How Poor Hydration Can Hurt Athletic Performance 

How Poor Hydration Can Hurt Athletic Performance

When you exercise hard, your body begins to lose more fluid than in everyday life. If you don’t monitor and support your hydration balance, a number of unwanted reactions can occur in your body. This harmful drop in water in your body is called dehydration, which can make you feel worse and reduce your training efficiency. In this article, we will discuss how hydration affects athletic performance.

What are the signs of dehydration?

Good hydration maintains good exercise performance

To avoid poor athletic performance you can start by improving hydration. Your muscles consist of muscle cells, where they contract upon command if they have enough energy. Simply put, if we won’t feed the cells, there is no energy available to use. There is an important relationship between hydration, mitochondrial function, muscle contractility and blood volume.

Muscle cells are surrounded by capillaries, the number of which increases as fitness progresses. Capillaries provide cells with blood. The main structural components of skeletal muscles are muscle tissue, connective tissue, nerve tissue and blood (related article).

Each cell consists of a multitude of thin, parallel, thread-like structures called myofibrils. Each consists of shorter sarcomeres, and those of the finest fibers (filaments), also lying in parallel. They interact by producing muscle contractions via the sliding filament theory (related article).

The main function of mitochondria is the production of energy necessary for muscle contractions. Mitochondria consists of enzymes – catalysts that process energy from food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a form in which energy exists in the body.

Another component of the muscles is the triglyceride molecule (Source), which is a form of fat storage in the body and one of the energy sources for muscle contraction. To provide energy, the triglyceride molecule breaks down into fatty acids and glycerol.

Glycogen is the second important energy source in cells. This set of glucose molecules in long and branched chains. This is form of energy is stored both in the liver and in muscles; the liver’s glycogen stores are used to regulate blood glucose levels whereas the glycogen in skeletal muscle is used to fuel contractions.

Two types of fibers differ in color, number of mitochondria and speed of contraction. The first type is also called “slow fibers”, the second – “fast”.

The first type has a red color and a higher concentration of mitochondria. The red color is explained by the high content of myoglobin, a protein whose function is the fast delivery of oxygen to the mitochondria for aerobic exercise – like running, cycling and swimming.

According to studies, elite athletes have a predictable ratio of fast and slow fibers. For example, sprinters have about 26% of slow fibers, cyclists and swimmers – about 50%, professional half marathoners – 54%, and elite runners – 79-88%.

The circulatory system plays an important role in maintaining the vital conditions of the cells as part of a multicellular organism. The exchange between blood and cells is a strictly regulated process, because under normal conditions its intensity must correspond to the cell’s functional activity.

A microcirculation system provides the conditions for this exchange, usually as an organism-level system, with representation in all organs. At the level of muscle tissues, the redistribution of blood flows in the capillary network, the transfer of water and substances through the walls of exchange vessels and in the medium that washes the cells. This extracellular medium is most often represented by the components of the connective tissues, in which the micro-vessels are located. The connective tissue serves as a universal mediator between the blood and cells, especially since the microvessels themselves are components of the connective tissue.

How do athletes stay hydrated?

To provide a sufficient amount of fluid in the body, it is advisable to drink about 400-500 ml of water 2 hours before the competition. Since the body takes about 1-2 hours to absorb the liquid, the athlete will have time to empty their bladder before the event.

During physical exertion, lasting more than 60 minutes 100-150 ml of cool water every 15-20 min will ensure optimal fluid replenishment.

The same amount of carbohydrate electrolyte drinks, containing 5-8% carbohydrates, the athlete should drink to replenish the reserves of fluid and muscle glycogen. Since the body has an inadequate mechanism for indicating thirst, it is recommended to drink before one feels increased thirst. As soon as there is a desire to drink, there is already a high degree of dehydration, and the efficiency decreases.

All drinks can be divided into:

  • Hypotonic – less concentrated, absorbed faster than water or other liquids. Shown for rapid replenishment of water in the body during and immediately after training.

  • Isotonic drinks are balanced with fluids inside the body and are also absorbed quickly enough to replenish water reserves after exercise.

  • Hypertonic solutions are more concentrated than the fluids contained in the body, therefore, are absorbed slowly. They are suitable for replenishing the energy spent during exercise, and not for restoring water balance.

Generally, most sports drinks are designed for endurance athletes.

When performing endurance exercises, the ratio of components in sports drinks should be determined as follows:

  • Concentration of salts by their possible losses through perspiration

  • Carbohydrate concentration maximum absorption capacity

  • The combined concentration of salts and carbohydrates with the amount of water necessary to replace the corresponding losses (slow absorption of the concentrated solution should be prevented both in the stomach and in the intestines).

Studies have shown, when exercising for 2 hours or more, 20 mmol / l NaCl (1.2 g / l) and 60 g / l carbohydrates in the glucose polymers form are required, when consuming 1.5 liter per one hour (Source).

Hydration tips before, during and after training

The water temperature should be 5-13 C. This temperature is optimal in connection with the available data on the positive effect of oral cavity cooling on thermoregulation processes, which contributes to the preservation of physical performance of athletes.

The easiest way to verify the degree of hydration of an organism is to monitor the amount and the color of the urine of the athlete. Urination should be frequent during the day, and urine color should be light. If the urine is dark and very yellow, you should consume water. An effective method is also the measurement of body weight before and after exercise. Every 100 g of weight loss (with sweat) require the 150 g of fluid replenishment.

Water used the day before a long or intense workout, is a major factor contributing to improved performance. In this regard, the athlete should drink the maximum possible amount of liquid and eat a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods with high water content (fruits and vegetables). Each gram of carbohydrates stored in the body corresponds to 3-4 g of water, which is easily accessible for basic processes.

Marathon runners are strongly recommended to regularly consume liquid during races in a volume of 200-300 ml every 10-20 minutes. Athletes are generally aware of the danger associated with dehydration and take into account recommendations for fluid replacement. However, the free interpretation of the strategy of regular fluid replacement during marathon runs in practice has become the source of new problems.

It should be noted that the consumption of solid foods and carbohydrate beverages with a carbohydrate concentration of more than 6% usually slows down the emptying of the stomach, causing nausea and bloating.

After a workout or a competition, it is necessary to drink water or an enriched drink in such an amount that you no longer want to drink, and then an additional 50 ml. It is important to point out: drinks (coffee, tea and a range of soft drinks), as well as alcohol should be taken with caution: they act as diuretics and can cause dehydration. You should consume drinks that have a pleasant taste, do not cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and increase efficiency. The choice of fluid is a matter of personal preference.

Hyperhydration – too much of a good thing

When discussing the issue of rehydration directly during physical exertion, please, pay attention to another problem – hyper hydration.

In the process of training must take into account the influence of various factors, for example, the type of training. Perhaps drinks should contain proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, and sometimes just pure water. In some cases, training without additional drinks may be the best strategy.

It is useful to carry out some exercises in the conditions of dehydration so that the body develops super-compensation
mechanisms, increasing blood volume. It may also be useful for prolonged exercise not to add excess carbohydrates in order to adapt the body to use the energy of fats (related article).

Putting it all together

Hydration is a very important aspect while training and in competition. To avoid dehydration or hyper hydration the athlete should be able to predict and act before the thirst mechanism activates (Source). Advanced athletes may also benefit from a personalized hydration plan due to environmental factors and genetic distribution of our sweat levels (Source).

For most of us wanting to avoid poor exercise performance as well as prevent impaired metabolism, blood pressure, digestion and other undesirable consequences; drinking enough water with the right electrolytes will help us stay on track and achieve our fitness goals.

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