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How Maintaining Optimal Hydration Improves Player Performance

Athlete Hydration - Sports Performance Tracking

In sport and strength training, maintaining an optimal hydration status has been shown to improve both performance and recovery outcomes. Depending on your sport, uniforms, equipment and length of activity, all play an important role when it comes to dehydration among players.

Dehydration can have serious implications and can have a significant impact on a player's performance at practice or on game day. To make sure your players stay properly hydrated, there are a few steps that should be taken before, during, and post exercise. “Staying hydrated increases energy, improves movement, recovery and agility, thermoregulation, and aids in mental clarity and activity – all of which can improve physical performance and reduce the risk of injuries,” says Noel Williams, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics.

By applying the following best practices for hydration, you’ll ensure your players are performing at their best.

Before

It’s important to start off the workout well hydrated as it assists in the bodies ability to pump blood through blood vessels to muscles, improving muscle efficiency. Caffeine intake ingested pre-exercise can also have a beneficial effect on performance, including both power output (explosive sports) and sustained maximal endurance activity (aerobic sports). Specifically, caffeine intake can be in the form of ≥1.5 to 2.0 ~250ml cups of coffee, ingested around 60 min pre-exercise.

During

“Almost every measurement of performance – aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and reaction time – decreases with as little as 2% dehydration,” explains Williams. Therefore the benefits of staying hydrated during activity for players include improved muscle function, regulated blood pressure and body temperature and improved circulation. 

By monitoring performance over time with hydration records as well as using SPT GPS to track the physical load of players, we are able to minimise the risk of injury. Combining both sets of data, we can ensure players are firstly, conditioned for the intensity of a training session or match, and secondly that they are properly hydrating to help decrease muscle fatigue.

With improved blood flow through optimal hydration, the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles increases and the removal of metabolic by-products and waste from muscles through sweat is aided. “Staying hydrated replaces the water lost through sweating and is essential for thermoregulation, helping to prevent cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” says Williams.

Players could also utilise a carbohydrate mouth rinse during exercise which has been shown to maximise subsequent performance outcomes, especially in ultra-endurance sports. These performance outcomes can occur all whilst minimising any potential gastrointestinal symptoms that can come about with other highly concentrated carbohydrate solutions.

Post

After any exercise, players should hydrate with volumes of fluid greater than what they lost during the exercise. For example, for every 1kg of body mass lost during exercise, 1.5Lt of fluid could be ingested post-exercise. This intake of hydration should be spread over several hours to avoid ingesting large fluid volumes in a short period of time which may damage the body by reducing sodium levels in the blood.

While plain water is not considered to be the optimal rehydration drink when consumed on its own, it is likely to be effective if consumed with a meal containing adequate electrolytes. Relevant electrolytes may include sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Replacing these electrolytes in the form of a meal – or perhaps more conveniently, in the form of sports drinks – can not only achieve effective reestablishment of body water, but also, retention of ingested water.

Along with sports drinks, skimmed and/or full fat milk appears to be particularly effective to the rehydration process. This effectiveness has been attributed to its nutrient-dense sodium, carbohydrate and protein contents. Interestingly, when post-exercise milk consumption is combined with strength training, greater increases in muscle mass have been observed.

Finally, consuming tart cherry juice concentrate post-exercise can reduce inflammation, which may subsequently accelerate recovery outcomes. For strength training however, this may not be as appropriate because the normal exercise-induced inflammation which occurs after exercise is an important process in strengthening and building muscle.

Practical application of Hydration for players

Example match day weigh in-weigh out rehydration protocol:

  1. Empty your bladder.
  2. Weigh in pre-match before your warm up.
  3. Post-match, remove excess sweat with a towel and weigh out.
  4. Consume 1.5x in fluids of the amount of body mass (in kilograms) lost during the match.
  5. Do not attempt to drink it all at once – consume your recommended amount over the first 2-6 hours post-match.
  6. For additional protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes, you may consume milk and/or sports drinks alongside plain water to satisfy your recommended amount.
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