Q: I am an athlete involved in multiple sports. Can you please offer some recommendations as to how much I should drink while I train?
A: There are many variables that must be taken into account when recommending hydration needs for an athlete. I will address four of these variables: current hydration status, environment, training session length, and gender.
First, an athlete should begin every training session well hydrated. Therefore, an athlete should begin the day with a couple cups of water to rehydrate, as the body loses water through the skin overnight. One way to assess an athlete’s current hydration status is to look at the color of their urine. Dark urine can indicate a state of dehydration and, therefore, more water is needed. On the other hand, urine that is pale yellow is a good indicator that a person is adequately hydrated. To stay hydrated throughout the day, an athlete should consume water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which provide both hydration and nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are water-rich, anti-inflammatory, alkaline, and nutrient-dense, which are all important for the health of an athlete.
Over-hydration is actually more of an issue than dehydration. The more recent hydration recommendations are to drink according to thirst since over-hydrating can lead to hyponatremia, a condition where there is too little sodium in the body and excess amounts of water. This can be caused by drinking too much water before or during a training session. Thus, forcing yourself to drink when you are not thirsty can be both dangerous and fatal.
In order for an athlete to adequately hydrate, it is important to include both salt and carbohydrates as they help to maximize absorption. Gatorade contains both salt and carbohydrates, but it also contains harmful chemicals, colors and possibly, excess calories and is, therefore, not recommended. Coconut water, on the other hand, is a powerhouse of natural electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, enzymes, anti-oxidants, and phytonutrients, and is both low in calories and sugar. Thus, drinking coconut water can provide everything an athlete needs for hydration during longer training sessions.
Second, the training environment is important to consider when assessing hydration needs. Very hot climates would require an athlete to drink more liquids as the amount of sweat also increases, while cool temperatures would require less. Thus, heat acclimation is important if an athlete trains in moderate temperatures but competes in a hot climate.
Third, training length and intensity determine whether or not an athlete should consume water alone or a combination of water, salt, and carbohydrates. Fluid intake during training should allow an athlete to maintain energy until the very end. Fatigue toward the end of training is typically due to competition between working muscles for metabolism and the skin to offload heat. The skin wins as heat is a bigger priority for the body. A short bout of training in an average temperature would require nothing but plain water. On the other hand, a session that is over sixty minutes long where an athlete is sweating would benefit from the addition of salt and carbohydrates taken in conjunction with water.
Lastly, there are gender differences when it comes to hydration needs. High estrogen and progesterone act on the kidney’s hormone to reduce plasma volume, a drop of up to 8% from ovulation to the mid-luteal phase. Therefore, women can have a reduced capacity to sweat to remove heat from inside the body.
In conclusion, an athlete should stay on top of his/her hydration before and after training by monitoring urine color and consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables; they should drink according to thirst and add in salt and carbohydrates during bouts of training over 60 minutes; and finally, females should increase fluid consumption during portions of their cycle.
To make your own healthy sports drink, follow the recipe below.
Homemade Sports Drink:
3 cups coconut water
1 cup water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon celtic sea salt
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
3 drops of Trace Mineral Drops (optional)
Mix all ingredients together and store in the refrigerator. Should last for at least one week.