Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Despite the usually known significance of water and proper hydration in our bodies, numerous professional athletes and gym-goers don't genuinely consider the impacts of hydration during and after athletic activities. Keeping up ideal hydration is vital during any exercise, as both lack of (dehydration) and over hydration can be hindering to execution and, if extreme, can bring up serious health consequences.
The engagement in prolonged physical activities and sports can very often lead to an increase in body’s temperature, resulting in an also increased sweat rate. By sweating more and for a longer period of time, athletes and physical activities practitioners are faced with a higher loss of bodily fluids and essential electrolytes causing mild-moderate dehydration.
Sports such as Marathon racing, cycling, MMA, boxing, swimming, hot yoga, college/professional sports are some of the examples of activities that can result in dehydration if not looked at closely.
In this article I want to talk about some personal experience I have in the topic of Hydration and Athletic Performance. As a professional swimmer and in contact with various elite athletes across different sports, I have seen and dealt with the consequences of lack of proper hydration and I will write a little more about that.
Elite Sports performance is a delicate subject as each sport/athlete have different requirements in terms of nutrition and recovery. But one thing is right: Maintaining the proper balance of electrolytes and fluids is always beneficial to athletes to avoid performance pitfalls of dehydration. Elite athletic performance can massively be affected by symptoms of dehydration such as cramps, spasms, soreness, fatigue and impaired concentration. As a professional swimmer, I am usually subject to 4-5hrs/daily of intense work in and out of the water. It is estimated that swimmers usually burn in between 2500-3000 extra calories every training day. With all that liquid, electrolyte and calorie loss, I wouldn’t be able to perform according to my goals day in and day out if I don’t make sure I am hydrating properly before, during and after my workouts. That goes for many other sports and elite training as I mentioned before.
To achieve optimal performance in their sport, professional athletes must be at their peak both mentally and physically. In this article I share a little more about the benefits of hydration, and how it can affect your mental performance as much as it affects your physical performance. Maintaining the proper balance of electrolytes/fluids is vital for elite athletes but also very important to everyday gym-goers or simply anyone who likes to practice any sort of physical activity. The one thing people usually fail to consider when engaging in such activities is that they usually tend to try to rehydrate the body with just plain water or maybe a sugary drink such as a juice or sugary sports drink. By trial and error, as an Elite swimmer, I found that sugary drinks are not the best option if I am envisioning my peak performance and sometimes water just doesn't cut it.
But what do I mean by that? What are other alternatives to elite hydration if I am looking to succeed at a certain sport or physical activity? What do I need to do to make sure my body achieve its maximum level of performance?
As put by RDN Sally Hara, “As athletes train and perform they lose fluids and electrolytes via sweat. Hydrating with water alone can help prevent over-heating, but won’t protect against electrolyte imbalances that can hinder performance. In some cases drinking only water can dangerously dilute out the electrolytes in the body, actually worsening electrolyte imbalances (hyponatremia). Conversely, consuming an electrolyte containing sports drink can minimize the risk of muscle cramps and fatigue by replacing electrolytes lost in sweat. Well-formulated electrolyte beverages will also enhance fluid absorption and encourage thirst, allowing for more rapid rehydration. Electrolyte replacement beverages have a clear advantage over water for promoting fluid and electrolyte balance, which in turn helps to optimize health and athletic performance.”
But what exactly are electrolytes?
At the point when mineral salts disintegrate in water they separate into electrically charged particles, which we call Electrolytes. In the human body some of the most important of these are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride, and they perform several important functions in the human body. Electrolytes are vital for maintaining fluid balance in the body because they help regulate the balance of water within and between body cells. Total body hydration and acid-base balance are dependent on proper fluid and electrolyte balance.
As RDN Sally Hara goes on in her article, “Other functions of electrolytes that are especially important to athletes involve nerves and muscles. Though electrolytes don’t contain energy themselves, they are essential for conducting electrical impulses used by the body’s nerves and muscles. Both nerves and muscles operate via electrical impulses activated by electrolytes in and around the cells. Muscle contractions require the presence of adequate sodium, potassium and calcium. If these electrolytes are not available in sufficient quantities, muscle weakness or cramping may occur. Likewise, sodium, potassium and calcium are necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses which carry signals up and down the nerves directing muscle actions. If there is an electrolyte imbalance neurological functions are hindered. In some cases, the brain may be signaling the muscles to contract, but the signals are not transmitted well enough for the muscles to receive or respond to them very well, resulting in slow reflexes or weakness.”
If the body loses enough fluids and electrolytes through exercise, you will probably begin to experience dehydration symptoms like muscle cramps, fatigue, and thirst. When preparing for a big meet or training session, I don’t usually particularly enjoy having none of those symptoms, and I am sure you either! Some of the benefits of recovering with proper electrolytes include: retention of the fluid you consume, prevention of the symptoms of dehydration, replenishing key minerals like sodium and potassium.
So when training or preparing for physical activities of any kind looking to achieve your best performance, make sure you are aware of your nutrition, hydration and electrolyte balance to guarantee performance success. Maintaining good fluid and electrolyte balance is essential to health and athletic performance.
In this article that I wrote a couple of months ago, I give you different ways of replenishing lost electrolytes and which ones I prefer with a simple review of different ways. Whatever way you choose to replenish lost electrolytes in your body before/after a workout or physical activity, make sure it is adequate to your schedule, aligned with what your body really needs and that you won't be suffering from cramps or dehydration during or after.
Like I mentioned in this article, luckily there are already healthier options of foods and drinks on the market that can help people get their essential vitamins and minerals without the extra calories. Products like whole grain rice or pasta, oats, fat-free or low-fat dairy, zero-sugar yogurt are already available on any market and can drastically help with the switch to a healthier lifestyle and stay consistent.
In case you are like me and like to practice sports or physical activities on a daily basis, there are also electrolyte replacement products available that are low-sugar and low-calories. Hydra-Guard Sports Drink for example is a great way of replenishing your essential electrolytes after a workout but keeping the calorie count low and consuming only 5g of natural sugars per bottle. You could use the code PM10 for a special 10% discount on their website, and I also recommend you to subscribe to their newsletter because they are always releasing special codes for even higher discounts on their products.