In this on going series of posts that cover nutrition and diet for college athletes we have talked already about how well athletes actually eat (or at least think they do), and of the critical importance of fueling up with a big breakfast.
Today we are going to dive into something that is even more important, not only for high performance on the field and in the field, but in terms of, like, living.
And that is the topic of water.
Here is what college athletes need to know about staying hydrated.
Water: The Essential Performance Aid
If there was one thing that was absolutely critical to your performance, and I mean absolutely essential—not your favorite jock, or your lucky set of gloves—it’s hydration.
Water is literally what your blood is made of. It powers a huge number of cellular processes. And, as anyone who has worked out in a sweltering gym knows, it’s the thing that helps to regulate our body and core temperature.
Even though we might not always pick up on the deleterious effects of dehydration, they are profound:
1. We experience a general decline in performance. Studies have found that performance drops quickly anywhere from a 1-3% drop in body weight from sweat.
2. Cramps and headaches. There is possibly nothing that I have experienced in training worse than a hamstring or calf cramp mid-set. Cramps are believed to be a result of dehydration and muscle fatigue, just how much of each varies from athlete, sport and environment. Drinking water and staying hydrated will help you to ward off the nasty cramps and headaches that come from dehydration.
3. Stuff just feels harder. We have all experienced those workouts where we feel like we are wearing an extra thirty pounds on our shoulders. Sluggish and slow we struggle through the motions. When the workout we are used to being able to complete takes more energy than usual it could be a sign of dehydration.
4. Increase in body temperature. While this doesn’t sound all that critical, elevated core temperature means that we race towards exhaustion much faster. When athletes are properly hydrated it helps to keep your core at a steady burn instead of overheating.
5. Recovery takes longer. Elite athletes understand that it’s not just what they do during their workout routines that make a difference to their performance—it’s what they do between them to facilitate recovery that influences things. For example, a properly recovered athlete is going to have a much better practice the next time around compared to someone who doesn’t mind their recovery. That slightly better practice, done over and over again, ends up accumulating into a massive advantage over the course of a training cycle or a season.
So yeah, those are some pretty nasty side-effects!
Especially when you consider that drinking water is simply a “to-do” thing; it doesn’t require consultation, or checking with a doctor (usually…), or buying some cool new supplement or wrapping yourself up in some new compression gear.
Just starting filling up your water bottle.
“But I think I’m already drinking enough…”
You might be. But probably not.
One piece of research (Volpe et al, 2009) took a group of NCAA Division I athletes across multiple sports and spot-checked their hydration levels randomly before practice.
A staggering 53% of the college athletes were dehydrated, with an additional 13% of them being very dehydrated.
Now, where’s that water bottle at?
Next: Some strategies for athletes on how to get and stay hydrated.