How staying hydrated affects your athletic performance

How does hydration affect performance in sports? Staying hydrated throughout the day is very important - even more so during exercise. We can lose a lot of our hydration through sweat, and this must be replaced by drinking plenty of fluid. Whether you choose water or an isotonic sports drink, staying hydrated will help with your athletic performance.

Here are the effects of hydration on sports performance.

Greater endurance

Adequate hydration when working out means you will have greater endurance. The link between hydration and performance is that, as you become dehydrated, you will feel lethargic and less able to maintain the required movements. This is because water is key in transporting nutrients like carbs and proteins around the body. Those fluids also help in removing metabolic waste like salts and sulphates with greater efficiency.

Improved heart function

Another key consideration for hydration in sports performance is that it helps maintain healthy heart function. Your heart rate and blood pressure rise when you exercise. Adequate fluid intake helps alleviate some of the stress that places on the body. If you leave your heart function unregulated, it can lead to poor performance, inflammation and slower recovery.

Minimised risk of cramping

People who don't maintain adequate hydration when exercising are more likely to experience muscle cramps. The most common areas for this to arise are the calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, abdomen and intercostal muscles. Muscles require water to function correctly; otherwise, they tend to contract and remain painfully tight as you exercise or compete. This is why it is important to drink water before your exercise, as well as during and after. Fail to do this, and you are more likely to get cramps.

Body temperature regulation

Water is also key to regulating your body temperature. One of the key concerns in hydration and athletic performance is that exercise causes your core temperature to rise, and without cool water to help regulate this, your body is placed under more stress. This will have an impact on your energy reserves, meaning your performance and endurance will be hindered. In more extreme circumstances, you can even overheat and pass out.

Drinks to avoid when exercising

Certain types of drinks are not recommended for consumption before, during, or after exercise.

Don't drink soft drinks, cordial or juice

  • These beverages are usually high in carbohydrates and contain very little sodium, so they will not be effective at rehydrating your body.

Don't drink anything that contains caffeine

  • This substance can act as a diuretic, meaning it causes you to pass more urine. Not only can this be inconvenient during exercise, but it also means you lose more fluid from your body.

How much should you drink after exercising?

For best rehydration, after you exercise, the aim is to drink around 1.5x the fluid you lost during your workout. You shouldn't drink this all in one go - it should be spread out over 2-6 hours.

The reason it is advised to drink more fluid than you lost during your workout is that you will continue losing fluid for some time afterwards. Things like post-workout sweating and urinating must also be accounted for.