity means you need more fluids. But, hydration isn’t just important for athletes; all kids and adults will stay mentally sharper and physically healthier if proper hydration levels are maintained. Check out our tips to hydrate, motivate and feel great!

Hydrate for Health

Depending on our age, water makes up anywhere from 55 to 75% our body weight. Maintaining that level of water is essential for a healthy metabolism. If the amount of water in your body drops below optimal, your blood volume decreases and the heart has to work harder and beat faster to keep blood circulating. By staying hydrated – essentially, drinking more water than you lose – you help your heart to more easily do its job. Additionally, 2012 study showed that just two percent dehydration impairs performance in tasks requiring attention, psychomotor, and memory skills. And when we exercise, we dehydrate more quickly, because sweating and heavier, faster breathing means more fluid is evaporated away.

You Need to Drink More Than You Think

We’ve all heard the advice that we should all drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water each day. However, 64 ounces daily is actually far short of what most nutritionists recommend. To determine how much water you really need, divide your bodyweight in pounds in half to get the recommended number of ounces of water you should drink per day. That is, a 200-pound man should drink 100 ounces, a 150-pound woman should drink 75 and a 100-pound child should drink 50. However, those who exercise regularly require more water to stay properly hydrated.

Hydration During Exercise

The amount of water you need to consume during a workout is relative to the temperature, altitude and the intensity and duration of the workout. According to nutritionist Jenn Gargiulo, RDN, CSSD, you don’t need to drink water during moderate workouts that last under one hour unless you want to. However, you should always begin a workout properly hydrated. Gargiulo recommends an ounce of water per ten pounds of bodyweight in the hour leading up to a workout; a 200-pound man should consume 20 ounces, a 150-pound woman should consume 15 and a 100-pound child should consume 10. If exercising for longer than an hour, 10 ounces per 20 minutes of workout activity is recommended. Send kids to sports practices and games with a plastic water bottle with a sport top so they can easily squeeze water into their mouths during rest breaks and time-outs, and remind them to drink up before they hit the rink, court or field.

Adjust Hydration Based on Your Sweat Rate

Athletes should exercise in lightweight, sweat-wicking clothing that moves sweat away from the body and cools you off rather than contributing to excessive heat retention. But, you’re still going to sweat, and athletes need to adjust hydration plans based on their sweat rate, and realize that people often sweat just as much during cold weather than they do when it is very hot. “Your sweat rate can be determined by weighing yourself before and after exercise to get an idea of how much fluid is lost,” Gargiulo says. “Following exercise, athletes should consume 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during exercise for proper rehydration.”

Set Hydration Goals

If drinking water is hard for you, try setting a goal of drinking a certain amount of water each day, and hit your goal. A good trick is to carry a half-gallon (64-ounce) water bottle with you, or send your child to school with one, and to try to consume it before the end of the work or school day. Or, carry a smaller bottle and resolve to drink and refill it a certain number of times to hit your goal. If you find water too boring to drink, Gargiulo suggests naturally flavored water, unsweetened herbal teas, or a powdered multivitamin. If it’s hard for you to drink cold water on cold days, try putting hot water with lemon or hot herbal tea into an insulated bottle and carrying that with you during your day. And don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables! Of course, they’re good for you, but their high water content can also help to keep you hydrated.

Signs of Dehydration

Studies have shown that thirst alone is not the best indicator of proper hydration levels, because you can be dehydrated without feeling thirsty, and if you wait until you are thirsty to drink, it is often too late. While thirst can be a prime indicator of dehydration, other signs can include dizziness, fatigue, headache, unclear thinking, a rapid heartbeat, muscle cramps, dry skin, dry mouth or chapped lips, and decreased or dark-colored urine. Urine is a reliable indicator of hydration levels, as a well-hydrated person’s urine is almost colorless.

Signs of Chronic Dehydration

Keeping yourself properly hydrated on a day-to-day basis can have a positive effect on your health. Long-term dehydration can lead to a whole host of issues, including chronic back pain, headaches, depression, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, obesity, premature aging, kidney problems, and possibly even diabetes and heart disease.

More Than Just Water

It’s important to remember that being properly hydrated doesn’t just mean you’ve had enough water. When you sweat, in addition to losing water, you also lose electrolytes, which regulate blood pressure and muscle contraction and are essential to keeping our internal ecosystem in balance. Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. When exercising for extended periods in extreme heat or cold, or for anyone who sweats a lot, Gargiulo recommends supplementing water with electrolytes, like those found in a pre- or intra-workout drink mix or multivitamin. However, it is also important to be realistic about your activity level; many electrolyte replenishment supplements are high in calories and skipping them in favor of regular water can put 200 calories – and lots of sugar - back into your daily food bank, which can be exceptionally problematic for children. Look for one of the many available zero or low-calorie options.