Athletes Need Sufficient Fluids

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  7/22/2006 1:20:04 AM

2006 Back-to-School News

Every competitive and recreational athlete needs adequate amounts of fluids to perform their best. Not replacing lost water leads to weakness, cramps and headaches, according to LSU Agricultural Center nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.

Untreated, dehydration can cause heat stroke, but Reames says the good news is that heat illness is one of the most preventable sports injuries.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adequate fluid replacement helps maintain hydration and, therefore, promotes the health, safety and optimal physical performance of individuals participating in regular physical activity.

Reames recommends athletes hydrate with fluids before, during and after activity or competition. Fluids before, during and after exercise are an important part of regulating body temperature and replacing body fluids lost through sweat.

Dehydration of just 1 percent to 2 percent of body weight (that’s only 1.5 to 3 pounds for a 150-pound athlete) can negatively influence performance. Dehydration of higher than 3 percent of body weight increases an athlete’s risk of heat illness, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Educating youth athletes regarding the importance of hydration and strategies to enhance this process is vital. Reames offers several tips:

• Drink before, during and after practices and games.

• Drink early – by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

• Include liquids with the pre-competition meal.

• Drink fluids based on the amount of sweat and urine lost during the activity.

• Replace fluids lost in sweat and urine after the competition.

The nutritionist recommends cool water for most types of exercise of one hour or less under moderate temperature conditions. She also recommends sports drinks or diluted juices containing carbohydrates in concentrations of 4 percent to 8 percent for intense exercise events lasting longer than one hour. These beverages are also suitable for hydration during exercise events lasting less than one hour.

"Since they are flavored, these beverages are often preferred over plain water," Reames points out, adding that they contain carbohydrates, which help to provide energy, especially in strenuous exercise of one hour or longer. Fluid temperature should be between 59 and 72 degrees.

About two hours before exercise or competition, drink about 2 cups of fluid. During exercise, drink 1/2-1 cup fluid every 15-20 minutes. After exercise, drink at least 2 cups of fluid per pound of body weight lost during exercise. Foods eaten after the event are usually sufficient to replace sodium.

The risks of dehydration and heat injury increase dramatically in hot, humid weather. If athletes compete under these conditions, every precaution should be taken to assure that they are well hydrated, have ample access to fluids and are monitored for heat-related illness.

Even when water and sports drinks are available, some kids don’t take advantage of them. Findings from a study presented at an American College of Sports Medicine meeting showed that kids at a sports camp were not properly hydrated, even when water and sports drinks were accessible and coaches encouraged routine drink breaks during activity.

According to the report, more than two-thirds of kids participating in a soccer camp were dehydrated early in their participation in the camp. Since dehydration increases medical risk for more serious heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, the researchers emphasized the importance of adopting a fluid replacement strategy for young athletes engaged in continuous bouts of activity.

Although getting enough fluid is the usual problem of most athletes, participants in extreme athletic events, such as marathons and triathlons, may be at risk for drinking too much fluid, according to information in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.

Overhydrating can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, or low blood sodium levels. Low blood sodium levels can lead to nausea, fatigue, vomiting, weakness and sleepiness. In severe cases, it can lead to coma and death.

Marathoners who stay out on the course for a long time are at risk for hyponatremia because they lose salt in their sweat. Those who drink lots of fluids in the days before the race and also stop at every drinking station along the course are also at special risk.

For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the LSU AgCenter Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com

Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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